For the longest time after B was born (heck, until a couple of weeks ago, really), I felt terrible if I didn’t spend every waking moment that wasn’t spent at work playing with or interacting with her in some way. From the moment she woke up to the moment she went to sleep and every moment in between, I felt obligated to pay attention to her and play with her and entertain her in some fashion. And on the few days when I *gasp* let her entertain herself while I read a book or a magazine or paid bills while she was awake, I felt like a Bad Mother.
Then, last week, when my husband dropped B off at my mother’s house for some Grammy Time, he stayed to chat for a few minutes, and my mom complimented us on how independent B is. When he asked what she meant, she said (I may be paraphrasing here, I wasn’t there, but, in essence…) “She loves to explore things on her own and figure out things for herself. If she wants something, she gets it herself. That’s good!”
When he relayed this comment to me, it made me smile, and then take a step back and really look at how I parent my daughter. Not how I THINK I should parent my daughter, the impossible unattainable Perfect Mother that I seem to hold myself up in comparison to, but the job I actually do as a parent, and D, too, now that he is feeling more up to it.
We keep her clean, fed, and well hydrated. She has plenty of clothes and we get her dressed every day. We cuddle a lot, and she has complete faith in our ability to catch her no matter what impossible direction she randomly decides to throw all of her weight. We play together, and she plays on her own. She lets us know when she wants extra attention, and we give it to her, because we want her to feel loved and important. She belly-laughs when we tickle her, and she cries when we say “no” to her.
I realized that while it’s fun to play with B, she seems to enjoy it when I sit on the couch and read while she plays across the room. And her eyes light up when I let her wander into another room (and watch her discreetly from around the corner). The more independence I give her in her play, the more she seems to discover. It’s like when I remove my adult perceptions of how we should play from the equation, she finds much more entertaining and imaginative ways to play on her own.
So I am letting go of the guilt I’ve always felt for taking an hour to myself while she plays on the floor with her toys. I’m letting go of this impossible “obligation” I’ve always felt to entertain her at all times. Learning how to play on her own and enjoy her own company is important. Isn’t it?
Today, she was playing and she held her toy phone up to her ear and said what I thought was “happy.” My mother-in-law recorded the same thing later, and while I was watching it, I realized she wasn’t saying “happy,” she was saying “Hi B—!” Made my heart happy to know that she hears that often enough, and with such enthusiasm, that it’s a phrase she’s learned to mimic. And it’s so cute that it sounds like “happy!”
Guilt-Free (Well, Less Guilty, Anyway) Mama