I have a recurring fear that for me feels like a crotchety old woman with black rimmed glasses and harsh silver hair (maybe the schoolmarm that I never actually had as a teacher?) sitting on my shoulder tsk-ing me. Her favourite complaint is that I'm not doing enough for my child and not working hard enough around the house. She warns that being too lazy now will lead to a lifetime of pain of suffering for him and surely mean living in squalor with no hope for escape. She says to me “How can you be so naive as to think that you can leave your son to play and do his own thing? You’re destroying his future!"
Not enough diverse activities, not enough time outside or away from the screen, not enough practicing skills. And each of these lacking areas mean work and blame for me as primary caregiver and educator. The worst part is I believe her, I do think kids need a variety of experiences, time away from the screen and skill practice.
The moments she tends to rear her judgemental head, are when I’m trying to do something for ME. I’m spending a Sunday painting the house and cooking for my family and sipping coffee on the porch. I’m taking a rest from co-ordinating programs and playdates and doing schoolwork with my son. And I wish he would just to do all the amazing things that I dream of for him on his own so I could have my cake and eat it too! I wish he was creating art, going for a rollerblade outside, reading books and calling friends to play. I wish he was doing a thousand different things so I could paint all day guilt free.
What tends to happen next is we have some sort of argument about him spending too much time on the screen. And then after I cool off, I ask myself these questions:
Am I actually clear what he did today or am I making assumptions?
Have I set healthy limits around screen time for the weekend? Was I too busy to engage him today and so was fine with more screen time… until Mrs. Crotchety showed up?
Did I mindfully connect with him to see what he is learning, working on, curious about?
Have I taught him how to help with chores, set a schedule of what’s expected?
Is there a longstanding problem that I want to work on with him intentionally?
The questions themselves bring calm, and a wee bit of unintended shame as I become aware of my part in the days events. I remember that it is okay to have a down day and for me to let things slide so that I can recharge and do something that brings me pleasure. And that he is a typical kid for wanting to play on the computer as much as possible and that for now it’s my job to teach him how to self-regulate around that, and that is a long term goal. And some days setting screen time limits is exhausting and I need to not worry about it and let things be.
When I rest and recharge and take time to engage in activities that I want to do I’m better able to intentionally set up a life that serves him and me over the long term.
So Mrs. Crotchety is right in a way, she just forgets that I’ve already structured our life to support what I believe is the best possible outcome for my child while not sacrificing our life now. And I forgot to not let her into the house on a weekend.