This month’s topic for PAIL is the following:
How do you decide how much independent play is best for your child, and how long of a leash do you give them to do that?
There’s a lot wrapped up in my answers to that question. First of all, what you must know about me, is my guilt complex is over-developed. When it comes to other people, most of what I worry and think about it is “what would a good ____ (mother, wife, daughter) do?” and I measure myself by that yardstick. If I deviate at all, I feel guilty and horrible. I’m a horrible wife, a horrible daughter and a horrible mother.
Two weeks ago when we had a weekend with few plans (usually a yay!) after unexpected days home due to illness, I was crabby and frustrated. Probably a little anxious too. I stormed outside with Daniel that Saturday and Jimmy looked at me, inquiring, “what is wrong?” I answered, “I’m bored.” I practically stomped my feet like a 6-year-old. And the guilt set in immediately. After all, how can you possibly be bored with your children? Isn’t that an impossibility? A good mother wouldn’t ever feel bored. She would identify a suitable craft and get to work. Or plan a nature walk to identify various types of flora and fauna through the local paths.
The guilt set in immediately. How could I feel bored with this small boy, my treasure? My miracle? I should spend every damn moment he’s awake playing with him on the floor. He should have whatever he wants, and I should try to make his environment as stimulating and wonderful as possible. Isn’t that what a good mother, a mother who appreciated the incredible blessing she had been given would do?
The truth is, Daniel plays well by himself and always has. He asks us to play with him from time to time, and we do, but he is happy playing by himself. This frees us up to do laundry, dishes, cook, clean, get ready for the next day while keeping an attentive ear out for his play. I love it and of course, I feel guilty about it. Shouldn’t I be playing with him all the time? Shouldn’t we be his companions and work to develop his imagination and skills all the time? How can dishes and laundry compare with such a responsibility?
While I do feel guilty naturally, a lot of the guilt I feel is compounded by how much effort we went through to have him. If we worked so hard to have him, how could we prioritize chores over him? Surely, he should come first and take precedence over everything. The problem is that I’ve also learned my limits and what I do and do not enjoy about parenting. I am not a great person to play with preschoolers right now. They are set in their ways and want to play on their terms. Such absolutism frustrates me. Right now, Daniel would rather watch a couple of videos than read books during our bedtime routine, which I get, but is still a shock to the system.
I guess the real question is how you let your children develop their own interests and become their own people, yet still feel like you have influenced them and made sure they know how much you love them? Right now, Daniel is enrolled in no extracurricular activities. I’ve thought about swimming lessons or tae kwon do, but it hasn’t progressed beyond that. Daniel’s school day is 8-2:45 followed by after school care from 2:45-5ish or whenever I pick him up. We think that’s enough activities for now, but I wonder if we are denying him from having important experiences. And then I remind myself that he’s 4 and it’s OK. He can just be a little boy for now. Right?
I suppose that to move on from what is rapidly becoming an encomium to the guilt that rules my existence, I should look at some of the other PAIL questions:
Are you more “hands off” as a parent than you thought you’d be? More of a “helicopter parent?” Are you happy with the type of parent you’ve turned out to be?
I do feel like I am more hands-off than I anticipated, and unsurprisingly, I have mixed feelings. I love that Daniel can play by himself in our home, but I wonder if I should do more to encourage play with us. When we go to a public park or museum, we hover quite a bit because we went through a hitting phase when Daniel was 2 that still haunts us. He’s almost 4.5, yet we still feel the need to hover in public. JHC, it’s almost like PTSD.
I struggle a lot with trying to figure out the parenting style that genuinely works with us and what the “experts” say we should do. Daniel is happy. Daniel likes his toys. We have great conversations in the car, at dinner and at bedtime. Are we ignoring him or fostering his independent play skills?
Ultimately, I think it boils down to what your definition of a good mother is. In 2013, it still comes back to that.