Yesterday evening I sat on our back porch, with an unrelenting, cheek-aching smile as I surveyed the scene of our townhome’s postage stamp-sized backyard. There was my husband, work pants rolled up to his knees, and our son, in a soaked cloth diaper sagging from his toddler frame, splashing and jumping in a pint-sized pool. An arc of water rained down on them from a nearby sprinkler. I’m not exactly sure why my husband bothered to roll his pants up, or why my son was still in a diaper; both articles of clothing looked uncomfortably saturated, but my boys could have cared less.
There were many chores I could have been doing while my son was cheerfully occupied–chores I’d been unable to tackle to completion all day–and yet I couldn’t peel myself away from my perch. I simply couldn’t walk away from my kid’s delighted squeals and gut giggles or from watching my husband’s unrestrained, big-hearted goofiness. I’ve discovered this to be a common theme since becoming a mother, this forgoing of household obligations for the sake of fun and play. Y’all, mothering has made me embrace messiness.
I didn’t always feel this way. In the first few months of my transition to stay-home motherhood, I felt such a weighty, badgering obligation to DO things around the house. A loaf of no-knead bread everyday? Why not? Scouring the grout between the bathroom tiles while my infant napped? Of course! Vacuuming, loading the dishwasher, weeding the garden, folding laundry, and a meal from scratch every night? On it! I felt like I needed to prove my worth and household contribution, like I needed to justify bidding adieu to a really solid salary to be home with my baby…as if mothering him wasn’t justification enough.
It is perhaps a needless confession, especially to those of you who’ve been there, but this pace wasn’t sustainable. Or, rather, it wasn’t compatible with my hope to give my baby calm, attentive nurturance. And it didn’t jive with my deep desire to be present with him. I shared this frustration with my husband one day, and he replied with a caring shrug, “Why stress? Do what you can, don’t worry about the rest. We’ll get it done.” And from that moment on, I relaxed both my standards and myself.
I’ve written here on TOBB before about play, how vital it is for our little ones, how little you really need to stoke your child’s creative, playful spirit. But you know what else I’ve discovered about play? It’s perfectly okay–awesome and fundamental even–for play to come first. The laundry will be there. The dishes can sit. Taking time away from household chores to play is not an act of indulgence or negligence; it’s a worthwhile investment in your child’s development and spirit. Taking time to marvel at your child’s imagination and discoveries is one of the highest joys of parenting, I’ve found. And aren’t we all in this for the joy?
Sharing and engaging in play with our babes is another way we parent them, not an act to get around to when we have a convenient, free moment (which sometimes doesn’t come). Sometimes I need to be reminded of this when I’m doing the dishes and my toddler takes my soapy hand and pulls me over to his toys. When I see the yogurt-y handprints on our stainless steel fridge (seriously, y’all, stainless steel appliances and toddlers are not a good combo); when I see the crushed Cheerio graveyard that is the floorboard of my car; when that bulging wet bag of cloth diapers beckons, I have to remind myself, This can wait for a little bit. (Have you been reading One Perfect Day’s nifty weekly series “10 Simple Ways to Connect with Your Child?” I love Ness’s suggestion in week 4 to Begin Each Day with Play. It’s not something that I have been able to do every day, but it’s something I am now more conscious about, and something I now strive towards. Check it out!)
I understand that we, as parents, have much competing for our attention, like a never-ending tug-of-war of our time. I imagine this competition for priority is especially challenging for those with multiple children or for those who work at home or outside of the home. I suppose I simply want to give a little permission–if I could, as someone once gave me–to lighten the load and lessen the pressure for perfection. Don’t feel guilty for delaying your chores to enjoy playtime with your child. If your experience is anything like my own, a little chunk of time spent snuggling, singing songs, stacking blocks, or galloping through the park is just the needed tonic for righting your day and reminding you who is most important in your life.
Do you struggle to balance household obligations and special time with your little ones? What are some of your tips in striking a cozier balance? What are some of your favorite ways to play with your tots?
Rhianna is a mess-making, rump-shaking stay-home mama to a mighty spunky 20 month old. They live in St. Louis and have been discovering all kinds of cool play activities worthy of chore avoidance.