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I remember vividly the first year of my son’s life. I had no idea what to do with him. I didn’t have much experience with children, and while I loved him so very much and proved it by taking many different Instagram pictures of him in various lenses, I wondered what to do with him all day long.

At that time, my husband and I were both working at home, but I was working a little less to spend time with my new baby during the day. I was really at a loss for how to entertain him and myself. Was I supposed to enrich him? Was I supposed to take him to classes? Would he turn out evil and demented if I let him watch Sesame Street already? (Spoiler alert—Sesame Street exposure happened early on, and I haven’t seen any confirmed evilness yet.)

I was this close to googling: What do you do with a baby all day long?

As my son got closer to toddler age, he grew clingy. From all of the blah blah blah that I’ve read about child development online, this was totally normal. But what are you supposed to do about it? Are you supposed to let him hang all over you as you type an email with one hand? Or do you put him in his baby cage and let him cry it out?

Barring cruelty, we went with the baby cage on that one. My older son craves attention, which may be a toddler thing or may be his personality. It took a few good weeks of us teaching and encouraging independent play without lavishing attention on him every single second.

I felt guilty. I wondered if I was doing the right thing. I wondered if the “evilness” would shine through if I didn’t show him unconditional love every single second of every single day.

Looking back, the focus on independent play was one of the smartest moves I’ve made as a parent. I don’t pat myself on the back for much, but this one I feel proud of because our house feels so much more balanced after the fact.

Once my second son was born, a little bit of independence just came naturally. We didn’t pick him up the second he cried, we let him play on the floor by himself, and we also put him in his baby cage to self-soothe from time to time. Kids are still kids that crave and deserve attention, but encouraging independence saved my sanity.

(Image: Elena Stepanova/Shutterstock)