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Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Falling into the parenting trap

I've heard it from friends whose kids are older than mine, and I never thought I would fully understand. But the older my son gets (he just turned two on Saturday), the more I get it. I can't give my child everything he needs.

When he was a tiny baby, I personally pretty much had everything he needed because he needed a whole lot less: my breasts, along with a clean diaper now and again, were just about everything. Other than that, he slept or sat propped in his vibrating, bouncy chair and swatted at little toys arched above his head.

But the older he gets, it seems like I don't have enough to give. I think this deficiency gets back (at least partially) to the whole list of things to do during the day that have very little to do with being a good parent. Yes, I'm present. Yes, I read with my child, but it's usually only before nap time and bedtime. Yes, I play with my child, draw on the sidewalk with chalk with him, tickle him, take him to play with friends at the park. But I think most of the time, I set him down and offer him a toy to occupy him while I'm trying to cook a meal, clean, toss in a load of laundry, organize the recycling bins, brush my teeth, take a shower, read email, blog.

When Attorney Friend #2 reached this point in her parenting, she decided it was time for her daughter to go into daycare. And she went back to work. She acknowledged that she couldn't give her daughter everything she needed--enough playtime, enough learning tools, enough stimulation and social interaction. At daycare, her daughter would be in an environment designed for learning, playing, and socializing.

Toddler in Chief is with his child-care person for nine hours a week. During those hours, I know he's learning so much and fully engaged in playing and reading and learning. He'll sing a new song, books will be piled high from the reading marathon, and stacks of drawings will litter the ground beneath the easel. That is quality time. He's being stimulated and he's learning because the person taking care of him isn't in her own space wondering when she's going to get the laundry done. Those aren't her dishes in the dishwasher waiting to be put into their proper cupboards. I've also noticed this on the flip-side. When I'm at a friend's house watching her child for a couple of hours, I'm fully engaged in what the kids are doing. There aren't any domestic distractions.

I've even recently started turning on the television so that I can have 25 minutes of time to putter around the house. As a result, he's added a few words to his lexicon: "teevee, "Bee-uuu-zzz Queue-zzz," and "Tel-lee-tub-bee."

Perhaps because I'm home and I supposedly have so much time, the quality time with my son waits. It gets pushed to the bottom of that to-do list. Maybe working moms spend more quality time with their kids because they long to be with their kids all day? They don't have time to do the chores in the first place, so they aren't fretting because they aren't caught up. I'm with my kid all day and I wish I could get my stuff done. I long to be reading the book for my book club. I long to be taking a long, hot shower, or a nap or a chat with a friend.

I'm sure a lot of this comes from a variety of societal expectations about what I should be doing as a parent. When I was a kid, my mom didn't have hours and hours to sit and entertain us. We did what she did. We grocery shopped. We helped sort the laundry. We helped cook. We participated in life. And I think I turned out okay. I know my son is too young for some of those regular-life tasks, but I think it's good for him to make his own fun, to play by himself.

I'm sure I'm just falling victim to the guilty-hyper-parenting trap. Nothing ever seems just right.


  1. Anonymous1:54 PM

    Your son is old enough that you can turn a seemingly tedious chore into a learning opportunity. While doing laundry, he can help you sort the colors. When setting the table, he can help you count the place settings, etc.

    You need to think outside the box a bit. Try to integrate him into your daily activities. I bet he really wants to help you. I'll try to find a link for you with other suggestions.

  2. Anonymous2:06 PM

    Here are more suggestions. Have fun! Really!

  3. I think you're totally right about this: I think it's good for him to make his own fun, to play by himself. .

    It's so important for kids to learn to keep themselves occupied, and once given a chance they tend to be pretty good at it. I seem to remember that around the age of two is when they start developing that ability.

    I've never understood the parenting philosophy that kids need 100% undivided attention 24-7, it doesn't seem healthy for parents or kids (and sets us up for feelings of failure because it's also not possible!) I agree with Bethany's verdict on "quality time."

    That said, I do think there's value in just being in the same room or nearby as the kids develop their self-play capacities, while we're doing other things, and not concentrating our attention on the kids but just puttering around, washing dishes, opening mail, whatever.

  4. Anonymous5:45 PM

    you might find this site useful. it help to organise household chores and give them to everyone in a fair way

  5. Anonymous4:11 PM

    oh god don't turn on the TV. studies have shown a direct link between watching TV in early childhoot and ADD