Monday, June 14, 2010

Mother guilt (and my Best Shot)

For the record, I will state that I have a pretty good set up going on in my life. I work part time with benefits (meaning vacation, holiday and sick leave) and my job is fairly flexible. After years working retail and then adjunct teaching, it is a huge relief to know that when I or my daughter are sick, I can simply choose to stay home without any guilt over how my absence will impact co-workers. I work a 4 day work week with afternoons and 3-day weekends to spend with my family. I do not bring work home with me, nor do I stress about it once I walk out my office door. Sounds ideal, doesn't it?

But with Cowgirl leaving the world of preschool and becoming an official full time student (kindergarten is full time where we live) next fall, I am feeling huge guilt and remorse over the absence of unstructured time in her life. It is a feeling that has been nibbling on my emotional toes but last night felt like a great white shark ready to snap at my heart. As I struggled to fall asleep, I was remembering all the summers I had as a child when days seeped into each other with the only routine to speak of being play. When I was very young, we would spend summer's at the Jersey shore, my dad driving down on weekends. Weekdays were spent with my mom and the pack of neighborhood kids I roamed around with. I was either on the move via my blue hand-me-down boy's bike or sauntering in flip flops to the bay or ocean for swimming, card games on beach towels, or sandcastle building. Adventure was an excursion to the drug store or 5-and-dime to see what our quarters would buy us. A new Archie comic book was a celebration and evenings at a putt-putt golf course this child's dream of perfection.

This summer will be Cowgirl's third time in summer school. I know she has a blast, has access to so many wonderful activities, other kids (which our neighborhood lacks) but still this huge BUT has logged itself in my throat. School mornings I have to drag her out of bed and down to breakfast. Her demeanor is crabby and whiney. On "home days" (non-school days) she is up at the crack of dawn, playing and happy to just hang out in her p.j.s all morning. She gets up early because she doesn't want to "waste time" - her words - sleeping in on a home day. Now, she never wants to leave school when I pick her up, so I am pretty certain her resistance is not because of a problem at school. I think her resistance is to the busy-ness of another school day.

I totally get this and I wonder how I would have felt as a child not to have enjoyed long summers which invariably ended with a level of boredom and readiness to head back to school. And I understand she doesn't know anything different so my guilt has more to do with my expectations and memories. I guess I miss not having a long string of days in which play is the main objective, busy-ness is replaced by laziness and boredom acts as motivation to become more creative, silly and spontaneous. Life seems far more mapped out and planned these days. I suppose my challenge for us all is to figure out ways to loosen things up a bit. Slowing down and making a priority "spacious time" as I like to think about it. Time when things are allowed to unfold, plans change and the attitude of "why not?" prevails.

How do you built spacious or unstructured time into your child's schedule? Or even into adult life? Summer always seems like the season for loafing, lolling, cloud gazing and general relaxation. Am I the only one feeling anxious about facilitating all this?

Happy Monday! Here are my best shots of spacious time from this weekend.


  1. Oh my goodness - this is so funny. Not in hah ha funny but OH my *sigh* funny.

    I have been dealing with guilt the past few days over just the opposite. We didn't have the funds to put the kids in camps this summer, so the only scheduled thing they have is gymnastics. I haven't even signed them up for swim lessons which I know I REALLY want them to do.

    Our days are fairly unstructured messes. Sometimes this works beautifully, but I often feel the pangs in my tummy that they aren't getting enough exposure to all of the beauty and activity that is out there - from craft camps to sports camps to educational name it.

    Oh dear friend and all other mommies, when will we be able to let go of all of this unnecessary guilt and just revel in the fact that because we CARE and we LOVE, we ARE good mommies and our children will grow up to be beautiful people?

    *sigh* :)

  2. In my childrens lives I have always worked full time. I have felt that guilt and overcompensated when it wasnt necessary. I am currently not working, altho I dont know for how long, but there becomes the added pressure to "create" activities for them. Not like when I was a kid, and I couldnt get outdoors fast enough and would have to be called in for meals and bedtime. I urge them to entertan themselves, but I think in some ways I have warped their sense of exploration because I wasnt around. I'm not giving up. I'm out there with them, exploring the acres of forest, studying all the wildlife, and just playing.
    Lisa is right. WE do CARE, WE do LOVE and WE ARE great mommies.

  3. Your post triggered memories of my lazy, and sometimes boring, summers in New England where I spent hours reading novels and comic books. Some days seemed endless--others were packed with projects and fun. We did spend hours just exploring the woods and riding our bikes everywhere. In those days parents didn't see their kids for a whole day and never worried.

    The world is so different now and so are kids.
    As an educator, I've seen the trend toward over-scheduling children, until they don't have a spare minute. There is lots more structure and stimulation, and much less time for imagination. You seem to have a good handle on the dilemma and are very tuned into the needs of your sweet cowgirl.

    Working part time is a blessing--you do have more "spacious time", which is so important. Let go of your guilt and enjoy being the Mom of a wonderful young girl. They grow up so fast!

  4. Lis,

    Love the photos, you always show such great shots. To enter the blog roll you click on the ink that says add link and put in your site name etc. To put the same post on your blog you just copy the - script link from my page and paste it in a post and it creates the same post. Even if blogger says there is a problem it still worked for me. Then you can just go click on all the images to visit all those blogs and people can find you too.

  5. Well, this is just another way of saying what the other comments say. . . if you're the type of person to have the "mommy guilt", no matter what you have/don't have, give/don't give, plan/don't plan, you are going to feel guilty about something. I have terrible mommy guilt, and it's helpful to read your reminder that a lot of the expectations for how childhood should be are our own, and our children's expectations are very different.

    I am currently fretting over the fact that Ava doesn't have a big enough yard. She's never mentioned it, and the neighborhood kids are impressed that we have a yard at all because they don't. I try to remember that there are people out there who have big, beautiful yards, but the weather where they live doesn't allow for them to spend much time in the yard during the summer. Are they feeling guilty about the weather? I hope not :)

    You do have a good situation with the work hours and maybe you already do this, but you can declare one or two days or afternoons a week "no plan" days and see what happens. What do you think Cowgirl would do or want to do if there weren't a plan?

    (I have a pretty strong sense the two of you would end up playing "doggy" on the floor for hours)

    Pardon my rambling, but I finally have time to write comments and you always spark so many ideas and emotions for me.


  6. I have the mommy guilt too. I can so relate.

  7. I work two days a week, which is a huge compromise because it really isn't enough money. BUT any more time away from home and I would have even more guilt than I do. It's a trade off for the moment. Perhaps if I had a "job" I loved, then it would be a different ball of wax. Unscheduled time is great, maybe because there is so little of it. I think it's essential though, especially with the pace we live our lives and the expectations on us in this small, technology-driven world. I hire a sitter for the days when I work so my son doesn't have to go to a daycare or camp. But the kids who do, who only know that as their life, seem to be fine and happy with how they live. We can't help but try to make our kids lives the way we want them to be, certainly at a very young age - it's what parents do. No good answers!

  8. I can completely relate (I work 4 days a week, and my girls go to daycare when both me and my husband work).

    All I can say is just enjoy the spacious time when you have it. I am finding life doesn't offer lots of spacious time, so treasure what you have =) (easier said than done)

  9. Daer Lis-I absolutely love these pics-they capture the essence of summer/carefree/childhood all at once. I totally get what you mean about unstructured time. It seesm that we even have to "structure" "unstructurd" time!!It concerns me too. As Tara gets older I think I will let her have a fair ammount of free time as long as it's not in front of the telly.
    Thank you so much for signing the petition Lis. Yes, it is a truly horrible situation. China is also terrible in the way girl children are treated but no other country even comes close to India. It is beyond atrocious. I had a solo exhibition that dealt with this very issue and am commited to doing even more. especially now that I have alittle girl. It just breaks my heart and pisses me off all at once.
    yes, Tara is sick. I change my mind every 2 seconds on what I should do. Should I continue sending her to daycare or just stop altogether. I have no idea. I hate seeing her sick-she has been so very healhy up to now. I guess I will work it out!
    big hugs xxx

  10. Lis, I, too, have had these thoughts on my mind except from the oposite perspective. I work *very* part time from my home right now. As my youngest heads off to first grade next year, I worry that he won't be used to the hustle & bustle of "full time" school because he & I have been home with only a few hours of preschool a week for his entire little life. We are under so much pressure to create perfect lives for the ones we love. Although I am more laid back with my fourth child then I was with my first, I still worry SO much about what I have/have not done for/with him. I wish I knew a solution for what we are feeling, but sometimes I think that it is what makes us "Mommy" and we just need to accept it. So, so hard!

    Thanks for the tip to check out yarnharlot's blog. I am really enjoying reading through her entries!