Wisdom Wednesday


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?”

12 comments on “Wisdom Wednesday”

  1. Thank you being on Good Morning American this morning (congrats too) and bringing your website to my attention. My children are 20 and 17 years old and I can tell you that mother guilt is forever! It gets easier and not as often but every once in a while it creeps back in and hits me. I hope I brought my kids up to be good human beings. They both want to be teachers so here’s hoping.

  2. Happy to hear many other moms seem to struggle with this balance and I’m not alone in this. I think, of course, following the child’s lead and supporting any interests he or she may have is very important. What I try to avoid, however, is signing up for things just to keep up with the Joneses, so to say. This is when I think it hurts more than helps. Following their cues and not being afraid to pull back and just take some time to enjoy the quiet is important. It’s really tougher to do than I thought it would be, especially, as someone mentioned, in the era of Facebook and Twitter when you know everything everyone is doing! There are so many years when they get to be “big” and be away from us. I want to enjoy them while I still can 🙂

  3. Thank you! I too have felt Mommy Guilt since before leaving the hospital. And then again when I had to put my daughter in daycare (my sister-in-laws had live-ins so I had additional guilt heaped upon me by them and my mother-in-law). Sometimes just knowing that I’m not alone in thinking that my child doesn’t have to signed up for every activity known to man and that “just being” is ok helps tremendously.

  4. Yes. Yes. Yes!!! I can totally relate. My girls are 5 and 7 and there are flyers, mailings, emails, etc coming from every direction telling us to sign up for this or enroll in that whether to give them a “head start” for school or make them the best athlete they can be or whatever. Kids need time to be kids and just play…. but every time I hear about another kid is doing x,y, and z those little questions of “am I doing the right thing?” pop right back up.

  5. I really appreciate reading this post. I have a 3 year-old daugther and we have fallen into the trap of getting her involved in various activities, though always one at a time. We’ve tried music, art, gymnastics and now swim class. I’ve gone back and forth thinking I need to just let her chill out on the weekends but I succumb to the “everyone else’s kid is involved in activities” especially when I look at FB. The thing I need to remind myself and what you pointed out, she has two working parents and needs time to just be with us. She is currently in a swim class that I’ve reenrolled her in as she likes it and it is a great skill to have but I’ve recently seen her enthusiasim for it wane. Your post has made me realize that I need to give her some unscheduled time after this session especially as she will be starting preschool this year.

  6. Unstructured play time is a wonderful thing. My three year old and two year old will entertain themselves for over an hour at a time playing “grocery shopping,” “school,” “vacation to New York City,” etc…I love watching them in this free, creative environment. However, my three year old needs more, she is constantly asking to do things, to join things, to take classes. I don’t feel bad for scheduling her in classes that she shows interest in. This summer she is enrolled in four, week long enrichment camps, swimming, soccer and ballet (all at different times) but over the course of the summer. And I’m greatful that I am able to provide her with thses opportunities. I think the balance between free play and structured activities depends on the child.

  7. Thank you for posting this TODAY. I was just talking with my husband last night and wondering when we should or IF we should sign our boys up for something. I have not idead what…but something. I know the don’t need to be in any extra classes, we do plenty with them on our own, but it’s the “every other kid is doing it” mentality that I just can’t get past. Knowing how much you value unstructured time, but that you still feel a little guilt about it, makes me feel a little better 🙂

    1. Kris-Ann- that’s so funny that you were just thinking about this, too. I feel more than a little guilt some days. I know so many kids who are 3, 4, 5, 6 years old and involved in LOTS of activities. It’s very hard to stay the course and do what I know I should when there seems to be almost a “whose-kid-is-busier” competition starting in preschool (or even…before!). I’m sure you’re doing more than enough with them on your own- you’re a great mom! 🙂

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