A few days ago, I took my children to the YMCA. I wore jeans and a tank top because I didn’t go to work out ― just to sit in peace and quiet. I dropped my boys off at the kid’s zone and messed around on my computer for a solid hour. During that time, no one pulled at my wrist, asked me for a snack, or pooped in their pants. It was glorious.
The small break from my children energized me. I picked them up with big hugs and kisses. We had plans to go to the pool together, and stopped in the bathroom to get into our bathing suits. As we changed, I actually listened with complete attention to every word of my 4-year-old’s story. This isn’t always easy, as the talking of my preschooler doesn’t stop, but I was just so happy to be around him again. I wanted to know the details of the sandbox he played in, and see the particles left over on his forearms. As I dressed them, I felt the sweetness of their little hands on my neck, and listened to their voices with delight. I was able to be more present with them, all because I was away from them.
I’m a stay-at-home mom, and am rarely away from my children. Yet somehow, at the end of many days, I still wonder if I spent enough time with them. I like watching my 4-year-old do tricks on his scooter. I even enjoy pretending to be a dog with my 1-year-old. However, the moments that excite me the most, are the ones I steal for myself. A lot of the time, I half-listen to my preschooler while responding to texts and looking for inspiration on Instagram. I do dishes with one hand, and chat with my mom on the phone while the kids yell, “Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama!”
Most women who choose the stay-at-home lifestyle do so to be with their kids more, but sometimes I wonder if I actually am. Of course the quantity of time together is there, but how about the quality? I’m project-oriented and have a steady thirst for accomplishment. I like to read, write, and talk, and my lack of time and space often makes me irritable. Sometimes I get involved in some work with my children around, and end up frustrated by their interruptions or bad about myself for being in my own world. After all, isn’t having my own world a little selfish? Of course that’s not true, but it’s a subtle cultural notion that creeps in my mind while I’m typing on my computer and trying to ignore my 19-month-old who pulls at me to go look at the dead bug in the corner.
I play with my kids, and love it. I hold their hands in mine, lift their hips with my feet, and pretend to fly them all over the world. We build with blocks and knock down big towers. We race from wall to wall and have daily dance parties. Right now my throat actually tickles from singing “Five Little Ducks” with so much enthusiasm, but there’s only so much time an adult can spend actively engaged in a child’s world. The moments of sitting on a floor playing with trains is limited regardless of if you’re a stay-at-home mom or not.
My children’s ability to entertain themselves is as limited as my capacity for rounds of hide-and-seek and Candy Land, so sometimes we just need to get out of the house. We usually don’t have anywhere we need to go in particular, just away from the mess of my one-year-old tearing the contents of the kitchen cabinets apart, and the awkwardness of my 4-year-old going through our bathroom drawers and asking me to explain what the condoms are that he holds in his hand. Sometimes it’s just easier to strap them into a car seat, leave the duties of the house behind, and hope to stumble upon some adult interaction.
Although getting out of the house is sometimes alluring, it’s not a simple solution. They beg for gum at the checkout lines, and try to climb out of the cart. They dip their entire hands into the Nutella snacks I give in and get them, and grab my new shirt with their grubby little fingers. I get them to the car, and realize one is missing a shoe. It’s probably lying in the produce section somewhere, but I don’t even have it in me to go back and get it, because by this time they’re unraveling, as am I. I get impatient and snappy, and wonder if a little time apart would actually be a good thing.
I think about the moms who miss their children while at work, and wonder how it impacts their moments together. Do they value them more? Do they ever consider time with their kids a duty? I doubt it. When my husband has something he has to do by himself on a weekend, I think, “Oh great, I’m going to be alone with the kids again.” If I had more time away from them, I’d probably see it more as an opportunity for fun and bonding.
I’m a teacher by trade, and a lot of me would really like to homeschool, but my 4-year-old is starting pre-k in three weeks. I’m not sending him because I believe he needs the socialization or because I think our public school system will do a better job than me in educating him. I’m sending him because I think a little time apart will do our relationship good.
How much time we spend with our children is less important than how we spend it. When a woman nourishes her own heart, she is better able to nourish the heart of others. That is why it doesn’t matter if a mother chooses to quit her job completely, work at home, work outside of it, or go to Starbucks by herself everyday. When she has a balanced, fulfilling life, she will be more attentive to her family. I personally don’t want to choose between staying home or working long hours. I think I’ll commit to going to the Y in a pair of jeans with my computer.