Mommy Guilt and The Preschool Years

If I’ve learned nothing else in the past four years of motherhood, it’s that the baby isn’t the only thing that comes home from the hospital with you and remains a part of your life forever: a little something called Mommy Guilt sneaks in that cozy little infant car seat and hitches a ride home, too.

Mommy Guilt rears its ugly head early on. Before I’d even left the hospital, I felt guilty about feeding my baby pumped milk from a bottle. I had a weak supply in my early days of nursing and pumped after each nursing session to help increase it. Several maternity ward nurses gave me more than just a slight cold shoulder when I asked for a bottle for the pumped milk…with a rubber nipple on it…not that insane “supplemental nursing system”, a.k.a. string taped to my boob with what looked to me like the water bottle from a gerbil’s cage clipped to my shirt. (If you’ve had the pleasure of encountering this contraption in your own life, you know what I’m talking about. If not…Google it. You won’t be disappointed.)

I thought that with time and experience, however, the Mommy Guilt would subside. I was wrong. Now that my older son is almost 4, Mommy Guilt is simply taking on new and more gut-wrenching forms. I know about the need for and benefits of unstructured, free play in childhood. It’s kind of my thing. I reasearch it, write about it it, and profess its value. But Mommy Guilt still manages to weasel its way into my brain when the topic of extracurricular activities with preschool and early elementary school kids comes up in conversation.

know that what’s really important for my children is time to just “be”. They need time free from the constant input of adults, televisions, video games, and electronic toys. They need to be both with their friends and alone, inventing their own fun and setting up the structure of games. I know this. But somehow, I still feel tremendous Mommy Guilt when it comes to extracurriculars. Am I doing them a disservice by not buying into the trend for preschooler enrichment classes? My logical side says “No!”, but a small, competitive-mom part of me worries I’m making the wrong choice.

My older son is in preschool during the school year. In the summer, he takes a very fun, unstructured music class.  I think this is enough. I have no plans to enroll him in anything else any time soon unless he specifically asks to do something. Kids, especially kids whose parents are working and who spend time in childcare, need more time to just be. I’m always astounded by the array of “extra” activities you can sign young children up for. In my area of CT alone, my son, who is not quite 4 years old, bear in mind, could learn to play hockey/T-Ball/soccer/tennis, take gymnastics, attend science enrichment, learn several different foreign languages, get a jump-start on his math and reading skills, learn to ride a horse, attend art classes, and begin to play a multitude of instruments. Both he and I could suffer from a serious lack of time to just “be” if I don’t guard this time carefully!

So, I know it’s hard, but let go of the Mommy Guilt and resist the urge to shuttle your young children around more than necessary. Know that in doing so, you’re not only leading a more relaxed life, but you’re doing what’s best for your child. Reserve your “extracurricular activity” time (and money!) for things your child really wants to do, and spend more time just being together, having fun, and enjoying the world around you. As the saying goes…”If it’s not fun, why do it?”

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