This has me thinking about my own tendency to hear the "shoulds" in the back of my mind as I go through my day. I've gotten loads better at shutting off this voice, but there are some things that often run through my mind, mostly on weeknights, after work and while I'm enjoying the few hours I have with Munch and Hubs.For Stephanie Decker, a mom of two who famously used her body to shield her kids while a tornado destroyed their Indiana home in 2012, playing with kids is a key to parenting, even when the kids are tiny babies.“Kids don’t care if the house is perfect or if the laundry is done; they care if mom will have time to sit, play and cuddle with them. At the end of the day, all our kids want is to be loved and cherished.”
When I get Munch home from daycare, our first activity is often to veg on the couch. I snuggle him as he drinks his bottle (one of the biggest shoulds in my mind: "I should stop him from using a bottle"), and we sometimes watch his favorite Disney shows, but other times it's just quiet. It is our wind-down time. After 8 hours apart, these moments are precious to me, some of my favorites of ever.
But that doesn't stop the shoulds from creeping in.
"I should clean the kitchen."
"I should pack up Munch's old clothes."
"I should dust instead of just sitting here."
"I should get dinner going."
"I should clip Munch's nails."
"I should clip the cats' nails."
"I should clip my own nails."
And even less productive shoulds, but more personal ones:
"I've seen this episode of Sophia 60 times, I should read while we sit here."
"I should write my grandma a letter."
"I should stay off Twitter while I'm with Munch."
All the "shoulds" go toward telling myself that what I'm doing at that moment--sitting quietly with my son, or even playing with my son--is wrong somehow, not ENOUGH somehow, lacking somehow.
And that is both sad and full-on crap.
I agree with Stephanie Decker--I believe that the biggest gift we can give our kids is our time, our attention, our support, our smiles, our kisses, our arms, our snuggles. No, I don't think it's okay to let trash pile up in the corners or flies to buzz around dirty dishes in the sink. But I think snuggling on the couch is 1000% more important to my parenting than folding a pile of laundry and making sure every bit of dust is off the shelves.
As a working parent, something's got to freaking give. It can't be work. I refuse to let it be my time with Munch. So, it's the housework, by and large.
Besides this, as Munch grows up, I find he's a kid who likes companionship while he plays. A couple of friends have kids about Munch's age who seem much more independent than Munch in that they go to their rooms, alone, and play. One of these kids goes to daycare every day, the other is home with Mom; one is a second child, the other a first. So I don't know if it's an environmental thing. I think it's a temperament thing.
And I think: "Should Munch be playing on his own?"
He will turn to me as he plays and pat the floor and say, "Mommy, sit down."
And 10 times out of 10, no matter what I'm doing, I sit. I ask you, what "should" I do? Tell him, "Play by yourself"? Is that the right answer?
But then I shake myself and say--There is no right answer. There is only what is right for me, and what is right for Munch, and only I as his mother and Hubs as his father can answer that.
And, for me, sitting with him, playing with him, is what I want to do. Munch has to play independently at daycare all day, every day. For him, for my child, playing with Mommy and Daddy in the evenings is important to him. And it's important to me too.
The "shoulds" whisper in our ears as parents because of the huge responsibility we hold. We think, or we fear, that every decision we make will affect our children forever. Some decisions of course will have a huge impact. But my sitting to play with my kid who happily goes off to daycare each morning does not mean he will become a clingy kid who refuses to leave my side. When kids are around, he already leaves my side, screaming "Kids!" He tells me to stay away as he climbs ladders to the slides. He has an independent streak; but he also has the "sit with me" streak.
So, self, let go of the shoulds. Snuggle and play. Munch is only young once.