My daughter is a daycare girl, through and through. She headed to a home care-provider as a newborn and we never looked back. I have always worked full-time, both out of necessity and choice. She has always spent the majority of her weekdays playing with other children. Our evenings and weekends followed a pretty reliable routine with family meals, dog-walking, social engagements, and story time.
Then, as life tends to happen, my husband and my work schedules shifted, with me working earlier and him working later. Our little girl went off to half-day pre-kindergarten and started riding a bus. Suddenly we realized that paying for childcare might not be necessary. And our daughter would still be in an educational and social setting for school, so it didn’t feel like we would be isolating her completely after years of daycare. The decision was made. Brenna would come home at noon.
It might not seem like a huge upheaval in our schedule. After all, I used to pick up my daughter at 5:30. This was just an extra five and a half hours of home time that she would be getting. Throw in lunch and a little relaxation time in there, since she stopped napping around age 2, and how much more work could it be for us to entertain our own kid? Apparently, it could be a lot of work.
We agreed early on that afternoons would not include TV time. We liked the fact that our little girl didn’t have screen time during the day and wanted to keep that aspect of her life consistent. While we had saved some money cancelling daycare, we didn’t really want to spend it all on activities and “field trips” to entertain our little one. Sure a trip to the zoo or science center every once in a while, but nothing crazy. The weather definitely wasn’t helping us, since it’s still too cold and snowy for our favorite parks and hiking paths.
With all of those things ruled out, our options for fun, semi-educational afternoons seemed to be getting slimmer and slimmer. Guys, it’s shouldn’t be this hard to play with your kids. But the reality was, my daughter wanted us to be the playmates she was missing from daycare. She wanted to get out the Barbies and Play-Doh. She wanted us to build castles and forts and tents all over the house. We had been doing these activities on the weekends for years obviously, but doing them all day, everyday was proving to be exhausting. It was making it difficult to get anything else done. And how many fricking times can you be the mom and she plays the baby who needs you to change an imaginary diaper?
My husband and I both realized that our little girl was in serious need of alone time. She needed to learn to play on her own. But that is not a particularly easy lesson to teach. Brenna was used to plenty of playmates during the day and two parents who wanted to make the most out of the evenings and weekends together as a family. If she ever had to play by herself, it was never for an extended period of time.
Even while I knew that the skill of entertaining yourself is an important one I wanted to teach my daughter, the mom guilt associated with turning down her requests for me to color or be the bad guy to her superhero was pretty extreme. I’ve spent her whole life indulging in these requests because I felt guilty about working and not seeing her enough. Now, I just needed to step back and give my daughter some alone time. And it’s not easy. My husband and I both had a hard time dealing with whining and frustration our daughter felt at having to fly solo for a while.
With our new schedule, we’re getting more family time than ever before. But we’re also feeling the stress of making sure that our daughter gets all of the structured activities and unstructured play and relaxation time and solo play time and activity time and every other type of time she could need. I guess when our time was more limited, we didn’t have the opportunity to over-think all of our activities. We just did what had to be done.
Now, organizing and allocating those extra five hours feels like a pretty big task. And a tiring one at that. It turns out, entertaining our child takes a lot more thought and energy than I ever thought it would. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Barbies to dress, some hair to braid, some pictures to color and some blocks to build.