Tag Archives: balance

Can you spend too much time with your kids?

Real Simple magazine recently reported that as of 2010, mothers (working and SAHMs) spend an average of fourteen hours a week on childcare—up from ten hours a week in 1965.

To which I say, um, what?

I realize I might be in the most time-intensive phase of parenting right now, where I still have young children at home, but I spend nearly fourteen hours a day with my children. And even if I my children were older and I were working, I would still have at least four hours a day in their presence on weekdays, and at least that on weekends.

I’m guessing (slash hoping) “child care” here means more than just “spending time with your child,” since I also have a hard time imagining mothers in 1965 shunting their children off for all but 85 minutes a day. I’m not “caring” for my children every single second of the day, but I’m still mothering them, whether the TV is on, whether they’re playing in the backyard, whether I’m on the computer—I’m on the clock, doling out food and punishments and advice. (So how is that not child care?)

But according to the Real Simple article, even two hours a day of caring for your own children is too much:

One study suggested that children who are the center of their parents’ universes may grow up to become more neurotic adolescents. The Free Range Kids movement, started by author Lenore Skenazy, has gained traction by advocating for unstructured and less-supervised play. Elisabeth Badinter, author of The Conflict, suggests that motherhood need not be a full-time profession. “Some parents believe that a good mother puts her child’s needs before everything else—and that’s not healthy,” says Badinter. Nor does it make us the best role models. After all, if our ultimate goal is to have our kids find personal fulfillment, perhaps we should lead by example: By putting ourselves at the top of our own to-do lists.

Wait, seriously? Somehow we’re saying that spending more than an hour and a half a day caring for your child is not only making them the center of your universe and putting yourself last, but also creating neuroses and makes us bad role models?

I think we’re conflating several very different things: taking care of our children, spending time with them and not making ourselves a priority. A very young child will not be able to tell the difference, but I would hope that an adult could. The difference isn’t something you measure in minutes: it’s measured in a mother’s mindset.

Yes, my children are my top priority and the biggest segment of my day right now. Honestly, whether you’re working or staying at home—heck, whether your children are infants or adults—if your child really needed you, would you say, “Oh, honey, I’m having my me time. I’ll help you with that impending peril/broken arm/unplanned pregnancy during your allotted two hours”? Is that really the way to be a good example of personal fulfillment?

Yes, we want our children to find personal fulfillment, and (obviously, I hope) we all want to find that ourselves. HOWEVER, I personally feel that exemplifying personal nirvana isn’t the main goal of full-time parenting. I have taken charge of my children’s formative years because I want to teach them the most important things in life—how to treat other people, the way to find true happiness (hint: it’s not by focusing only on yourself!), and the things we believe that will take them there—and that’s important enough to me to be willing to put in the time necessary to accomplish it.

A mother finding fulfillment in motherhood—in life—can put herself neither first nor last. Her children’s needs will come before hers quite regularly because she recognizes the level of commitment motherhood warrants, but she’s not going to forgo all meals until her children are independent, successful and grown.

She does model someone who sets personal goals, always learning, and devotes personal time to her own sanity and development. But she manages to do that in a very careful balance, managing her priorities and most of all her children and their physical and emotional needs. And importantly (to me), she looks for that personal fulfillment in the time she spends with (and caring for) her children, too. It is never easy, but it is worth it.

What do you think? What’s the difference between spending time with your children and “child care”? Can you spend too much time with your children?

Photo credits: watching timer—me!; multitasking dad—Henrik Betnér

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Losing our lives in the balance

Multiple times in the New Testament, Jesus teaches that “whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” As I devote so much of my life to my children, it often feels like I’m losing my life (or mind 😉 ) in pursuing what I believe is the Lord’s will for us in our lives.

A woman whose life is involved in the righteous rearing of her children has a better chance of keeping up her spirits than the woman whose total concern is centered in her own personal problems.
—Ezra Taft Benson, Do Not Despair – Ensign Oct. 1986.

I know that when I focus on doing my job as a mom and enjoying my children and helping them to enjoy themselves, our lives go a lot easier. But I also know that taking time for myself is absolutely necessary for my sanity. Sometimes it seems like these two principles conflict. Sometimes it feels like the more of myself I give the kids, the more they demand, and the less I can take or save for myself.

But dwelling too much on myself only makes my job as a mother more difficult. The kids get more and more desperate for attention and act out, and I get more and more frustrated. So I’m constantly looking for something in the middle: immersing myself in my kids, then taking time to recoup and regenerate. With our schedules still settling after the start of school, it’ll take a while longer to find what works for us, because that balance is always moving and changing.

What do you think? How do you find a balance?

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The sometimes impossible balancing act of motherhood

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I’d finally begun to find a balance between trying to act as if motherhood hasn’t changed my life and my schedule at all, and totally accommodating my son.

Of course, this balancing act of motherhood changes nearly every day. One day, you can hardly pick up a gallon of milk; the next, your children sit through an hour and a half of grocery shopping without complaint.

But as your children grow and change, and sometimes our family expands, we are constantly having to adjust. Finding balance is a balancing act in an of itself.

And even if you do find balance, it doesn’t mean that your point of balance is necessarily an easy or leisurely one. Because being a mom just isn’t easy all the time. And it seems that sometimes “balance” is less a give-and-take between mom and baby and more of a “how much are you willing to give” for mom.

Wesley Jeanne at Mountain Mama wrote about this over the weekend.

I remember at my cousin Stacy’s baby shower (before kids for me), her older sister Karyn gave us both the advice that we should fit kids into our lifestyles rather than fit our lifestyles to our kids. I nodded sagely, sure of the wisdom of her advice. After all, at the time I thought it ridiculous if my friends with children wouldn’t do something because it interfered with nap time or was too inconvenient for the kids. I swore I wouldn’t be like that. When I had kids, I would be flexible, relaxed, I would have them adjust to my life.

You’re smiling. I know. I was delusional, wasn’t I?

Two kids later I do try to be flexible. I won’t bar the door and turn off the telephone and block all outside light during nap time, for example. My kids have learned to nap in a house that is impossible to keep dark and silent (I have a dog, I have neighbors, I don’t even have curtains on many of my windows).

But as a mother I also have to be aware at all times of the needs of my children. I am painfully aware of what happens when they don’t get enough sleep, when they get overstimulated, when their routine gets thrown for more than a day. Children need for parents to be flexible, but they also need structure. It just works better that way for all of us.

Although Wesley Jeanne goes on to acknowledge that it’s very hard to accommodate your schedule to your children, and being a prepared-mom-on-the-go is actually a lot more work than it looks like, I think the above statements show that she gets the underlying idea: a mom tries to be flexible and have fun with her kids, but at the same time, she has to put her kids’ needs first.

Of course, it’s easy to say that and know that, and another thing to do that. So head on over to Mountain Mama and show your support. Because sometimes, that’s what a mom really needs to feel better about this balancing act.

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