Insisting on Solitude
Three days a week, Michelle Peterson loads up her son and heads for daycare. At first glance, nothing seems out of the ordinary. But, Peterson, of Leaf River, Ill., doesn't need daycare to earn a living. She doesn't necessarily use it to meet her son's intellectual and social needs. What Peterson hopes to gain by putting her son in daycare is a little bit of solitude.
It might seem odd to some, but a growing number of women are walking away from the idea that a good mother must joyfully meet her child's needs 24 hours a day. Instead, these women are recognizing their weaknesses and choosing to spend some time meeting their own needs.
And while this alone time gives women a chance to hone hidden talents and get a grip on their lives, it can have a debilitating side-effect -- guilt.
Linda Dupie, of Arlington, Va., finds her neighbor to be a tough act to follow. She's "the do-it-all mom down the street," Dupie says. The type of woman who bakes and sews costumes.
Dupie, on the other hand, is a born observer. While she readily reads and talks with her children, she finds it difficult to actively play with them. In order to satisfy her need for solitude, Dupie's children attend preschool three days a week.
Comparing herself to "the do-it-all mom down the street" is a sure fire recipe for guilt.
But the Research Says...
The "warnings" are all around us -- "No television before 2 years of age." "Daycare will help raise unattached and insecure children." "Mothers must put their children first."
It's hard to ignore all the banter. And somewhere in all the noise, people are losing perspective.
"I worry that I am using the TV as a baby-sitter when I just need time alone," says Carol Miller, of Clermont, N.J. "I worry that [my daughter] will have more fun at preschool than she does at home with me."
Can at-home mothers really be expected to be at their child's beck and call 24 hours a day? Is it really necessary for moms in the work force to leave their own needs at the door step, the minute they arrive home?
Why Not Guilt?
Margaret Paul, psychologist and author of "Do I Have to Give Up Me to be Loved By My Kids" takes a strong stance on this issue.
"When the mother always gives herself up for her children, they have a good chance of becoming self-centered, needy brats," Paul says. "They do not grow up having to care about her and others. They grow up believing that others should put themselves aside for them and their needs."
There is a difference between meeting a child's needs and satisfying their every whim. Few women would deny their hungry child food or insist that they stay locked in their room for hours in order for mom to attend a meeting. To do so is a crime.
"Obviously, if they are really needing her and she is not there, it can be neglect," Paul says. "But if it is just to play a game, and she is spending time with herself instead, this cannot be considered neglect."
Moms can say "no" to their child's requests for play, but they need to keep in mind that saying "yes" is sometimes necessary. Play is much more than pointless enjoyment. In fact, popular culture now thrives on research that shows toddlers and preschoolers play to learn.
Suzy Allegra, author and professional speaker on balancing life and its transitions, warns moms to be careful, lest they become a "me-first-me-first-me-first" person.
"Tell your child, 'I can't play now, but I will later.' Let them know that you will be available to them after you finish whatever you are doing," Allegra says. "You can set a timer, and tell them, when the buzzer goes off, you'll be available to play, and keep your word!"
Knowing Your Strengths
Every mother has one or two things she enjoys playing with her children. An important step in reducing guilt is finding those enjoyments and capitalizing on them.
Jennifer Jacoby-Smith, of Saskatchewan, Canada, does crafts and other creative activities with her son.
"I enjoy these things and he enjoys the contact with me," she says.
And for some women, enjoyment comes in small doses.
"When the girls were little, we'd take walks to the park, but our trips were always short," says Shelley Haggert, of Ontario, Canada, "I'd play Barbies, but again, just in short doses. I can do just about anything, in fact, as long as it's in short doses. That was the trick -- recognizing my limits. When I was forcing myself to be Wonder Mommy, no one was happy."
One of the greatest lessons a child can learn is about human diversity. People are not all the same. Just because one mom can't quite bring herself to tears of joy over a game of Hide and Seek, doesn't mean she's out of the running for "Mother of the Year."
On the contrary, some of the guiltiest moms are being admired from afar, just like Dupie. "...The do-it-all mom down the street once told me she felt she didn't measure up because she felt it a chore to read to her children because she'd rather be playing or baking with them," Dupie says.