One of the biggest differences between a human mother and a mother octopus is the amount of “arms” each one has. I used that analogy often when my kids had something they wanted me to do for them.
With a half-dozen wanting homework help or help with chores, there were days I felt pulled in many directions. Some of it was my fault. I allowed my kids to expect me to help them. By bailing them out, I taught them that they could expect me to bail them out. By going ahead and doing their assigned tasks for them because I wanted it done now, I taught them that if they just poked around and waited, they had a good chance of having it done for them. Oh, they were smart kids. They surely knew how to play me.
Like any mother, the octopus is protective of its young. Yet the octopus is different, in that, after the months of caring for its eggs, it dies soon after they hatch. We are not alike in that the octopus has a nerve poison (did you know that?!) which it secretes in its saliva. It can also change colors to blend in with its surroundings.
What I didn’t realize back in the day when I was raising my kids, is that the mother octopus can produce 56,000 eggs. Then she “sews” them together and guards them with her life. She neither feeds or socializes as she protects her unborn young. Then, in the last ounce of energy, she “blows” her babies out of the cave she has provided, and dies. It’s a beautiful picture of a mother’s hard work and sacrifice for her children, and one that I was not inclined to make.
I’m not like a mother octopus in that I am not willing to go without food or rest for months at a time. I’m not like a mother octopus in that I can’t change colors (although I was good at changing moods when my kids got on my last nerve).
I did learn, however, to help my kids realize that since I was not an octopus, I could not be all things to all kids. I only had two arms (as did they) and was only capable of doing so much.
Therefore, one of my frequent lines became, “I’m a mother, not an octopus!”
That simply meant, “Do it yourself.”
It also meant, “You’re very capable so you can do this without help from me.”
Or it might have meant, “You need to learn to step up to the plate and take care of it yourself instead of expecting me to bail you out.”
Indeed, it was a reminder to myself: “It’s his job and it’s your job to teach him responsibility by seeing to it that he does his job instead of bailing him out.”
I’m all for helping a kid when he’s struggling and I’m good at pinch-hitting in times of need. Yet I also recognize that the sooner we help our kids learn responsibility, the easier it will be to maintain order in the household, and the smoother everything will go.
Maybe the next time you feel pulled in too many directions, consider whether the pulling is coming because you have not been firm enough or have bailed a kid out one too many times.
Try my line: “I’m a mother, not an octopus.” Watch your kids show you how well they can function all by themselves!