This is sort of an embarrassing post to write, because I'm anticipating that 90 per cent of the parents among you are going to laugh hysterically at me and feel REALLY good about yourselves and your excellent boundary-setting skills after reading it. The remaining 10 per cent are going to be all, what, really? Are you serious. I'm allowed to take a SHOWER?!
For all the people out there who are absolutely soul-crushingly exhausted after a day of parenting a toddler/preschooler: this post is for you. The rest of you, please go ahead and laugh quietly so as to not disturb the rest of us.
Some context: Quinn is, uh, spirited. For those of you who know my husband, she's basically him but prettier. She likes trucks and climbing and art and doesn't care when she falls down. She is incredibly high energy and incredibly smart. It is hard to keep her entertained... and I've been constantly entertaining her since the day she was born.
I did (do?) the attachment parenting thing, so we co-slept for a couple of years, breastfed forever, I wore her in an Ergo or sling until she got so big my back gave out. This worked fabulously when she was a baby. Life was peaceful. I don't regret any of it. But it is difficult to pivot from a headspace of immediately answer baby's cries to set appropriate boundaries with your toddler. Besides that, I didn't really understand what boundaries meant. Holding hands in the street? Got it. Making her get in her carseat? Absolutely. I can set a mean boundary when it comes to safety.
But guess what I learned this week? You're actually allowed to set boundaries around things that aren't safety-related. You're allowed to set boundaries solely for your own benefit. For example:
You are allowed to shower.
You are allowed to lie down and read your book.
You are allowed to tell your kid to go play.
I can hear you laughing, 90 per cent of parents. Yes, the boomers in the back. Go enjoy your pensions and paid-off houses, will you? The rest of us are trying to talk.
My only explanation for not knowing these things is... nobody told me? I guess? Well, I'm pretty sure my mother did, but it seemed truly impossible. Unless I was actively playing with her, Quinn would be screaming. Or whining. Or crying. Or pulling on my pant leg. Or climbing the lamp to get my attention. In response to this conundrum, I turned to... wait for it....
Waldorf parenting books.
I love Waldorf stuff. If you follow me on Instagram, you probably know that. my goal in life is to turn my house into Waldorf school for adults. I went to Waldorf kindergarten and it has stuck with me for my whole life.
Waldorf-inspired parenting books like Beyond the Rainbow Bridge and You are Your Child's First Teacher are lovely. I really enjoyed them both and found them immensely helpful in many ways. But they tend to present the message that if you provide the right kind of toys and the right kind of playspace and the right daily rhythm, everything will come together and your kid will be spending hours stacking asymmetrical wooden blocks and never ask you for a thing.
Sweep the floors, they say! Give your child a small broom, they say! What they don't tell you is that your kid will get angry because she wants the big broom and then she'll take it and swing it around and knock over the lamp and before you know it you're frantically putting on Curious George because you don't know what the hell else to do.
Look, I've got the playspace thing covered:
Quinn has all the Waldorf stuff. Like, literally everything except for a proper Waldorf doll, but that's mainly because she has absolutely no interest in anything related to caretaking and would rather build a catapult out of popsicles sticks and elastic bands. But no matter how peaceful I made our house, I wasn't peaceful.
It is hard to be peaceful if your needs aren't being met.
And mine weren't. I mean, they were... sort of... around the edges. I squeezed myself into the borders of my life. I showered when my husband had time to play with her while I did so. I counted the hours until bedtime so I could have time to do what I wanted for a change -- I didn't want to play on the floor all day, or go on endless outings so Quinn wouldn't go stir-crazy. I didn't want Curious George to be the background noise of my life. I wanted to wake up and drink tea and read my book on the couch.
But I also wanted to be a good mom. And good moms fix their kids' problems when they're upset, right?
Well, yeah, when they're babies. But now I have a three year old. And sometimes it's better for her to solve her own problems. Sometimes it's better for her to entertain herself.
So much parenting advice, especially in the natural/attachment/Waldorf-y space, is very vague on this point, so I'm going to be explicit. Teaching Quinn to play on her own has been extremely hard. She has cried. She has yelled. She has whined so hard I thought my brain was going to explode. But after just a few days, I've seen immense improvement. She's daydreaming, she's playing with toys she barely used to look at, and she's happy.
So what did I actually do?
1. I had a talk with her about how things were going to change. We were going to be watching a lot less TV and she was going to be spending time every day playing by herself, even though it's hard to do sometimes. Because learning to use your imagination is important. And learning to entertain yourself is important.
2. After breakfast every day, I sat on the couch with a cup of tea and a book and I told Quinn to go find something to do. And then I attempted to read while she whined/cried/begged/negotiated/tried to distract me with requests.
I made a discovery: Quinn will try to get you to play with her for about twenty minutes, with the intensity of whining peaking at the very end. But if I was able to get through it, telling her over and over again that I loved her, and I was drinking my tea, and it was time for her to go play... she would eventually go play.
It's been almost a week since I made this change in our lives, and I haven't turned the TV on for her once. Far more importantly, I've been taking much-needed time for myself throughout the day and I'm feeling infinitely less overwhelmed by motherhood. Seriously. I am SO HAPPY about this, happy enough to write about it even though I'm pretty sure you're all shaking your heads right now and laughing.
If you're interested in reading more about this kind of stuff, I highly recommend Janet Lansbury -- her book No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame has been incredibly helpful to me throughout this process.
Do you write/read/lie the hell down when your kids are around? How do you manage it?