By Beth Berry
I wrote this piece a few years ago in the thick of stay-home parenting of four young children. I wanted to share it with you now along with a bit of reflection…
While I remember what it was like to feel wholly overwhelmed by the balancing act of maintaining a household and making time for play, that period is quite suddenly behind me. No one is asking me to play ponies. Our days are filled with school and homework, chores and pep talks, argument mediation and hormonal meltdowns. There are other things, too — lovely things like watching them overcoming obstacles, learn a second language and yes, they still play, but looking back, the intensity of their younger years has been mellowed by sweet recollections and the hours I ditched the dishes for dress up stand out as true gems.
A confession: I don’t play with my kids all that often. I have a hard time setting aside the day’s priority list in order to build homes for plastic ponies or engage in yet another game of “go fish” void of proper (if any) rules or etiquette.
It isn’t that I don’t like to play, but truth be told, I can barely even accomplish dinner, laundry and bath time alone (never mind get a shower myself), much less make a home for the gnomes in the backyard.
This is clearly a modern dilemma. Mothers throughout history couldn’t shirk their daily tasks in order to play hopscotch or climb trees for hours on end. Their work assured the survival of the family. Mine does, too, it’s just that the intensity of the role has been softened a bit by the prevalence of food and ready access to things like silverware and blankets.
Over the years, I’ve come to find a middle ground that both meets my needs for efficiency and sanity and their needs for engagement and fun. I slow my pace, include them in the daily routine (without necessarily implying “work” or “chores”) and we enjoy each other’s company in a way that neither of us resists. I am amazed at the willingness of my kids to engage in the dirtiest, most mundane tasks just as long as I am working alongside them and they feel genuinely helpful.
So while I occasionally forgo the laundry to flutter as fairies, most of the time, I go about my days cooking, (then nursing), cleaning, (then nursing) and paying the bills (while nursing). When a “bored” child wanders through the room, I casually assess the situation, find something nearby to “organize,” chop or scrub (the more soapy water the better), emphasize the strengths I’ve noticed in her for the task at hand and figure the results are threefold:
1. I have a rare opportunity for one-on-one time with my kid,
2. Tasks are being accomplished (if to varying degrees) while work ethics built, and
3. I am spared the heartache of faking my enthusiasm when directed for the third time in a day, “You be the purple polka-dot fairy princess, and I’ll be your favorite secret sister. We’ll hide in the closet all day and paint each other’s toenails and tell stories after we drink the magic invisibility potion I just made from toothpaste and pineapple juice.”
An added bonus? This…
Eventually turns into this…
It’s a balance, my friends, and one you’ll remember fondly if you embrace today. Speaking of which, how are your holiday preparations coming along? In case you’re needing some reassurance that you are doing plenty, check out My Christmas Tree Is Still Bare and We’re Skipping the Gingerbread
About Beth Berry
Beth Berry is a writer, mother of four daughters and born idealist living the real life. When she’s not orchestrating the household, she can be found in one of several precarious yoga poses, wandering indigenous Mayan food markets, or holed up in a sunny southern Mexican cafe with her laptop, a shade grown dark roast and a contemplative look on her face. Having lived against the grain as a baby-slinging, toddler-nursing, secondhand-shopping, wanna-be farmer for 17 years, she and her family decided to ditch the rat race for a taste of life abroad. Now, in addition to challenging conventional wisdom, she writes about her life-changing experiences working among women in extreme poverty and oppression. Keep up with her musings and adventures in imperfection at www.revolutionfromhome.com.