Times they are a’changing.
Once upon a time, mothers spent most of their time when at home doing things around the house: things like cooking, cleaning, paying the bills, doing the laundry.
Today we do these things, of course, but I’ve noticed a new thought among mothers these days and I wanted to share the idea with you.
Today it seems that mothers feel they must spend all of their time when their kids are at home playing with, entertaining, and enjoying their children’s company.
I don’t mean some of the time, either: I mean all of it.
I have a good friend whose daughter is four and a half. My friend’s philosophy is this: Get everything done when her daughter sleeps and then spend all of her daughter’s waking moments doing things with her, such as coloring, playing games, playing the computer, and taking her to the park.
I had a conversation about this with a good friend of mine a few years back when our youngest children were infants. We both work out of the home. We were having a difficult time finding time to get our work done, mainly because we had decided that we, too, needed to constantly entertain our children.
“You know,” she said, “our parents didn’t do that with us. My mom put me in the playpen most of the time. Not that this was good, but she didn’t feel guilty about it. ”
“True, “I said. “My mom gave me things to play with but she had too many other things to do than to play with me. But I feel guilty if I don’t play with my kids when we are all home.”
“Me too,” said my friend.
Her husband was present for the conversation and he piped in with, “Why do you feel that you have to do that? Why do you feel guilty if you don’t?”
It was an eye opener. I realized that perhaps this was one of the reasons my oldest daughter had some issues entertaining herself. I had played with her most of my spare time during her infancy and early childhood, before she started school. Even if I were making dinner, say, I’d be bending over to flick the animals on her stationary toy.
After that conversation I realized that I was doing somewhat of a disservice to my daughters by constantly entertaining them. I was taking away their ability to explore the environment and learn on their own.
I suppose there is a fine balance here, and I’m sure that as working mothers we often feel guilty (even if we don’t realize it) that we can’t spend more time with our kids. Business does call and we have to make some sacrifices in order to meet these job related tasks. Perhaps when our kids are there in front of us we instantly think, “I should be spending time with them, all of my time, since I can’t do that during the rest of the day.”
I read an article in Dear Abby the other day written about a young mother who had recently wrote in to say that she was feeling despondent and bored when it came to playing with her young child and that she looked forward to computer time as a getaway.
A few readers wrote back in response to Dear Abby’s response to this new mother. Many of the ones who wrote in (or at least that were published) mentioned that they, too, grew bored when they had to constantly play with their children. One lady wrote that she was never good at playing with her children but she loved to take them on nature walks and teach them about the outdoors. She said that they still remember these walks.
Another mother said she never felt that she needed to ‘entertain’ or play with her kids; that she had her own things to do and that her kids followed her around and played with things as she did her work. For instance, they played with a rag when she washed windows, or thread when she sewed.
Again it made me realize that this notion of constantly entertaining or playing with our children is fairly new. This wasn’t so a long time ago. What has changed?
I have tried to make more of a balance since that conversation with my girlfriend and her husband. It has worked well. I spend some of each day playing with the girls, whether we ride bikes, color, play barbies or play a game. Then I spend some time letting them go out on their own and explore together, or alone. I find that if I start an activity with them (ie: a game) and play for a while, then I say, “Mommy needs to clean up now, you guys go on and play,” they will do so-and I get the time I need to get a few things done.
Yet the whole idea of mothers today feeling guilty if they are not constantly playing with their children still has me stumped. I hear conversations about this, so I know it is an issue not just with me and my friends but out in the rest of the world as well.
Where did this come from, and when did it start? Do you feel this way? Do you feel that you should play or entertain your children all of the time, some of the time or none of the time? Is this how you were raised, or where do you think you learned to believe the way that you did about this?
I’d be interested in hearing your opinions and stories, whether your children are grown and in college or beyond or still in diapers. I think that discussing this issue might help us come up with a better resolution-one that works for all of us, and leaves us feeling less overwhelmed and guilty.