The parental "no" has officially joined the ranks of chronically missing items like The Holy Grail, Atlantis and Britney Spears' underpants.
You're supposed to be your kids' mom, not their full-time birthday clown. This means meeting their needs, as opposed to falling prey to their ransom demands; i.e., "Send in the chopper and the cupcakes or I'll scream my lungs out until spring!" If you're keeling over from reading Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb 40 times, it's because you didn't say no 39 times. "No" is also the correct response when besieged with requests for a chunky peanut-butter sandwich with all the chunkies removed. But, children can be such finicky eaters! Correction: American children can be such finicky eaters, because their parents tend to confuse parenting with working room service at a five-star hotel. In France, on the other hand, the kids' meal is whatever the parents are eating; brains, livers, kidneys and all. And while the kids can pick out bits they don't like, their choice is clear: eat or starve.
Saying no to your kids will not turn them into meth-smoking, liquor store-robbing carjackers. Actually, throwing up a few boundaries might even serve to prevent this and less dire but extremely annoying outcomes. (Just what society needs, another 35-year-old snot who was denied nothing during childhood.)
Kids need to feel loved and secure and that doesn't take hours of mommy-and-me Lego. In fact, psychologist Judith Rich Harris writes that "anthropological data suggest ... there may be something a little unnatural about adults playing with children." Anthropologist David F. Lancy notes that, beyond Western society, one "rarely" sees it. Regarding this apparent lack of a parental instinct for parent-child play, Harris writes, "This implies that children do not require play with an adult in order to develop normally."
I know, I know, that's not what The Cult of the Child tells you when its proponents aren't too busy checking Amazon to see whether anybody's published The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Children. The reality is, your family is better served by a stay-at-home mother than a stay-at-home martyr. Take the advice of the late British pediatrician Donald Winnicott, and avoid trying to be the perfect mother micromanaging your little darlings' every move ("Harvard or bust!") and just be a "good-enough mother."
Your kids can entertain themselves and will, if you suggest they do. Likewise, forget going for the Good Housekeeping Seal and just resolve to keep the health department from sealing up your house. Your kitchen counters don't need to be operating-room sterile. Just see to it that nothing walks across your lasagna.
You're probably not the only mom on your block who lives for the moment she can go catatonic in front of the television. I think we care for children all wrong in this country in nuclear families instead of in a more efficient, tribal way where there isn't so much weight on the stay-at-home parent.
My suggestion: Five families with kids band together in a child-care collective, with one parent (and maybe one consistent nanny) staying home with all the kids each day. Kids will be socialized together, and parents will find that having children feels a little less like a punishment for having sex.
Sex? Surely you remember sex. (Presumably, your children weren't dropped off on your porch by a giant cartoon stork.) From the sound of your schedule, if you fantasize about anything these days, it's sleep, sleep, more sleep and maybe a half-hour to read a book about somebody who isn't four-legged and purple. Yeah, you need alone-time, as does your husband, and, of course, family time, but you two are also in dire need of regular date nights. And not just for your benefit, but your kids'.
Marriages tend to last longer when one or both partners' preferred bed position isn't snoring into a pillow. Get any elements of aspiring supermom in you under control, try my commie child-care suggestion, and pick up a copy of Esther Perel's Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic & the Domestic. Eventually, when you find yourself really looking forward to getting in bed, it shouldn't be with a 2-liter bottle of Pepsi. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org (advicegoddess.com).