Weary Stay-at-Home Mother Leaning Too Much on the "TV Babysitter"?

Filed under: Siblings, Childcare, Expert Advice: Toddlers & Preschoolers

Dear AdviceMama,

I am a stay-at-home mom of two little girls ages 3 and 2. Lately, I feel like I am hitting the wall. I'm easily stressed with the kids when I used to have endless patience. I am not engaging with them as much and am deferring to the park and TV more and more. My 3-year-old loves role-playing games and I am just not into it. Help ... I don't want to be this kind of mother, but I also don't want them to completely depend on me for stimulation or a playmate.

Played Out

Dear Played,

Getting through the basic tasks of taking care of two young children can wear out even the most devoted caregiver. Most parents confess to struggling with the temptation to use television (or these days, computer games) to get much needed breaks from the near-constant interaction demanded by young children.

So take comfort in the fact that what you're experiencing is normal and understandable.

Here are a few ideas for lessening the pressure to keep your kids stimulated all day long. Hopefully our ParentDish readers will weigh in with their own suggestions!

• Recognize that it's perfectly fine for your children to be "bored," especially as they get a little older. (Two-year-olds aren't quite ready to do things alone for very long.) If you pack every moment with something interesting, your children will become unable to amuse themselves without you. Put out a few books or crayons and occupy yourself with a magazine or crossword puzzle for a few minutes so you aren't immediately available if they want your attention. In other words, don't hover.

• Acknowledge your preschooler's longing for you to play with her, without feeling obligated to fulfill her desire. When a child feels heard and understood, she's better able to cope with not getting what she wants. "It would be nice if Mommy could stop making dinner to play ponies with you. It's not as much fun for you when you have to play alone ..." It's okay for children to be disappointed.

• Invite your girls to play the "On/Off" game with Mommy. Set a timer for a few minutes, during which time you'll play with them. (It will be easier for you to enjoy the time together if you know it's not going to drag on indefinitely.) When the timer goes off, have them play on their own for X number of minutes. (Adjust the length of time so it's developmentally realistic.) By doing two or three rounds of this, you'll help train them -- gently -- to be less dependent on you for nonstop stimulation.

• Give yourself a break from your little ones on a regular basis by establishing a baby-sitting co-op with other parents. (Use your time off to recharge with a book or a relaxing walk, rather than doing household tasks!)

As difficult it is to be "stalked" by your little ones, this phase will pass before you know it. Meanwhile, by providing quiet, unstructured time without Mommy input, your children will begin to tap the creativity that lives in the land of their imagination, making them less dependent on TV, or Mommy, to keep them entertained.

Yours in parenting support,

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.