"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Mom on Retainer


My cousin, Kim, asked me when, as a Mom, I knew when I didn’t have to be on retainer anymore. Knowing her like I do, (she and I share the same brain wavelength) I understood exactly what she meant without her having to explain. When you’re raising a family, especially as a Mom who doesn’t work outside the home, it’s hard to know when you’re “allowed” to let out some slack when it comes to managing the family’s comings and goings.

For me, it felt like when I wasn’t doing something for my kids like their laundry, picking up after them, or cooking their meals, I was being lazy. After all, I was a stay at home Mom, what else was I supposed to do—it was my full-time job. What I learned, though, was that by always doing those types of things for my kids after they got older, I was enabling them to not be able to be independent little people. As my kids grew into teenagers, I quickly came to realize the error of my ways. I’m a slow learner, but I gave up a little control, suffered from a little bit of guilt, and started expecting more from them. They delivered—well, sort of…although none of them have become laundry-guru-bathroom-scrubbing-neat-freaks. Apologies in advance to their future roommates and spouses.

Kim’s way ahead of the game on me on that one—she’s a fantastic Mom who has always given her boys ownership of their responsibilities. For Kim, the matter wasn’t letting go of the duties of household chores, it’s more of the plain, old being there for the family on standby. You know how it is. There’s always somewhere the kids need to be taken, children’s activities to be involved in and the general duty to leave the schedule open in order to accommodate the rest of the family’s needs. When you’re the Mom on Retainer, the expectation is that you are there to plan everything for the family, so naturally your individual pursuits get put on the back burner. It’s a season in every young family’s life, sometimes more extreme than others, but the question becomes: At what point is Mom not on retainer anymore?

As parents, we knowingly and lovingly make some sacrifices of “me” time for our kids, but on the other hand, kids need to learn that their desires do not rule the household. Parents can’t wait until their children grow up to have lives of their own. Young people having plenty of interests isn’t a bad thing, but if it’s at the cost of a parent living in stagnant waters without the ability to grow as a person, there’s a problem. Everybody knows if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy! I also think a person has to consider where these expectations come from.

One could argue that this is self-imposed—another example of extreme people-pleasing. The funny thing is, often there is a fine line between wanting to please everyone by doing the “dirty work” (being a martyr Mom) and the need to feel in control. When I relinquish control to my husband by saying something is his responsibility, I have to do so fully. I can’t gently prod or offer up my suggestion on how I would do something myself if I’m supposed to be letting it go. If he doesn’t handle something exactly how I would, I have to allow that to happen. Which brings up what else is at work: fear.

But what I personally found when I stepped back was that the world did not end. There were mix-ups and scheduling conflicts. I couldn’t volunteer to chaperone all the field trips or plan classroom parties. But life went on, and new expectations for what and when I was available gradually adjusted. In the process, we all grew just a little bit more independent.

In truth, Moms are always on retainer. The Retainer Fee just covers less as the kids get older and need us less. Don’t we drop everything when it really does matter? We do so not because we are obligated by a Mom Code Contract, but because there’s something much more binding us to our children—unconditional love. And that’s one thing that has no expiration date.


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