When Laura Claire was starting preschool, I had such a clear vision of just how involved I would be as a parent. I signed up to help at all the class parties, always picked her up in person (never daring to arrange a carpool), and spent an exorbitant amount of energy trying to figure out the best trajectory for our little lady. Taylor Brooke was still an infant at the time, and being the good middle child she is, didn’t require a great deal of devoted mental energy. My professional job, at the time, was steady and predictable, opening up a great deal of space in my brain for my steadfast companion: worry.
The Engineer and I value quality time with our kids to the Nth degree, so I had to make sure I was always there, always engaged, always giving my best to our children. If I couldn’t meet our benchmark, calamity was sure to follow.
(Just typing the last sentence made me chuckle. Bless my sweet little heart.)
All of these scary “firsts” with my oldest led to an abundance of micro-management that, if it had persisted, would have wiped out my parenting reserves by the end of the year. The ideal I was forming in my head would have led to a world of overcommitment, where I would have struggled to maintain the slightest resemblance of balance and peace in my life. And trying to do that times four? Forget about it.
This led to an attempt to balance my desire to be involved with our daughters’ requirements for having a life that wasn’t lived in our minivan. And with that desire came an onslaught of introspective questions: How do we value quality time, but not at the expense of letting our children believe they are entitled to our unwavering, uninterrupted attention? Where is the line between involvement that breeds self-confidence in our children and helicopter parenting that tears them down?
The main question I found myself asking, over and over again, was simple enough, at least to ask, but certainly not to answer: How do we show our children unconditional love without convincing them that they are the center of our world or anyone else’s?
I’ve mulled over this question for years, and with each additional daughter added to the mix, the answer became clearer. If I wanted to be the type of mother I dreamed up in my ideal world, I would have to take a step back. A step back from the over-bearing, over-indulgent, over-monitored parenting lifestyle that I was cultivating.
Just like every other season of parenting, some things are easier said than done. As Maggie Paige and Allie Jean joined the ranks, and my older daughters went off to elementary school, my involvement hit its max. I had to let go of my white-knuckled grip on every moment of every day, simply for the sake of nursing a baby or potty training a toddler or showing up to work or taking a shower.
Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t make it to every soccer practice, chaperone every school field trip, or participate in every PTO meeting. As I grew in my confidence as their mother, I realized it didn’t make me a failure to let someone else help at the science fair or pin up ballet hair before a recital. In fact, maybe it served my daughters more that I wasn’t always there, if for no other reason, than that they appreciated when I was.
Pangs of guilt occasionally found their way in, so I needed something to stand in my place for the times I couldn’t be there but really felt that I should. Sometimes, The Engineer could take off of work to be involved instead. Still others, it was a close friend who picked up from a basketball practice so I could put the baby down for a nap. Another time, it was our neighbor staying with the girls so I could go to the pharmacy without infecting our entire town with strep.
And, there were other moments, when all I needed was to just send something, anything that showed I was cheering on my family without actually being physically present in the activity of the moment.
Discovering the Proxy
My skills in the kitchen are lacking at best, and that has amplified since I had children. My brain just doesn’t have the space for learning new skills that aren’t already etched in place. If I wasn’t going to be physically present for my kids’ events, and I wasn’t going to be able to rely on my village to be my stand-in, I needed to find something I could send that was reasonably tasty, not to mention easy to make.
I started baking chocolate chip cookies with regularity in college. I can still picture, with crystal clarity, my roommates ducking behind our kitchen counter to steal the cookie dough I left out. I made these cookies for our Sunday night dinners, to bring on beach trips, and to celebrate with my future in-laws when they came in town to visit.
After graduation, the cookies followed me to my first job in the hospital, baking for night shifts over holidays, or to cheer a co-worker after a particularly challenging day. I brought them to football tailgates, to celebrate new homes, and sent them to our nephew for his birthday each year. I paired them with the dinners we brought to new mothers, starving from hours of cluster feeding and desperate for a quick sugar rush.
Due to their simplicity, making these cookies became therapeutic for me. I memorized the best ingredients to use, as well as the skills and nuances I picked up through the years of delivering them to smiling faces. It’s the kind of recipe you can make while holding a baby, helping with math homework, and dancing the Cupid Shuffle with a preschooler (yep, that happened).
The simplicity, coupled with the years of positive memories, changed my feelings of guilt to those of grace. Especially, it turns out, when I can make and send them with my girls for an event that I cannot attend.
The greatest joy came last summer, when Laura Claire asked if I could teach her the recipe and show her the steps I have worked to perfect over the years. She told me her friends had been asking for “those yummy cookies your mom always makes”, and she wanted to oblige.
Passing down this piece of myself to our girls warms my heart, knowing that they can use this simple, heartfelt recipe to bring joy to others. And it’s my prayer that they will also learn the important lesson from them that I did: It’s alright to have a stand-in. It doesn’t mean that love isn’t there, it’s just present in a different form.
The Recipe: The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase using this link.
My original source of inspiration was the Nestle Toll House recipe that’s been around for 100 years:
These are the changes I’ve made along the way:
- Substitute the salt for one box (3.4 oz) of Jello Vanilla Pudding. This makes the cookies soft. Be sure not to use the Cook and Serve version- it’s not the same!
- Let the butter soften to the point where you can indent your thumb in it. Microwaving the butter, even slightly, won’t give the same outcome.
- Let the eggs sit outside the refrigerator for about 30 minutes before you add them to the recipe.
- Make sure the baking soda is stored in an airtight container.
- Pack the brown sugar (I think dark works better), but not the flour.
- I omit the nuts, but only due to allergies.
- The amount of chocolate chips you use is a matter of taste. The Engineer prefers none at all. Maggie Paige picks out the chips and leaves the cookie. You can put up to 3 cups of chips in the recipe without making a huge mess.
- Bake time is a matter of debate in our house. I use parchment paper (always), on the middle oven rack, at 325 degrees for 8-9 minutes. The Engineer thinks if you’re not risking salmonella, they’re over-cooked. We try to meet in the middle.
- This baking sheet is one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten. If you’re going for a more environmentally friendly option and want to avoid the parchment paper, silicone baking sheets are a great alternative. For baking, I’ve had the same mixing bowls since our wedding, as well as the same spatulas. You can’t go wrong with their longevity!
- If you need to mix now and bake later, the dough freezes really well.