I play on my phone while they run around at the park. I put on headphones and listen to podcasts while they play nearby. I rarely sit on the floor and play toys with them. I sometimes feed them nitrates and fast food tacos too. I loose my temper and I yell. I ignore the dishes because it’s too hot out or in favor of knitting. I skip park days so I can sleep in or leisurely drink my coffee. All these faux pas and I don’t feel like a bad mom (well, not for those reasons anyway).
I see other parents sitting on the floor engaging in pretend play with their children and their toys but that is something I don’t do. Not because I don’t recognize the value of pretend play or don’t want to spend time with my kids though. I might have done some of that with my first child, it’s a bit hazy in a way that 9 years of sleep deprivation can create, but I very rarely have done that with my second and third children. I’ve played along to their games of pretend, certainly. I’ve sang silly songs with them, I’ve breastfed them for years each, accommodated their food allergies, fretted because their diet is not local and organic enough, read some books, occasionally sat down to paint watercolors, attempted to teach them to knit, and I take them places like science centers and libraries to entertain them but sitting for an hour lovely gazing at them while they play or playing with them on the floor really doesn’t pique my interest.
I could get philosophical and suggest that I’d hamper their own creativity and peer relations by playing with them but really that’s not the reason. When we go to a park I sometimes chase them around but more often I talk with other parents and encourage them to go off and play with other children. I go to the park to socialize with adults and hopefully wear my children out to just the right level that they will be a bit more docile when we get back home but not quite so much that they are whiny piles for the rest of the day.
Most of my day is centered around checking things off my To-Do list, getting everyone fed, dressed into clean if wrinkly clothes, breaking up fights between the three children, and hopefully fitting in some time to speak to my husband and get some time to myself too. I rarely accomplish everything I’d like to do on any given day and that is where I struggle with guilt (that and the yelling). I adore my children and care deeply about their futures as well as their ability to properly socialize and have “enrichment opportunities” but with three of them most days it’s just a struggle to keep everyone fed, dressed, and sane. There is a different dynamic when you have three kids. The parents I know with three or more have recognized this and we give each other knowing glances in the grocery store.
Adding a third child to our two children, one docile but strongly emotional and the other active and determined to get his way, brought a new level of chaos into our lives that doesn’t leave room for mommy guilt because I don’t read them 5 books each day or because some nights I hurry them into their beds and breath a deep sigh of relief to finally have a moment to myself (that is once I’ve spent an hour or more putting the youngest to sleep who is not surprisingly a personality twin to the active and determined older sibling). Each day feels like a big rush to fit it all in while keeping everyone happy and sane. I don’t have time to feel guilty about not allowing playdough, only joy that it is one substance I don’t have to vacuum daily from the dining room carpet.