Browsing my usual mommy groups online (you know, my main social interaction these days), I saw a fellow mom with an eight-month-old like me had posted:
“Between feedings, diapers, and naps what else do you do with your baby? I'm afraid I'm not doing enough with her.”
Let's get this straight — we as parents are not always meant to be the entertainers.
Sure, there are times the “entertainer” role may be needed — in a restaurant while waiting for food, keeping the baby from flopping off the changing table (funny faces are great for that), during long car rides, on those cooped up rainy days when free play leads to chaos, or simply to reconnect and have fun. However, there should be a balance. We aren't meant to schedule every moment of the day and be their everything all the time. If that was the case, I truthfully would be insane by now with five kids!
I'm not saying that playing with our baby or child is a bad thing — it's a great thing! It is fun for both of you, it is bonding, and it can enhance the development of new skills. But I think the value of a child exploring on their own in a safe environment is underrated and that mom guilt needs to go.
In fact, my eight-month-old baby right now is exploring the toy basket beside me as I type on the floor near her. A moment ago she was practicing pulling up by grip of my long hair (I'm not Rapunzel, ouch!) and then she moved on to poking a baby doll's eyes nearby. And when she cries because she needs me, or I'm done with what I'm doing, I'll scoop her up and enjoy reconnecting with her chubby little smile and bright eyes.
Allowing our kids to free play without us doesn't mean we are ignoring them (as long as they are content to be put down and other needs, like hunger, have been met!); it means they can discover things around them in safe environment. Even a smaller baby can benefit from some time observing the fascinating world around them or a toy nearby. There are many bonuses, such as giving our arms and shoulders a much-needed break — and maybe even a little “me” time to finish my cup of coffee without little fingers in it. I can often run off when she's happy in a safe zone of our house to clean up a mess or attend another child's needs for a moment.
Truthfully, I find the “you must be my entertainer” factor more so in my older children. “I'm bored, Mom. What can I do now?” It's like they can't see the whole closet of toy baskets with the little Minecraft figurines they begged me to buy, the play dough just asking to be squished into a new creation, or the crayons ready to bring their mind's picture to life. I'm happy to guide them to those activities, but momma can't always sit down and play. Sometimes those activities are meant to be the entertainment while other areas get the attention they need, like working or making dinner. After all, this is why I have five kids – to have built-in friends!
I believe starting the independent play as a baby is a good foundation to explore their world around them, yet know we are nearby when they need us. Isn't that what parenting is pretty much about? We are training them little by little to be independent, yet know they are loved and we are here for them.
So shake off that guilt and pressure for not “doing enough” with your kids, no matter the age. We are truly our own worst critics, and I think we so often miss what an impact we make just in the seemingly small moments — peek a boo at diaper changes, helping measure ingredients at dinner time, talking about the colors we see at the park. This world offers a lot of education, connection, and play just by living life. So often our entertaining play time can be built in as we go about our days, and free play is as equally as needed — for our sanity along with their own development.
You're doing just fine, momma.