We’re All Making Parenting Harder Than It Really Needs to Be

Apr 25, 2019

This piece was written before the pandemic, but many of the themes included by Natalie Romero are still relevant — even now.

If you scroll through Instagram, you’ll see it.

In the photos of day trips, invitations to play and carefully coordinated playdates, parents everywhere are arranging and organizing their children’s childhood for them.

And we wonder why we are so exhausted?

Friday nights in my house growing up always meant takeout while my mum got started with her weekly house clean. We often spent the evening sitting in front of the TV watching TGIF television or sometimes, if we were lucky, we walked to Jumbo Video to rent a movie.

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My mother didn’t stress about the fact that we were eating junk food. I don’t think she carried around feelings of guilt that we spent the evening sitting in front of the TV. And I’m confident she wasn’t planning out a craft activity for us to complete when she was finished. She had things to do and she took care of it.

We entertained ourselves.

My parents didn’t have to organize playdates for me because I went out to play with the neighbourhood kids. When they did drive me to a friend’s house, it was because my friend and I picked up the phone and called each other asking if the other wanted to play, not because our parents spent a morning texting each other to find a time that would work.

I had a playroom filed with toys, but my parents weren’t arranging them for me so that I would be more inclined to go play with them. When I had nothing to do, I wandered into that playroom to explore. Sometimes, neighbours would come over and we’d spend hours down there. My favourite thing was exploring other kids’ basements and playrooms — new toys were always the best!

But here is the thing: parents today are exhausted. We are drained. We are trying to do it all.

We went to the movies, but those trips were so infrequent that I can remember which movies I saw in the theatre. Who can forget 1990? We watched Home Alone, and my dad’s laughter echoed so loudly throughout the entire theatre that I shrunk myself down in my seat trying to disappear.

Fast forward to today, and parents seem to be responsible for entertaining their kids all day, every day.

If you take a drive through any given neighbourhood on a Saturday afternoon in 2019, you won’t find a lot of kids out playing. I live in a neighbourhood filled with children, and weekend after weekend families disappear choosing day trips or afternoons at the movies over hanging out in their own home. Or maybe they are all off at sports tournaments that take them to far-away cities for entire weekends.

I sound like a curmudgeon; the parent who remembers everything better back in my day.

But here is the thing: parents today are exhausted. We are drained. We are trying to do it all.

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We work long hours and our work day doesn’t always end when we leave the office. We commute to work which lengthens our day. We have to drive our kids to their after-school activities, make dinner, keep our home showroom-ready, play with our kids and come up with Pinterest-worthy activities to keep them occupied at all times.

It is energy-sapping.

But the truth is, we are doing it to ourselves. I have done it to myself.

I’m guilty of entertaining my kids with everything from family game nights to movie nights to outings at whichever family-friendly event is being promoted on social media.

We spend afternoons skating at our town’s outdoor rink and we pay a fortune each fall for our kids to pick their own apples.

And it’s amazing. We love spending time together and building family memories. But, it’s also tiresome.

Letting our kids play alone does not make us bad parents.

As a family with two working parents, it’s not always easy to keep up with day-to-day responsibilities and coordinate my kids’ lives. If I’m always organizing my kids' free time, when do I accomplish household chores or make dinner? How do my kids learn to be comfortable alone with nothing planned out to occupy them? How do they build their imagination? How do they learn to do things without me?

We are making parenting so much harder than it has to be.

While our kids value the time we spend with them, that doesn’t mean we have to be with them every spare moment.

It’s OK for them to play alone. It’s OK to have their games in a basket for them to sort through and decide what to play instead of you setting it up for them at a table, ready to go when they walk through the door.

It’s OK for us to fold laundry while they entertain themselves. It’s OK for us to take an hour to read a book by ourselves and leave our kids to figure it out.

Letting our kids play alone does not make us bad parents.

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When I leave my kids to their own imagination, it leaves us both feeling calmer. It gives them the chance to figure things out for themselves with no direction. It gives them the opportunity to explore. They strengthen the relationship with their siblings. In the end, they feel as though they have had down time.

When I turn off all electronics and hide away with a book it’s magic for all of us. My kids end up giggling together and I end up with some much-needed time by myself.

This is the commitment I’m making to myself and my family. I’m giving us both the gift of more unscheduled time. No plans, nobody telling us what to do.

At the end of it all, I think this is what we both need.

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Article Author Natalie Romero
Natalie Romero

Read more from Natalie here.

Natalie’s passion for writing was reignited as she blogged her way through the pain of her son’s health issues and NICU stay. She is the wife of the world’s greatest foot rubber and mother to an amazingly loyal little boy and a fiercely independent little girl. An HR professional by day and a freelance writer and blogger by night, Natalie is getting a crash course in the juggling act that is the life of a working mother, though she does occasionally drop a ball or two! After spending much of her life trying to be perfect she has learned to rock her shortcomings and is not afraid to admit when she’s failed. This parenting thing can be tough and Natalie believes the best way to survive it is by keeping it real and by leaning on your tribe.

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