Sometimes Less Really Is More
The other day, a friend of mine told me how bad she feels about not doing exciting stuff in the afternoons with her 3-year-old daughter after nursery. I know I feel this way a lot – not doing enough, falling short as a mother, feeling guilty – but hearing it from another mum, I wanted to say ‘Hang on! What are you feeling bad about? You’re a great mum!’ I pointed out that after a busy morning at nursery, being at home with her mommy was probably like heaven to her daughter. She looked a bit surprised, in a good way, and I think this perspective helped.
Why do we beat ourselves up like this thinking we’re not doing enough with or for our kids?
When my son, Oliver, started school a couple of years ago, I heard mums talking about how many clubs and activities their children were involved in. I felt inadequate: should I be doing that for my son? What have I been doing all this time, letting him down like this?
For some time, I had been living with chronic illness, and doing anything more than the basics with a little play thrown in was all I could manage; I couldn’t entertain the logistics of getting my son to and from clubs, I wasn’t even able to manage most of the school runs, enlisting the help of my family and friends a lot of the time.
I had to learn to let go of feelings of guilt and frustration. Oliver was fed, warm, safe and very much loved, after all. I had to adapt, accept and make the best of the resources I did have – find the alternative values in the things I could do for and with my son. I realised that the after-school clubs fell into the list of things I just couldn’t do right now.
As things slowly improved, I was able to take Oliver to football and swimming lessons. He seemed perfectly content with that and was none the worse for starting these things later than other kids and not doing as many things as them. In fact, I think he’s a more patient and content little guy because of it.
I wonder how much good it does for our kids if they’re always experiencing high-octane entertainment or activity. AND I’M NOT SAYING THEY SHOULDN’T BE ACTIVE! THAT IS CRUCIAL! I’m just saying, some home time, some quiet time, playing on their own, occupying themselves, getting space to think and be calm, even feel a bit bored and become a little inventive to find ways around that, is good. A huge amount of contentment can come from it.
Things are much better for me now; I’m able to take Oliver to more things and be involved. But this past summer we found ourselves thrust into a bit of a void and had to draw on these resources again. Those of you who read my last Guest Posting – Middle East Mom – will know that we moved to Qatar earlier this year with my husband’s job. Such an exciting time! Though, when the school holidays hit, the temperature rose and Ramadan started, all the families we had met and befriended flew to their homes around the globe and suddenly things went ‘tumbleweed quiet’. All the kids’ stuff closed. Due to Ramadan we couldn’t even get out for a drink and a snack. And the heat meant that we had to stay indoors until early evening. Our days became very long, and very often filled with long spells in front of the TV or computer screens.
Then the ‘what a terrible mum I am’ thoughts started to kick in. I worried about Oliver with no friends around, little fresh air, and I was finding it really tough too, I still need to rest a lot, and with all the mums gone I had no one to mix with either. I’ve never been someone who bores easily but, my gosh, it got very dull! One day I just turned to my son and exclaimed, ’It’s so BORING isn’t it!’. Initially he looked at me a little shocked, like ‘mummy’s not allowed to say that’, but then he giggled and agreed, and we ended up howling with laughter as we pulled the most bored faces we could.
Yet, out of that long summer came some really good stuff: we laughed at silly things, we got creative in short bursts, made stuff out of cardboard and glue – half hour, slap-dash, imperfect ‘crafty moments’ – you know how we’re taught at school to colour inside the lines? Well, there was none of that here! We made short, basic animations with action figures using the digital camera, built stuff out of Lego. These things didn’t happen every day, but the hours of imaginative play and satisfaction that they engendered far outweighed the initial investment of time and energy. Okay, we still relied a lot on screen entertainment, but it was more balanced, we used the resources we had and frustration diminished.
Sometimes it’s worth stepping back and getting things in perspective – are my kids fed, watered, warm, safe, loved? Do they generally have a well-balanced life, with friends/family, activity, good food? If so, great! Do they always need whistles and bells on top too? What’s so wrong with harnessing a bit of resourcefulness, imagination, or just a bit of down-time? There’s a lot of contentment that comes from it. My husband is really good at recognising when it’s time for Oliver to just go and occupy himself for a bit and it’s good for us all.
Oliver’s back to school now, he’s happy, socialising, no harm done by our less than eventful summer. And you know what? I feel closer to him because of the time we spent together, not doing an awful lot except making do with what we had.
So please, next time you start to think ‘I should be doing this…I don’t do enough…’ take a fresh look at the situation and let go of the guilt – chances are your kids are doing just fine.
Nikki Newman, 36, from England, currently lives in Qatar, where she moved this year due to her husband’s work. A former teacher and proud mother of 7-year-old Oliver, she’s currently focusing on settling her family into their new lives, while also pursuing her passion for painting. To see Nikki’s work please go to: www.nikkinewmanart.com