Reader Chocolate And Cuddling writes,
I wonder if you could help me with some mommy guilt issues please. Some background: I work as a doctor during the day, and I'm away from around 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday, and 8:30 to 12:30 every second Saturday, as well as once or twice a month in the evenings for lectures. My husband stays at home with our 2.5 year old daughter. His 20-year-old daughter who stays with us is home for most of the day, before she works in the evenings.
My daughter is not in preschool. Although she has stable attachment figures, I wonder if I am maybe "not there" enough for her, especially as some of the time when I am at home, I am distracted by housework. I know that she watches movies with her dad and sister during the day on their laptops, and I have no idea how much. And my favorite parenting philosophy is Playful Parenting, with the idea that play is essential to bonding. My husband's, and my, predominant love language is touch, and I suspect my child's might be too, although I suppose tiny children want all the love languages all the time. She still sleeps with us, and still breastfeeds.
When I come home in the afternoon, it has always been our ritual to have "booby in the bed," and reconnect. I am worried as for a few months now, she wants to spend hours in bed with me, watching some non-educational crap for the millionth time, snuggled in my arms and with a nipple in or near her mouth, not necessarily doing anything with it. This is sometimes combined with sharing a bar of chocolate or Easter eggs.
My problem: Sugar! Screen time! Every single day, for several hours, sometimes! Do you think maybe my daughter wants to make up snuggle time, and watching something on my tablet is partly just something to do? (She does NOT want to watch anything by herself!) Is it unhealthy to indulge in movies and chocolate in bed together every day? I feel like I should be putting down boundaries, taking her to the park, doing sensory play, kicking a ball around, reading to her etc (but truth is, I often get home tired and I'm glad to have a nap after work while we are in bed together.)
I have to work because we are a single income household. But is zoning out, doing housework while she is awake and generally not giving her my full attention while I can, bad for our relationship? You advised me once regarding my borderline mother. I put distance between us, after you "gave me permission." I am really scared that my relationship with my daughter will resemble my relationship with my mom, who I cannot respect or even happily have contact with for more than a few minutes every few weeks. How can I keep the bond between me and my daughter strong?
Before my American readers literally drop dead, I would like to say this is a European reader. I know absolutely zero American moms who would admit to doing this every day, even anonymously, nevermind doctor moms, even though I am sure equal numbers of moms in both cultures do this or anything else. European moms generally seem to be more chillaxed and less guilt-stricken than American moms, which is great. (Read more about French vs American parenting in this great book.)
You're worried about your relationship with your daughter, and I say, have no fear on that front. I think you're probably her hero. Anyone who lets me lay around in bed for hours watching shows and eating chocolate is going to be A-OK in my book, and I am sure your daughter concurs. I don't know about the "making up cuddle time" thing. Would she cuddle for that long without the iPad and the candy? I think basically any human being who is given the choice between cuddling/TV/sugar and any other activity will pick the former.
Now turning to what's considered best for your daughter's health, I don't think TV is the devil, but for a 2.5 year old, more than a couple hours per day between you and your husband/step-daughter is too much according to the American Medical Association guidelines that advise less than an hour for under 2 years old and no more than two hours for older kids. I think that's definitely on point. I think you need to ask your husband how much she watches with him, and you guys can divide it an hour for you and an hour for him. That seems like a good compromise. Or else you're messing with her ability to focus on normal life, which doesn't move as fast or with as much intensity as shows on the tablet.
The candy isn't bad every once in a while, but you could also give her a less sugary snack when she has her special hour of cuddle time with mommy (see how seamlessly it's going to transition into an hour?). You can give her nuts, or apple slices, or carrots, or even a piece of dark chocolate. Just not loads of sugar. You don't want to make sitting around and ingesting sugar into a habit, because you're right, it's not good for her.
Sometimes guilt is actually an adaptive feeling. It gives you valuable information about your behavior, and indicates that in your gut, you may think you're not doing something right. Here, I think you are so scared that you won't be a loving enough mom, due to your own disappointing relationship with your difficult mother (and you're also guilty that you're out of the house working, which you shouldn't be because you're an awesome strong working mom role model) that you are overdoing it by letting your kid do whatever she wants. Then you're intelligent enough to make up some reason after the fact that it may be okay, like she didn't get her cuddle time. This kid sounds like she gets cuddles up the wazoo. There are three adults in that house and only one of her, so every day is probably cuddlefest. So no more cuddle deficit worries.
It also sounds like you yourself are overwhelmed and stressed with work and housework. Cut yourself some slack here. Not everything needs to be perfect around the house. I think that getting up and doing some physical activity with your daughter instead of cleaning could kill two birds with one stone: you may feel less exhausted if you get into a workout routine, and you would be modeling a healthy lifestyle for her.
So, the new goal is one hour of nap/cuddle/TV time while she has some apple slices and almonds or something, then you get up, change into workout clothes, and take her for a walk in a jogging stroller around the neighborhood, or put on a workout DVD and do it while she jumps around with you, or go outside and play tag with her, for a half hour. If you start getting into this, then booby in bed may even move to before bed, because you'll look forward to the active together time and start realizing that you feel better about yourself and your parenting when you're up and moving versus laying around for hours. Incidentally, laying around for hours can also contribute to depressive feelings (like guilt), and so can sugar.
By the way, just because you have some stuff to do around the house doesn't mean you can't also hang out with your daughter while you do it. At 2.5 she can even "help" sweep, she can put her toys away, and she can put clothes in the hamper. She can help take forks and spoons out of the dishwasher and put them on the table to set the table too. The theme here is for you to feel like you're not just bonding with her through play (and recently, through TV and eating), but through modeling how to be a happy and effective adult, who takes care of a home, and takes care of herself. These are lessons I don't know if you got from your mom, and it would make you feel so good to teach them to your daughter. Play is great but kids make anything into play. You don't have to sit and play pretend for it to be play. It is fun to clean, cook, bake, exercise, and generally life your life. You may want to read The Continuum Concept for more on how people in other cultures don't play with their kids and everyone turns out fine. It is all about co-sleeping too so it will be up your alley.
Good luck, and till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Reminds Me Of This Study.
This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.