I know, you’re probably gasping about my lack of engaged mothering right now, but let me clarify a few things: all of my kids swim competitively, my pool is lifeguarded, and they are totally safe.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about how not only am I cool with saying I ignore my kids, but I think I’m probably killing motherhood right now because of it.
Here’s the thing: my kids can entertain themselves.
It’s this almost relaxing, totally awesome place to be in motherhood, and it has nothing to do with their ages (okay, a little to do with their ages), and a lot to do with home training.
Mine and theirs.
When I was about 5 years old, my family suffered a tragedy. I was lonely and daily I begged my mother for a sibling.
When the sibling thing didn’t happen immediately I turned my sights to a pet.
They finally gave in and adopted a cat.
Mr. Snuffaluffacuss hated my guts. He’d scratch my eyes out as soon as look at me and most days were spent with me nursing a wound while he hid under my bed to avoid me.
He was rehomed shortly after his arrival and that left one person to fill my playmate void -my mother.
She quickly became the Ken to my Barbie, the Luke to my Princess Leia, the background dancer to my Michael Jackson dance party. All of my best games involved her and I hated spending time playing alone.
Eventually exhausted from hours of Care Bear Stare downs, she sat me down and said, “Today we are going to learn pretend and then you are going to use it when you want someone to play with.”
Best. Gift. Ever.
And one I have worked to help my kids discover as well, without actually needing to sit them down and explicitly tell them about it.
It’s called teaching independent play, and it is magical.
It means that your children can enjoy themselves and their imaginations without relying on you to entertain or occupy them. It means you can get things done (like poops and showers) without the constant addition of a tagalong. It means that the “I’m boreds” don’t tend to set in quite so quickly and there are days when I don’t need to threaten cleaning for fun to entertain them.
That’s not to say my kids don’t get bored (they totally do) or that I have had many solo poops or showers in my life -I haven’t ventured into the bathroom uninterrupted in 15 years. But, they also can be expected to play alone happily for periods of time so that I can human briefly without anyone’s world coming to a screeching halt.
Even in the toddler days, my kids could be found sitting on the floor of our living room, not tearing a single thing up, playing sensibly and all alone, while I prepared lunch in the kitchen, or just sat on the couch and caught up on Facebook.
Dude 3 would regularly create crafty masterpieces that he came up with, without needing me to guide him, praise him, or even keep him from getting the glue all over the carpet.
Not because he’s a baby genius or anything (and he totally got glue on the carpet, I just didn’t really care), but because it was an expectation -a norm that accompanied his life from the onset and it opened him to great discoveries.
He is 3 in this photo…
He made this rocket ship from a box all by himself. All I did was cut the holes where he told me to (because we needed the grownup scissors). He imagined, envisioned, and constructed it himself, because he could.
It has always been important to me that my children could have this freedom of thought. I want them to be creative thinkers and problem solvers. I want them to think outside the box and trust in their own ideas. I want them to have the strength to follow their minds down paths to discovery. I wanted them to know that they could have fun without mom. And I never wanted to get in the way of that.
Plus, honestly, I don’t want to bothered.
Sometimes, sure, but not every minute of every trip to the pool, or the park, or just the living room.
I need a rest -a moment to take a beat from the constant “MOMMY! MOMMY! MOOOOOOMYYYYY!” part of mothering.
That doesn’t make me a bad person, it just makes me a person. A person who wants to do and think about other things aside from keeping my kids entertained and engaged and happy every moment of every day.
Because, while I want them to be happy, it isn’t my sole job to make it so.
My job is to teach them to find, accept, and appreciate joy -not to give it to them on a platter.
So I did. And I don’t.
We do often find happiness together -enjoying activities that we all find pleasurable as a family, but I don’t make it my daily life goal to be their personal happy makers.
That’s not my jam.
Maybe it works for other moms, but not this one.
And don’t get all she’s-mom-shaming on me.
Not at all.
I am a firm believer in the to each her own style of living so this is not a judgement for other moms. Because maybe you other moms like it. Maybe spending your time making your kid happy and being their entertainment is your own form of happiness and entertainment.
Just not for me.
In fact, exhausts me, it saddens me and, Sometimes, it even annoys me.
Because being able to play independently of your parents impacts your ability to make and enjoy friends.
When I sit at the pool watching the kids who are just as old as my kid who can’t enjoy time with his own friends without regular interaction from his mother, I feel a lot exhausted for the mom and a little sad for the kid. And, when I get roped into it, I get annoyed.
My time in pool is over. I did all that when I had 3 kids under 6 clutching to me in the big pool. I spent my time in the kiddie pool, pretending ankle deep water was the best thing ever.
And now, I don’t want to always hand out snacks and find goggles and watch dives and toss the ball. I don’t want to judge jumps or time laps. And don’t even look at me when it’s time to Marco Polo.
Because what I want is to catch up with friends, get up every now and then to snap a photo of you doing a sweet jump off the diving board, and then sit here and sleep behind my sunglasses.
And, honestly, that’s what my kid wants too. He doesn’t want to play with his mom, or his friend’s mom the whole time. He wants to swim around and find a less encumbered playmate who will play some game he invented even though the rules are weird and no one can ever win.
Does it mean I’m living a better life or that I’m a better mom?
Nah, it just means that when I am aroused from my sneaky poolside nap 20 minutes later after being splashed by my kid who is thoroughly engaged in a Marco Polo chicken fight ring find hybrid game with 10 other kids he just made friends with, I will be completely rested and ready to listen to him retell the entire afternoon to me before he doses off from exhaustion on the ride home.
It may not be a better life, but it feels like the best one to me.