“Okay kids, Mama needs some quiet time to write. Please go play so I can work on this blog post about motherhood.”
The irony of this statement has always bothered me. A lovely new friend wisely suggested I write about it, so here goes.
Isn’t motherhood all about being present and spending time with your kids? It feels wrong, so wrong, to tell the subjects of my essays to please play in another room so I can pen stories about them.
But the reality is that in order to write, I need space. Quiet. An uninterrupted stretch of minutes during which no one needs anything from me, a block of time, sans kids, to sort the jumbled collection of thoughts in my head.
I feel guilty about this, and it’s not hard to understand why. Browse any major parenting publication, and you’ll find constant reminders that we only get 18 summers with our kids. I know this time is fleeting. Blink once and the kids are in elementary school, twice and they’re packing suitcases to leave the nest for good. It’s enough to send me into a sentimental heap of tears.
Shouldn’t I, therefore, be soaking up every moment with my kids, indulging every request of “Play with me, Mama!” no matter when or where it happens? Shouldn’t I be relishing this magical age, in which my children are old enough to be reasonably independent but still too young to venture into the dreaded “three D’s” of parenting (dating, driving, and drinking)?
This was my thought process yesterday when, as we were leaving the library, my oldest daughter asked me, “Can we play at the park?”
It was the end of the day, a day spent breaking up fights, chauffeuring kids around town, and wiping sticky custard remnants from car seats. My energy drained, I’d been looking forward to getting home and diving into dinner preparations, maybe having some quiet time as the kids read their library books.
I did not want to spend more time out. I did not want to play at the flippin’ park.
But that familiar guilt crept in. It’s summer, the kids want to play, you should savor the sunshine with them, you’re a bad mom if you say no.
So I said sure.
My youngest daughter set up a pretend ice cream stand in the tanbark as my oldest fashioned an American Ninja Warrior course out of the play equipment. I plopped down on a bench in the shade. Before long, the whining began.
“Mama, watch me! Watch me!” My eldest daughter scowled in my direction. “Are you even watching me!?”
I, admittedly, was not. I was glancing up on occasion as I tapped out an article idea on my phone, my brain buzzing away with half-finished projects and endless to-do lists.
As we left the park a short while later, everyone was hungry and deflated.
On the car ride home, I realized something. It’s impossible to be fully present, attentive, and immersed in parenthood 100% of the time. Not only is it mentally and physically exhausting, when we try to power through because we feel guilty, the result is often the opposite of what we were hoping to achieve.
Needing space and regular mental breaks away from our kids does not mean that we’re selfish or unappreciative of the joys of parenthood; it proves only that we are human. We all have passions outside of being parents, pursuits that energize us and give us a renewed sense of purpose, from careers to hobbies to volunteer roles. Writing provides an important outlet for me. Over the years, I’ve found that the ability to express myself in this way is a key form of self-care that helps me process difficult emotions.
So kids, go play for a bit, and I’ll finish up this post. When I’m done, I promise I’ll be ready to tackle that new ninja course with you. With a clearer head and plenty of Band-Aids.
P.S. Here’s a nice resource on fun outdoor activities to do with kids, from creating an outdoor chalkboard to forest bathing.
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