I remember how guilty I used to feel watching my first child playing in the corner by herself while I finished chores or worked on my photography client images.
“I’m neglecting her,” I’d think. “I should be playing with her and not doing this.”
When I was a kid, my first memories start when my sister was already in school and my mom was home with me. And while I smile thinking about our trips to the library together, our time in the garden while she watered plants and I looked for worms, or our daily conversations at the kitchen table over lunch…some of my equally fond memories as a kid were the times that I was alone.
I loved using my imagination. I loved writing. I loved making up dances. I loved making play dough characters. I loved sitting outside and just looking at birds and running around the yard pretending to fly.
I’m not sure what my mom was doing during those times. Maybe she was drinking her coffee. Maybe she was calling a friend. Maybe she was watching a show.
But I never wondered if she loved me … of if she would be there when I DID need her.
I’ve been a mother for six years now. Three times over. I have spent a lot of time thinking about my early years with my mom as I navigate being in my role now with my own kids.
And I’ve learned to shed the guilt when I see my kids playing by themselves.
Because I no longer see a kid who I think feels neglected… I see a kid using his imagination. I see a toddler living in a magical world of made-up conversations between princess dolls. I see a little girl putting her imagination on paper in beautiful drawings.
I see kids making their own memories. Growing their imagination. And gaining their independence.
I also see kids who will remember a mom who took them on adventures to the park… and made special picnics in the front yard in the summer… and turned on music to have dance parties in the kitchen.
And kissed them EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves as mothers. The world tells us we should be guilty if we are not giving every ounce of our day to our children. Or that we are selfish if we seek out “me time” in the midst of our parenting journey.
And while we absolutely have a responsibility to help guide our kids… and to remind them how much they are loved… we also have a responsibility to allow them to learn who they are… and to discover what they love… and to express themselves… and to be able to enjoy their time in their own space.
And while that’s happening… we have a responsibility to take care of ourselves. To shed guilt, and practice self care. To stop self-bashing, and start self-loving.
Because when we do that… we will be ready to give our whole selves to our kids when they are ready to invite us back into their space.
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