Last month, we hired a new babysitter to help out once a week. I was talking this through with my 4-year-old, who processes every change with a minimum of five questions. She was asking about how old our new sitter is, why she was going to come over during the day and what they would do with her while she is at our house.
As we wrapped up the conversation, she became very quiet for a minute and then said, “But she isn’t a mommy, because mommies don’t play with kids.”
She didn’t intend to guilt trip me. She’s a smart kid and she was simply making an observation about our life and generalizing it to other experiences. I’m her mommy and I don’t really play with my kids, therefore our new sitter probably isn’t a mommy because she does play with kids.
Still, the truth hit me hard. I stay home with my kids, so we spend hours and hours each week in the same 1,000 square feet that is our home. But at the end of each day I would lie in my bed and try to figure out what I did all day that kept me from spending time with them. I would struggle with the fact that I worked tirelessly all day—yet somehow I did nothing of consequence with my time and was too busy to connect with my children.
I don’t mind working hard, but when all of that hard work gets between me and my kids, it keeps me from being the mom I really want to be.
Earlier in the year, I aspired to spend 15 minutes of uninterrupted time with each of my kids once a day. I feel embarrassed to admit that my goal was so small, but I’m even more ashamed to report that checking this off my to-do list each day has been nearly impossible.
It’s the nature of having young kids. My days are filled with the invisible work of motherhood, all the tasks I never thought about before I became a mom. I'm not only talking about changing diapers or redirecting toddlers from their dangerous antics. What really eats up my time are the seemingly small things, like crawling around on the floor and picking up ponytail holders and broken crayons, or peeling stickers off of the carpet before they make it into my 9-month-old's mouth.
It’s retrieving sippy cups from under van seats or from behind the couch so I can refill them, then following my 3-year-old around and begging her to hydrate.
It’s wiping little fingerprints off of the same windows and doors.
It’s sorting through the dresser drawer every three months to discard the clothes they’ve outgrown or stained or ripped, which simultaneously adds to my ever-growing list of clothes to replace the next time I go shopping.
These are the things that are a part of being a mom, but keep my from the most important tasks of motherhood.
It haunts me. This is not how things should be. I didn’t become a mom to spend hours of my life tidying up or making mental to-do lists. I don’t mind working hard, but when all of that hard work gets between me and my kids, it keeps me from being the mom I really want to be.
It’s not all hopeless, of course. I’ve made small improvements here and there, like finding ways to connect with my oldest by having her help me load the dishwasher each day or stopping for a moment to tickle my middle child after I wipe her nose. I put my phone away more, so I can look into my baby’s eyes while I nurse him for the tenth time that day, instead of checking out on Facebook to keep myself entertained.
I'm learning to make these tasks opportunities for connection. It certainly isn’t enough, but until my small kids become more independent, until I can find more time for long stretches of play, these small moments filled with giggles and conversation are getting me through each day.