No, I Don't Always Play With My Kids, But I'm Still a Great Mom

I used to play with my kids every time they asked. But then I realized how much it was taking away from the few minutes a day I have to myself, including my time to shower—and I learned it was OK to say no.

The author and her family.
The author and her family. Photo: Courtesy of Nikki Trojanowski

I never knew what kind of a mom I'd be before I was one. Spoiler alert: I'm the type of mom who plays with her kids and entertains them often. Not only do I feel passionately about the importance of engaging with and making memories with my children, it also simply makes me happy. Nothing is better than my kids' smiles. Nothing. I'll go out of my way for those smiles, do ridiculous things like pretend to be a sloth or loudly sing songs I loathe.

That said, I recently had an experience that made me reconsider some of my choices. My husband is in charge of bathing both of our boys, ages 4 and 1-and-a-half, each night. During bath time, a glorious 15 minutes, I do whatever I want. "Whatever I want" usually entails working, wrapping up a load of laundry, or taking a shower (yes, these are things I genuinely look forward to).

On this day, cleanliness was top priority, so I jumped in the shower while the boys were in bath. The master shower and kids' bathtub share a wall in our home. I had just hopped in when my oldest, Deacon, started banging on the wall. It was clear he wanted me to take part, so I banged back to the beat of a song we both knew. Back and forth we went. Lather my hair quickly, bang a few beats. Rinse, bang, and repeat.

I ended up spending much of the very limited alone time I get entertaining a boy who was in the care of my enormously capable, loving husband, who works traditional hours and doesn't get as much time with the kids as I do. While I didn't think about it much at the time, I later realized I was not only impeding on the few minutes I get to myself each day, I was also taking away some of my husband's very limited time alone with the kids.

Did I need to engage in bathroom wall banging to please my son in that moment? Was a musical interlude required for bath to be completed without issue? The seemingly obvious answer is "no," but sometimes it's hard to say no to a desire that can be easily fulfilled. And guilt can creep in when you decide to prioritize yourself over something your child wants, no matter how many people tout the importance of self-care, no matter how much you believe in it yourself.

The workload that comes with parenting is abundant, and the mental workload sometimes feels ever-present. That's part of the reason why small moments—like a shower—take on an importance they didn't before, at least for me. It's a time when I can mentally create the week's meal plan, draft a writing project in my head, or come up with predictions about who will become the next Bachelorette. The duration of a shower is not a long time, but it's mine.

Most mothers feel a pull to make their kids happy. I happily go out of my way to make them smile because there are times when my very fair rules or reasonable requests make them erupt into sudden, unstoppable tears. Sometimes in those moments, despite knowing full-well I'm doing the right thing, I feel bad. So, I may make an extra effort to get a smile in ways that are sweet but unnecessary. If this also makes me happy, it's a win for all. But if it doesn't work for me in the moment, I'm learning that it's OK. After all, despite the fact playing with kids offers physical and mental benefits for parents and kids, research also indicates that kids benefit from being bored.

Deacon still bangs on the bathroom wall sometimes while I'm showering, and I still hit back. But only when I feel like it.

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