“How do you get Rose to play by herself?”
I get that a lot. After “Parenting in Moderation” ran, I got it a lot more often. The post described my afternoons – sitting on the couch while Rose plays by herself – and how I don’t understand what the other moms do with their kids when they say they’re so busy.
It seems that their kids don’t play by themselves. Rose has entertained herself for so long that I have a hard time believing that other kid’s don’t. I do believe it, but even I have difficulty coping with Rose sometimes. If I had to engage Rose every minute of every day, I’d have lost it a long time ago. I worry that Rose is such an easy child, she’s ruined us for the next kid.
But in talking with other moms who want to know my secret, I discovered that I do, in fact, have a secret. I did raise her differently than the stay-at-home moms I know. Six weeks after Rose was born, I went back to work. I work at home, so I was able to keep Rose with me for the first seven months. When she was really little and slept all the time, I just worked and took diaper, bottle and burp breaks. When she began to stay awake longer, I’d sit on the floor with my laptop and she’d lie next to me in her baby gym and play with the toys above her head. That’s when the guilt set in. Thirty years from now, she’ll be in therapy because Mommy ignored her all the time, I’d fret. But I continued to work and I continued to “ignore” her until I was off the clock. I made sure she got my full attention after work.
When Rose was five months old, we visited my friend in Los Angeles. My friend marveled at how I could lay her down in her portable bed and walk away. I could always see her, but I didn’t feel the need to be right with her all the time. She told me that with her first son, she had stayed close to him all the time, but with her two younger sons, she eased off and the oldest son grew clingy while the others did not.
Hmm, maybe I’m on to something here, I thought. Could it be that “ignoring” your kid is actually good for her? Looking to assuage my guilt, I quickly embraced the theory and continued to “ignore” her as she grew. As she got more interactive, she became harder and harder to “ignore” during work, but I would buy new toys to keep her engaged and if they worked for 15 minutes at a time, they were a good purchase. By the time she was eight months old and no longer napping twice a day I knew I had to either quit my job or get some help. I hired a babysitter to care for her a few hours a day until her nap. The babysitter had a toddler several months older than Rose, and though the kid was mean to Rose sometimes, I think Rose welcomed the company.
We moved, got a new babysitter, and I still work part time. Rose plays with a bunch of kids at the sitter’s house, comes home, naps, and then plays by herself until dinner. I have made peace with her independence. I like it, to tell the truth. I did go through a guilt-wracked period in which I wondered whether I should play with her all the time. I was so worried I brought it up to our teacher at preschool. She asked, “Do you want Rose to be independent?” Of course I do. The teacher pointed out what a happy kid Rose was. If my “inattention” was hurting her, she’d let me know. She lets me know when she wants my attention and I oblige. What more did I need to know?
I guess what I needed to know is that even though she didn’t get the attention that stay-at-home moms can give their kids, she survived and even thrived. And even though I stumbled upon it, I found a way to raise an independent kid and to ease my parental workload at the same time. And all I needed was the reassurance that I was doing it right. Let’s just hope it works with the next kid.