I was planning to post yesterday for my "I Love Mondays" tip, really I was. But then life kicked in with all its selfish neediness and demands, and then I remembered that I'm my own boss for this blog. I don't have to hit every deadline or hire a proofreader (sorry for this) or get my "face time" on. So here for you is my I Love Monday tip of the week on a Tuesday...and it feels kind of rule-breaking good.
A week ago, I was giving a talk for about 30 working moms on practical strategies we can all do to bring down our stress levels when it comes to the tug-of-war between motherhood and career. Toward the end of the night, one of the moms admitted sheepishly that on occasion she lets the TV babysit her daughter for a few hours when she is on a deadline. (Her facial expression would suggest she'd just admitted to slaughtering chipmunks for kicks.) "Yep," I told her, "We've all been there.." She looked skeptical. "Ladies," I said to the rest of the room, "could you raise your hand please if you've felt guilty about leaving your child parked in front of the TV for too long so you could get your work deadline met?" (Every room in the hand shot up.) The woman who asked the question smiled and appeared relieved. It didn't solve a problem; it just felt good, I suspect, to realize she was in excellent company.
1. Get real about the damage. Allowing your child on occasion to watch a few extra hours of Sesame Street or iCarly repeats or a Netflix movie is not going to create significant mental damage to your child. I don't need psychology or pediatric experts on this one. If watching too much TV wreaked havoc, I (and most of my friends) would be non-functioning and illiterate today given how many hours we wracked in front of the old boob-tube (just on The Love Boat alone, for heaven's sake). In truth, most of us are over-achieving and damn well-adjusted except for our inability to focus on objects for more than a few seconds at a time (just kidding about this last part). Leaving your child in front of the TV for six hours a day every day is clearly not okay; doing it for 3 or so hours every once in awhile is just not a big deal.
2. Stash a bag in your closet. That said, it's good to have a list of ideas (and materials) on hand for those days when your child is home with you on a deadline day with the clock ticking, ticking, ticking. Mostly, moms use the TV as a babysitter because we don't have time and energy to come up with a Plan B, C, or D. Create a list of possibilities at a time when you don't need them so it'll be waiting for you. Ideas: puzzles, books on tape, craft projects (with glue that hasn't dried up in the bottle; I hate that), science kits (ideally, that don't include noxious chemicals), blocks and LEGOS, stickers, a scavenger-hunt list, sewing kits...you know what your child likes best.Stick at least a few of these in a bag in your office so they're fresh and new when you need them.
3. Don't hide your cracks. Talk to other moms about the fact that you let your child watch way too much "Dora the Explorer" or "Yo Gabba Gabba" (or whatever else you did when you put work ahead of parenting to meet your deadline the other day). Assuming you're talking to a good friend, she'll offer you empathy, encouragement and her own confession. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable like this, showing the small cracks in our parenting--and admitting we are not Mommy Poppins--we help each other feel calmer and certainly more normal. If you're feeling there's a true disconnect between you and your child, fix it. Block off periods of time when you can really tune in with one another (sans cell phones, pagers, faxes, or emails); but carrying guilt around for small mommy blunders just doesn't help you or your child.