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Low Quality Parenting

Right before I went back to work, a woman showed up in the baby group I’d been attending. She’d had three kids in three years, and was therefore an expert on all things to do with children, and actually all things on the face of the fucking earth. After telling us first-timers how her kids all sleep at the same time and eat at the same time, she said something about wishing she’d known to let her first child play by herself more often. Just put ’em in a room and peek in once in a while, she advised. I’ve been thinking about the remark periodically. I never do that. Am I doing it all wrong?

Partly it’s that Bun Bun won’t let me. If I try to leave her in a room, she’ll start yowling. I mean, I can sneak off for a bit, but once she figures out she’s alone…waaah. I’m guessing she’s just not ready for solitude yet–I bet this topic is covered in those parenting books I won’t read.

But it’s partly that I have the luxury of being WITH her when I’m with her. I mean, yes, some days all she does is follow me around while I do chores.* But from the beginning, I’ve made an effort to not engage in certain kinds of activities while I’m in charge of her. No fucking around on the internet, no reading (unless I’m reading the Sunday Styles section aloud to her. She loves the What I Wore column…), etc. None of those activities that are all about distracting yourself from the boredom of engaging with a baby. Mr. Bunny and I even developed a phrase for these activities: Low Quality Parenting.

The phrase is meant facetiously. So don’t take offense–I’m not judging anybody or implying any criticism (except the self kind), this is just me saying that I personally feel an obligation to be present for my child because I CAN. My baby is easy, my life is easy, it’s a luxury I’ve got that many don’t.

And yes, sometimes she’s boring, and some times I do read a book while she plays nearby, and sometimes I wonder if the woman is right, and I’m way too much all up in my child’s face. But then I remember that it’s not for long. She’s growing up, doing the I’m a small child not a baby thing I’ve heard described so often…Moving ever further away from me. Soon she’ll be perfectly happy playing alone in a room. Soon she won’t even want my company. Soon I’ll be the one crying and following her around as she tries to do her thing.




*By the way, I’m forever grateful to Trinity for the idea of giving her her own cabinet in the kitchen, filled with empty containers and random wooden spoons and whatnot. My genius addition: some of the plastic eggs we have for our annual egg hunt, filled with cheerios so that they rattle, and if she does bust them open, there’s no choking hazard! As long as I occasionally add something new, I can get me some dinner prepared while she hangs out chewing on my old travel mug.

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. I have to admit, I sometimes get distracted by the InterWebz when I’m with Gwen. This is in part because I still try to get 3 hours of work done in the 5 hours I’m awake in the morning, and while she usually sleeps about 3 of them, during some of those I’m eating, showering, doing laundry, emptying the dishwasher, etc. So work often happens when she’s awake, and work involves sitting on the floor with the laptop.

    She’s also gotten pretty good at entertaining herself (sometimes she can play happily in the same room with me for a good 20-25 minutes, which I find astonishing for a not-quite-6-month-old), with or without my presence, because what with stairs in the house I just can’t always tote her up and down with me and the laundry or the computer or the next batch of books I’m cataloging, etc. I sort of feel that it’s part of my parently duty to teach her how to entertain herself. As a result, when I was in Osnabrück last week co-teaching a short-course (there were four lectures a day for four days, I was responsible for the ones before and after lunch), and the babysitter for one of my lectures didn’t show up, it meant she was able to lie on the floor and play with her toys for 15 minutes or so before she got fussy and someone in the audience picked her up and played with her and kept her entertained long enough for me to get in the rest of my lecture. I’m really thankful that worked out! (But, wow, is it distracting having your own baby in the audience when you’re teaching; I never realized quite how much I zero in on her when she catches my eye!)

    May 3, 2012
  2. I definitely don’t think you’re doing it all wrong. BunBun wants you to hang out with her, you like hanging out with her, it sounds great! As you say, there will be plenty of time for independence later on.
    The only reason I can think of to push the independent play is that it will be helpful when Bunlet comes along. But that seems like all the more reason to be really present to the fabulous one-on-one time that you guys are lucky enough to have right now. You can work on the independence stuff when Bunlet’s arrival is more immanent.

    May 3, 2012
  3. I love your thoughts on low quality parenting. Although I didn’t place the same eloquent label on it, that’s exactly what I’ve thought when I caught the hubs playing a computer game with one hand while feeding our child using the other. Don’t worry – it only happened the one time…

    That’s one very small advantage for having my child in daycare. I figure she gets plenty of alone playtime while there, especially before she starts chatting with the other kiddos. So in the evenings when I have my scant minutes of playtime with her, I am all hers. But in the morning, after I feed her, she has about 10-15 minutes of alone time while I’m scurrying around the house getting stuff together before work, and she handles it like a champ. I’m very thankful that she doesn’t flip out during that time – very important!

    Love the idea of Bun Bun’s own cabinet. Will definitely need to implement that shortly…

    May 3, 2012
  4. Genius treats in eggs for her to discover! I also think the independent play matters with the kid. It sounds like she’s not requiring you to actively participate, but likes knowing you are in the room with her. Who doesn’t like a bit of company?

    I am imagining you following her around as she gets ready for a dance in her teenage years asking her why you aren’t allowed to chaperone the events anymore, pleading that you are in fact, someone who can bust a move, and you are a COOL parent unlike Suzie neighbor’s mom who is all squaresville. You are so right that she’ll be ready to strike out on her own, but I feel like this time with her is what will give her that independence to know that as she ventures on, you’ll be behind her when she needs you.

    May 3, 2012
  5. I feel the same way about saving those sorts of activities for when you’re not in charge of the child… although I find that with two, I get stressed out and I start craving a break and I sneak onto the computer and they inevitably disturb me and I get mad with myself and… it never works out well.

    I find it hard to believe that you can leave a baby/toddler alone in a room to play. With both my children, they’ve gone off on their own occasionally to seek out entertainment, but if I try and leave them it doesn’t work. I am a big proponent of taking some time to sit back and watch though. Let the child figure it out for themselves and only step in as needed or wanted. It’s fascinating.

    Lately, I’ve been sucking at that, because I fall into the trap of thinking: “They’re occupied… I should be doing something constructive!”

    May 4, 2012
  6. SRB #

    If I read this on my phone, while swatting HGB’s hand away so I could finish it, BUT waited until after he had gone to bed to *really* read it and then comment, am I even?

    I let HGB play alone, but I don’t leave him to play alone if that makes any sense. If I see him really into something, I just let him have at it instead of narrating or being all “OOOOhhh look! Good boy!” or whatever. I pretty much just gawk at him in wonder like he is gawking at whatever has grabbed his attention. Or, I fuck around on my phone for a second.These days, as he is getting more mobile and way cooler it is usually the first one.

    May 4, 2012
  7. well, color me a low quality parent, then. i prefer to think of it as working independently.

    partly it’s out of necessity — i have barely enough childcare coverage to do my teaching, none for grading/planning, and i’m too wiped out at night. but partly, i just don’t see a big harm in it. the bean does his thing, i do mine, he gets me if he needs me, and i go visit him when i need a break. we go to a playgorund or the garden or someplace, too — it’s not like we’re just inside with me online all day — but i have a hard time seeing the harm i’m doing him in the mean time. possibly he tolerates independence better than some babies; possibly that’s been fostered in him. he seems pretty happy. (if i sound defensive, it’s because this is the second post on the topic i’ve read lately.)

    meanwhile, i love your cheerio rattle idea — totally stealing that one. sugar used to think i was crazy for letting visiting toddlers wreak havoc in the tupperware drawer. now she gets it.

    May 4, 2012
    • Aw shucks, I never said there was anything harmful about doing your own thing while your child does its own thing. I imagine lots more of that in our future. Though of course I also knew the LQP label would make people defensive, tongue in cheek though it may be. I tried to emphasize that I know it’s something I can do because of my situation–a baby who takes multiple naps a day, a job where I can do my work AT work, etc. And I also knew people would tell me how independent their child is, and that it would make me defensive too, as if I’m denying my child self-actualization to feed some pathetic need of mine. But hey, the best posts are those that offend everyone, right?

      There’s also a weird, idiosyncratic line for me between activities involving the internet, and all others. I think the internet is too seductive to mix with childcare for me personally. But then, I get my fucking around on the internet time while my baby’s asleep so I can afford to have my crazy opinions.

      May 4, 2012
  8. Ana #

    I really think it depends on the child, the parent, and the age/stage…so whatever you are doing is absolutely right for YOU and BUNBUN right NOW (and this may change in the future). I totally read blogs while I nurse 7 month old L. There isn’t much “interacting” you can do while he’s sleepily eating away.He also is pretty good about just sitting & playing alone, as long as you change out toys every few minutes & give him occasional smiles/kisses/songs. B was NOT like that, he needed constant attention. Until recently I made a huge effort to never pull out my phone or do much of anything else when I was with B…he needed a lot of attention…and I liked to give it to him…working mom, precious few hours, blah blah… Very recently (since he turned 2) he’s able to and WANTS to play by himself for up to 20-30 minutes, as long as we are nearby enough to answer questions, yell out encouraging words, etc.. So he’ll play with toys in the living room while we clean up the kitchen and/or play with the baby. So BunBun may indeed become more independent soon enough…no need to rush it.

    May 4, 2012
  9. LQP.I like how you come up with great expressions. I used UFO in a meeting the other day and it was a hit (and I admit, I shamelessly stole it from you and didn’t even give you credit).
    As you know, Bun Bun will play alone in years to come. For now, she wants to be with her mama. How wonderful that you intentionally put all of your focus on her when you are with her.

    May 4, 2012
  10. I could basically copy and repost this exact thing. I think it is a good idea to let your kid play by themselves and get the experience of that exploration in their imagination and what not. Right now it would be terribly hard for me to do that. I get about 3-4 hours with Jack during the week before he goes to bed. Those hours include him playing with bowls and spoons on the kitchen floor while I cook, then baths, then snuggles. I am starting to let him get into more trouble on his own. He likes to carry around the dowel we place in the sliding glass door track (for added security….the dude’s addition) and smack it against things. I actually have a hilarious video of this while he is wearing a pair of his dad’s boxers on his head (he was “helping” me fold laundry). I do find myself “hovering”. Letting him stand by the open back door, but closely monitoring him from 5 feet away to make sure he doesn’t topple head first out the door and onto the concrete steps. I should try to be less involved….I am just not ready :).

    May 4, 2012
  11. Jen #

    Eh it all depends on the kid and their age. If your kid likes to sit in the corner and quietly watercolor or solve calculus problems on her own, then let her do it and by all means, sneak away and have a cup of coffee and read the paper. But a lot of kids, mine included, even when they are doing things on their own, like me to be close by, even if I’m not a participant. In those scenarios, I enthusiastically high-five the low quality parenting tactic. It’s nice to sit back and watch then, but also nice to watch youtube videos of cats “saying” hilarious things in a French accent.

    May 4, 2012
  12. LQP is funny. There’s such pressure to be 100% engaged at every moment. So we sort of want to do that, and sort of don’t (to be obstreperous), and it can be hard, as a parent, to figure out what one actually wants to do or thinks one should do. And it is such a privilege to have so much choice.

    A related term: some friends called their exersaucer the Neglect-o-saucer, because their kid would play in it so happily for hours.

    May 6, 2012
  13. Ahh…well I’m still working on the parenting thing…quality set aside.

    I think Bun Bun is so very lucky to have this relationship with you at this stage in her life. As you’ve hinted, there will be a time when we are not the ones they will run to or even prefer to be in close proximity with. I’m glad you’re soaking it up right now. It’s so very nice for all of you.

    It’s only now that I’m in my 30’s with a family of my own that I wish my Mom was closer, that we could just meet for lunch or something. I’m happy for your happiness, Bunny.

    May 6, 2012

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