Taking Mommy Time Outs Will Ruin Your Children?
I identify as an attachment parent. By identify, I mean I do some of the "required" things to relate to it. I'm sure some who practice it religiously would tell me I am not "attachment" enough, as that seems to be common when you cross over into these lands of extremes.
This week, I opened up my email to find this article from Attachment Parenting International. As per usual, I read, because it was about Mommy Time -- something I desperately struggle with getting. I expected it to be an informative, attachment based article that highlighted the importance of keeping your own identity. The article opened with a familiar scenario -- no sleep, running low on energy, screaming kids, and wishing for that moment where you can read a book without someone telling you about their poop, or screaming for you to get a toy that is at their feet.
The idea of that peace? My husband could whisper that to me while in bed, and I would be putty in his hands. It's a totally sexy and amazing concept. Mainly because it hardly happens.
The article goes on to pose this question:
What are we encouraged to do about it? Modern parenting advice tells us to seek out, and actually insist on, that “Mommy Me-Time” away from our kids. We are told it is vital for us (it helps us to recharge and have interests outside of motherhood) and important for our babies and young children (they learn to be independent from us). But is it really such a good thing all around, and does it even work?
Are we really encouraged to take time away from our kids that often? I do think that we live in a culture where we are forcing our kids to become little adults too soon, but I don't believe that most modern, well-thought out parenting advice wants us to take time away to teach our babies to be independent. Of course, there are books that insinuate that leaving your babies is "good practice" (as if our kids are a football game or the like), but again, I argue -- are these actually well-founded, educated advice givers? Or are they just making a quick buck off of your sleep deprivation?
The author answers the question, and explains her opinion:
In my opinion, it is NO to both. What I have learned from my own experience as a mother of four, and as a parenting counselor working with many mothers in this situation, is that grappling for time apart from our kids often leads to more frustration and upset all around. It rarely recharges us enough, as promised, to feel better when we come back, and we are stuck in a vicious circle of craving more and more (and feeling frustrated when we can't get it).
She goes on to say that our absence in the early years, even as little as an hour here and there, could lead our adolescent children to believe that ignoring someone else's needs to get their own needs met will make them treat others terribly.
I won't lie, I raise my eyebrows when a new mom of less than three months is out without her child. It's weird to me -- because I could have never done that. I understand that feeling of frustration that comes with being the primary caregiver, and I know the way you cry when all you want is a 20 minute shower without hearing a cry, or being asked to do something. I understand, as stated above, the importance of being close to your children, and responding to them quickly. I believe in it, and I practice it daily.
Pardon my skepticism here but taking an hour to yourself, to make yourself feel human? That's going to make my kids turn out terribly? Sneaking out of the house to enjoy grocery shopping alone? Wanting to feel like you are more than just a set of breasts or a warm spot for sleeping? Sometimes, super mother or not, you need a break. It's not a want, it's an actual, well-founded need.
This gem comes next:
Expecting to make time for oneself with multiple young children is an unreasonable expectation. It may be possible if the children have a strong attachment to someone else, but in most cases they just want mom! I understand that moments away have value, but the more we hold on for time away -- for an hour, just an hour, to ourselves -- the less we enjoy our moments with our kids. Getting a “time-out”, even for an hour, may help in the moment, but it sure won’t fix it. It is like sticking a Band-Aid over a severed limb.
The idea that I take a stretch of time to myself is unreasonable? How? Why?
I love my kids; I love their little guts, don't doubt that. Yet, there are days where I completely understand why some animals eat their young. There are days when my skin crawls because I have been touched one too many times. There are days I twitch and wonder if I can start drinking at 2pm without feeling terribly guilty. Sometimes, I need to have some time alone. On the day it's a want, I'm fine, but when that want turns to a need, I have to act on it. For my own benefit, and for my kids.
It has nothing to do with me being selfish. It has everything to do with the fact that motherhood is a full time job. I don't get breaks or sick days. I am here, thick and thin, all the time, always on, always ready. Sometimes, I reach a limit, and I need a break, because I wasn't one of the lucky ones who lost their human nature when they gave birth. Yes, I need to be someone other than Mommy, because before Mommy, I was Danielle, and Danielle is still as important as Mommy.
That is not selfish. That is not unreasonable.
Why is it always such an all or nothing thing? Why is it that in order to be a good attachment parent, I have to stop caring for myself? I argue that showing my kids that my needs are not important is setting them up to believe that self-care is not important. Teaching boundaries to our kids is far more important that making ourselves the Mommy Martyr. When I don't take care of myself, even in the simplest ways, it shows in how I parent.
My kids understand when I need a moment. You know why? Because I tell them. I explain my feelings, and I tell them why I am feeling like that. I don't blame them; I express myself and allow them to ask questions. As such I now have two kids who will openly look at me and say, "I am mad at you because of this. I need to be alone!" You know what? I am proud of that, because they have learned to exert their boundaries. They know their personal limits, and that's a pretty awesome emotional skill to have.
I am teaching them that speaking your needs, and boundaries, knowing your limits are all important parts of growing up. It's important to be able to voice your needs and have them respected. I want them to know that when their needs or boundaries are disregarded by someone else, that they can confidently walk away from the person who is disrespecting them, and voice that feeling, exactly. By showing them how to take care of yourself, you can empower your own kids to pay close attention to their feelings, and learn to articulate them in a healthy way.
I became a Mom to be a Mom, but being a Mom isn't who I am. It's something I do, part of who I will be forever, but it's not all I am. This all or nothing thinking is damaging. It's damaging to women, and its very ideal is anti-feminist. Men are not held up to the same expectation. They don't have to lose their identity in the same way woman are supposed to. They are allowed to leave the house to work, where a Mother is berated for choosing to have a career. They take a baby to grocery store, and strangers herald them. No one would bat an eye at a man with a newborn wanting to go out and be social once in awhile. The expectation that women must seclude themselves, and demean their own needs until their kids are teenagers is a dysfunctional, misogynist ideal.
I want my son to respect women, and know that their needs are just as warranted. Secluding myself and refusing to pay attention to even my own basic need for a time out? It's teaching him that women don't have that need to recharge, or that they should be expected to repress it. In fact, it's teaching him the idea that others do not have needs to be attended to. I challenge the author that by repressing my needs, I would be teaching my son to be selfish, and not think of the needs of others.
It's important that your kids know that you respect yourself, and your own needs, so that they can to respect themselves in a similar fashion. It's important that as a family unit, you take moments to recharge yourselves individually, because while you are one unit, there are separate identities within, all of which have different needs. If even one person in that unit ignores their own needs, it can throw off the balance of the entire family.
It's no wonder postpartum depression is so rampant in our culture. The expectation that we should be giving up our own basic needs places pressure on women to be that ideal Super Mom who never flinches, who never has flaws, and never shows any sign of humanity. That expectation is debilitating and unrealistic, given that our culture does not behave as most do in the early weeks postpartum. We are setting moms up with this sexist idea that in order to be a good mother, we need to forget about who we are. The idea that losing ourselves will "help" our kids grow into healthy adults is laughable at best.
This author has only perpetuated these misogynistic ideals further, and has self-righteously boasted about her own successes, potentially causing other mothers to feel ashamed of wanting to have more then five minutes alone. Bully for her that she can power through those moments of utter frustration and deprivation of sleep or emotional needs, but realistically, that's not the right answer for everyone. Honestly, it's also very unhealthy.
Perhaps, the problem with all these damn labels is that they generate a competitive culture of "I did it, so you can too," which is neither fair, nor accurate. What works for me, may not work for you, and vice versa.
You can be a good mother without being a martyr, and your kids, I assure you, will benefit from it, wholeheartedly. Take a time out when you need it, and do not feel guilty. You deserve a moment for you. Enjoy it.
Danielle rants blogs about her life with her two parented children, and other issues surrounding modern day parenting at Tales From The Mamaside. She also blogs at Another Version of Mother where she discusses her experience a birthmother in an semi-open adoption.
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