Let’s face it ... our children aren’t always the best company. There, I said it.
Many parents carry around guilty feelings for not wanting to be around our kids. We skip out the door to work, happy to have a break from them. We start tuck-in time early because, frankly, we’re fed up with them. And according to a recent poll, a whole lot of moms would prefer to spend Mother’s Day alone.
But in the current climate of parenting, to admit you don’t always enjoy or want the company of your own children is, sadly, verboten.
Why the stigma? Wanting a break from your kids makes sense for many reasons, and we shouldn’t feel badly about it. It should be viewed as healthy and normal.
WATCH: Time to ditch the guilt. Story continues below.
Let me make my case.
It takes a village
We were never meant to stop everything and just raise children. Think back to our origins as a society of hunter and gatherers or to the way of life during the agricultural era. We had to work long hours just to find food to survive. Stopping all work to play all day with children would have affected everyone’s survival.
Humans are classified as social animals, much like elephants. Elephants raise their young in a nursery style, where the care and guidance of the young is shared. We too, do that with care-taking help from neighbours, grandparents, nannies, nursery schools and so on. Handing our children off to others gives everyone a chance to participate in their care, while also accomplishing other tasks and getting a break from the demands of tending to the young.
Whether you are in the paid work force, or doing unpaid work as a stay-at-home parent, we have much to accomplish in a day besides caring for our kids. But recent parenting trends have parents pushing off other tasks and devoting all their time and attention to kids, which allows no time for a balanced life or much-needed rejuvenation.
Childhood is for children
The things that stimulate a toddler or preschooler are very different than what we adults find fascinating. After all, we are supposed to grow up and take on more evolved interests. None of us would fill our free time playing with dolls or building Lego towers if we didn’t have children.
Of course, we are bored reading Goodnight Moon for the umpteenth time, because we have moved on to Stephen King. It’s developmentally appropriate. “Calliou” and “Breaking Bad” are targeting different audiences.
Don’t get me wrong, there is an altruistic joy in seeing the wonder in our childrens’ eyes as they discover the world for the first time, but it’s hard to keep that sense of parental awe going 24/7.
There should be no shame in feeling you have had enough for one day. You want and need grown-up time and interactions.
Parenting takes emotional and psychological work
Children can be moody, demanding, whiney and stubborn. They lack the skills and social compunction of adults, so we end up doing a lot more of the emotional heavy lifting to work through their emotional disregulations.
When they tantrum, dawdle, or push our buttons, we have to work hard to keep our own cool. And when we lose it, (which we do), we feel terrible.
WATCH: What to do when your kid has tantrums. Story continues below.
A day with a co-operative child feels a lot different than a day spent with a child who is constantly being disruptive and needing discipline. And in the early years, there is a lot of time and energy spent in child guidance.
A break from that constant effort gives us more patience to start again the next day. Once parents are worn down, we start to snap and be less effective, which only makes matters worse.
I remember thinking to myself “I have about four hours of good parenting in me and after that, it gets pretty shoddy.” I couldn’t wait to hand off the kids to my partner when he got home from work. I knew when I was done, and I felt better owning that and doing something about it, rather than slogging on feeling badly for how I was treating the kids in my state of emotional exhaustion.
We are complex people with many roles and identities
Being a parent can bring tremendous meaning to our lives. But our self-concept also includes other parts of ourselves. We can lose a sense of self if we let those parts go fallow for too long.
Remember the person who put aside their gourmet cooking and instead settled on making grilled cheeses because that’s what the kids will eat, and the athlete that stopped going for their morning runs because they had to get kids out the door for school? Then there are the friendships that grow distant because we didn’t keep up the nights out, and the sexy libidinous part of us that froze when kids invaded the bed.
Fleeing away from our children may mean getting closer to other parts of ourselves that need expression for us to feel wholly ourselves. And that is healthy and natural. After all, the more fully happy, authentic and fulfilled you are, the better presence you have in your kid’s life when you are with them.
Kids are wonderful – but it’s perfectly fine to accept that they don’t have to be the sole, meaningful purpose of your life.
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