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Time Off For Parents: Good Parenting with Dr. Debbie

Dear Dr. Debbie,

We have three children. The oldest is eight-years-old. I am a SAHM with volunteer responsibilities related to the children’s schools and our church. I hear about other moms taking time for classes, hobbies, and dates with friends. Besides my husband, I don’t really have anyone to leave the children with. He works long hours and likes to watch sports on tv to relax, so he’s not readily available.

Do I just have to wait until the children grow up before claiming some time to myself?

Mom Needs a Break

—-

Dear MNaB,

This is more of a marriage question than a childcare question, although a scarcity of childcare options is part of it.

Partners

Modern families apportion childcare duties, as well as time off, around each partner’s roles within and outside the family. As a Stay at Home Mom you naturally plan your days around the children’s needs. You may also take care of the bulk of meal planning, laundry, and the children’s transportation. Although not necessarily.

There are many tasks to be divided or shared between parenting partners. Some divisions are easily decided based on skillset and personal preferences – for example, one of you may be better at balancing the family expenses to determine discretionary spending each week or month. One of you may have a green thumb for gardening and the other is the expert at pets and or pest control. One of you may be better in tune with cars to know when it’s time for a tune up and when and how to replace the tires or the whole car.

A shared role might be taking turns to choose the restaurant each time the family orders take-out.

Both you and your husband have the same twenty-four hours in each day, however, since you are with the children more, you probably have a better idea of how to do the job of taking care of them. It only makes sense for the default parent to be you.

That being said, it’s time to have a meeting with your partner about his carving out some time for the children that you can count on. A regular schedule is best if your alone time activity involves attending a book club or class, but there are plenty of activities, including online classes, that can be done on your own at any time. Suggest some fail-safe activities for him to do with the children until he finds some on his own, such as taking a walk, going to the children’s museum, snuggling up with one or more child with a book, or taking all three to a fenced playground.

Childcare Network

Beyond your husband, think about casting a wider net in order to plan time for yourself. Have you met other SAHM’s through your volunteer work? Hopefully all the little ones have been vaccinated so it’s less risky to visit in one another’s homes. Consider adding another family or two to the contacts your family is comfortable unmasking with, or at least identify some outdoor spaces you can use for taking turns taking care of each other’s children. This might be more appealing after the winter’s expected surge in COVID, flu, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).

A structured system of taking care of one another’s children is possible if you can draft several families into a babysitting co-op. This is a great way for your children to have steady playmates while you deepen friendships with other moms. And you get time off of parenting duties for several hours at a time in a measured exchange with the other moms.

It takes effort to establish even one good childcare connection, let alone a network, especially considering the pandemic’s ongoing hold on our social interactions.  

Life’s Chapters

You happen to be in your most intense parenting years during a worldwide health crisis. Try to appease your thirst for personal pastimes through things you can do with one or more of your children. Instead of just “waiting for them to grow up” add some of your interests to your time with the children. For example, invite another mom or two for regularly scheduled stroller walks (which could include discussing a selected book or movie, or even current events) while older siblings are in school.

There might be an afterschool activity you could lead, coach, or just help out with to keep your hand in one of your hobbies. Or you might coordinate family activities, or a youth group or playgroup, through the church. Find a way to reclaim such interests as camping, choral singing, crafting, theater and museum-going, or working to save the environment by including children in what you love. Think of it not only as a chance to get to do what you enjoy, but as an opportunity to spark the same interest in your children and others.

One of your hobbies could be the thing that holds your parent-child relationship together during the rocky years of adolescence. For me and my mom this was Israeli folk dancing. She had loved this as a teenager and started up a performing troupe that included me and several of my friends when I was in high school. Folk dancing is something that can be done with children as young as preschool.

Bonus points if you find something that Daddy likes to do. Two dads, including my husband, volunteered to lead our Girl Scout troop of fourth graders in designing and completing a badge about fishing. The dads were already fishing buddies. For several years after the badge experience, the girls enthusiastically partnered with their fathers for annual fishing tournaments, alternating years with their brothers.

It may sound cliché, but although your days with your children are long, the years are fleeting. Your children need less and less of your time. In just a few years, parenting will no longer feel like you are passing the children back and forth.

Until then, make the best of this precious chapter of your life.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum.  She will be presenting a series of Zoom workshops for parents, on Mondays (except Oct. 31), 7-9 pm, through November 14.

The museum is open with online reservations or call: 410-990-1993.

Read more of Dr. Wood’s Good Parenting columns by clicking here.

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