I stood at my computer, surfing the internet, with my 4-year-old sitting in front of me playing and my 1-year-old in the high chair eating. And I had a moment of guilt. I felt like I should be playing with my older son or entertaining him while my youngest ate. Or that I should be paying more attention to what my younger son was doing. In reality, I had a bit of attention on each of them and some on myself as well.
And I felt guilty because I was doing something for myself in that moment and that all of my attention was not on my kids.
But then I realized. I am a mom. Not a cruise director. It’s okay not to have full attention on my kids at all times. I don’t need to be entertaining my kids at every moment, and it’s okay if my kids get bored or have to wait. At the particular moment of my guilt, both were fully engaged in what they were doing and honestly would have no idea if I were on Facebook, sipping some tea (or something stronger!), or doing a dance. They were fine.
They are fine.
I’m guessing I’m not alone in the belief that we need to be doing something with our kids all the time. It’s easy to feel guilty if we’re around our kids but not directly engaging with them, but you know what? Not only is it not realistic to be 100% engaged 100% of the time, I also don’t think it’s healthy.
Now- don’t get me wrong- you need to know what your kids are doing and have enough attention on them to keep them safe. This will change with their age and the situation, but as long as their safety needs are being met, I think we can cut ourselves some slack on the “keep them entertained” side of things.
My son is four and if he gets engaged in playing? It’s okay not to be involved. My 1-year-old is sitting next to me, eating, while I type this. I don’t need to be talking to him every second. Like me, he may actually like having a moment of silence to enjoy his meal.
A friend once asked me how she was supposed to get everything done at home without neglecting her kids. I told her she wasn’t. It’s pretty much impossible to get the normal daily tasks done and fully engage with our kids at every moment. Yes, you could have them right there with you while you cook, or walk to and from the washing machine with you, but if it were me, that would get annoying. I’ve accepted that to get these tasks done, I need to, for lack of a better word, ignore my kids for a bit.
And in those moments where we need to get things done, if our kids need to wait a moment for us- so be it. We need to not feel guilty or badly that we can’t cater to their needs immediately. Now, maybe you’re rolling your eyes at me because you figured this out long ago, but I think it’s still worth saying because I see this mom guilt happening with my friends.
Repeat: I am a mom. I’m not a cruise director.
You are not responsible for your child’s happiness. Yes, we want to raise them well and help them be happy, but I think it’s a great gift we can give our children, from a young age, to learn how to be independent and be happy without us right by their side.
There is so much value in our kids figuring out how to entertain themselves and keep busy while we do whatever it is that we want or need to. (Don’t interpret that as a pass to just check out and forget about your kids, but if you need to check your email, put a load of laundry in, start dinner, or you simply want to sit down for a minute? Do it and don’t feel bad!!).
While I type this, I can hear my older son playing make believe with his Lego set. He’s been playing on his own for at least 15 minutes. I am so proud that he can get engaged in playing and not need me.
And, with the irony that is motherhood, he’s now yelling that he needs me. And I’m right here to help him.
I am going to remind myself that I am a mom. My job is to raise these little people to the best of my abilities: helping them to be kind, thoughtful, respectful, and hard working (the list could go on). But — I am not a cruise director. I don’t have to have every minute of their day planned. I don’t need to engage with them every second I am with them, and I don’t need to feel badly if they get bored.
I need to remember that there are lessons in the boredom, there is growth in the moments alone and, just as importantly, this creates time for me. Time for me to start a load of laundry, a moment for me to send an email, or even a handful of minutes for me to be inspired to write a blog post. So — put that mom guilt aside and remember that you aren’t a cruise director. You are a mom, who has a huge job, and you are just as important as everyone else on the ride.
So- what will you stop feeling guilty about?