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I can only imagine the flack I’m going to take for saying that I ignore my kids. But here’s the thing… I really do! It’s one of the best parenting choices I’ve made.
If you’re a mom who thinks she should never ignore her kids, you may find this idea to be a huge relief, so I’m going to share it despite the repercussions. It’s a good practice for moms, and it’s good for kids too. And it’s a lot less awful than it sounds. Promise.
But let me start by saying, I don’t ever ignore my kids completely. If they’re in my care, which they almost always are, then I’m always available if they need me. They are my first priority, even if I’m working, trying to get something done around the house, or trying to get some rest. So, no need to call anyone. My kids are safe, protected, and cared for at all times.
What do I mean when I say I ignore my kids?
Here’s what “ignoring my kids” looks like to me:
My entire second floor is basically set up to be a place where my kids can play, have fun, and not need me for some time. They have two bedrooms and a playroom upstairs that are set up to be as childproof as possible. Nothing harmful is within reach.
It’s also very accessible. They have a dress up wall that’s been intentionally placed at their height, so they can reach costumes whenever they want. They also have plenty of books and toys (too many I might add), they have art supplies and a little play table with chairs… They have a place where they can go and have uninterrupted, unguided playtime.
When I “ignore” them, I send them upstairs to play. Or I allow them to stay downstairs with me, but they know that they need to entertain themselves for a while.
Obviously, we all have unique situations. If you only have one child, this is going to look different for you. My kids entertain each other much of the time, but they also enjoy time playing alone too. My middle child loves puzzles, and I’ll often find her at the kitchen table building away. Your child might love art, or music, or reading, or make-believe (or ALL of it). But there’s something they could do that is independent and good for them to do on their own. You may just need to find it.
“Ignoring my kids” means that I allow them time to themselves and I let them know that they need to find something to do. They can’t depend on me to entertain them during these times.
First things first
This “ignoring” thing only works well if our kids know how much we love them first. This is not about neglecting our duties as parents. It’s about doing what’s best for them, us, and for our relationships. But first, we should a solid foundation of love and trust with our kids. After that, we can begin to give them some freedom and “ignore” them now and then.
My kids are 2, 5, and 6. Every day, I try to make time for them as a group and individually. I show them love in the ways that I think they’ll best receive it. For example, my oldest daughter enjoys hugs, kisses, and cuddles more than she enjoys almost anything else, so I try to show her my love through physical touch every day. My second daughter is more responsive to words of affirmation. She likes to hear me say that I love her, and she likes me to tell her all the things I appreciate about her and the good things I notice that she’s doing. (Check out the book The 5 Love Languages of Children for more about this.)
I make filling my children’s “love tanks” a priority every single day. And because they know that they are loved and valued, they don’t see my “ignoring them” as hurtful or neglectful. They know that I’m always here for them and they know how special they are to me.
What they learn
I want my kids to know that they are important, that they are loved, and that they have a mother who thinks the world of them. But I also want them to know that they are not the center of the universe. I want them to know that there are other people and things in the world (and in my life) that are important too.
One of the important aspects of my life is my work. I have made some major sacrifices and worked hard to be a (mostly) work-at-home mom. In order to complete the work that I need to do and not have my kids in daycare, I need to work while I’m home with them. And yes, sometimes that means ignoring them.
I also want my kids to see that I’m a person. I have needs just like they do, and sometimes I need to take of me too. They have grown to understand that, and as a result, they are growing into pretty considerate little people. They don’t just think about themselves, they consider how other people are feeling too.
Lastly, I want them to see that I maintain strong relationships with God and other people, including my husband, other family members, and with my friends.
The 3 Big Reasons
I believe in ignoring my kids sometimes, and the reasons are simple. In case you didn’t pick up on them so far, here are my three big reasons for ignoring my kids:
- It’s good for them.
- It’s good for me.
- It’s good for my relationships.
It’s good for them.
Ignoring my kids for periods of time allows them to be creative and gives them the opportunity to enjoy unguided play. Unguided play is an important part of childhood. Kids get to choose what they want to do and how they want to do it.
Unguided play is scientifically proven to benefits kids and contribute to healthy brain development.
Here is a quote from the American Academy of Pediatrics: “Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills. When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue.” Some studies have also found a correlation between childhood free play and future social success.
Play is a necessary part of childhood.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with playing with your kids. If you love doing that, that’s awesome! I’m not trying to talk you out of that. Play with them, enjoy them, savor those moments.
But don’t feel like you’re destroying them by letting them play by themselves sometimes. You’re doing quite the opposite. You’re allowing them the freedom to explore, grow, and learn on their own.
It’s good for me.
“Ignoring my kids” is also good for me.
But it’s not a selfish act on my part– although it’s true that I need some time to get my work done. I could easily plop them down in front of screens for a few hours and get my work done or have some much-needed time to myself. But I don’t think that’s the best option. My kids do have some screen time, but I try to be as intentional as I can about maintaining a balance.
I find that encouraging my kids to go play and enjoy themselves is my best bet to get time to myself and do what’s best for them.
Again, I’m always available to nurse boo-boos and settle disputes (although I encourage them to work them out on their own). I’m there if they need anything. I’m not abandoning them. I’m simply setting them up to have fun, learn, and grow as children should. They know that there are times they are expected to play, use their imaginations, and figure out a way to enjoy themselves.
But I need time to myself. To do my work, to keep the house running smoothly, and, honestly, to just maintain my sanity. I am an introvert, and although I love my kids intensely, sometimes I just need a break!
I’m a strong believer in self-care. As moms, we give and give and give. We need to fill our cups too. Sometimes the only way that I can get some moments to myself (to read, to sit with a cup of coffee, or to take a “coffee nap”) is to “ignore” my kids for a little while. It’s not selfish to take time for ourselves– it’s necessary.
It’s good for my relationships.
Most of the time when my husband is home, we spend time as a family. But there are times that we need to be alone together. We can’t always depend on spending time together after the kids go to bed, because we’re usually exhausted by then. And we know that we deserve more of each other than simply what’s left over at the end of the day.
We don’t always have the option of going out on date nights either. Sometimes, we just want to sit on the couch together and relax. And many times our best bet is to send the kids off to play and “ignore” them for a bit.
This is also beneficial for our kids. They know that Mommy and Daddy love each other and want to spend time together. And of course, they act grossed out (my 6-year-old has said “Ewww, you’re married…how gross for everyone”) but I know that seeing us maintain a strong relationship is what’s best for them.
It’s also helpful to “ignore” my kids so that I can maintain a social life to some extent.
The other day I got together with four other mom friends. Between the five of us, we brought 16 kids to this playdate. Fortunately, we all had similar mindsets and allowed our kids to play and go crazy so that we could have time to sit, rest, and enjoy each other’s company. Yes, we were interrupted several times. Yes, we had to have some “talks” about how to treat other people, how to share, and how to take turns. But for the most part, our kids were fine. And what a treat it was to enjoy some time with my friends! It really is possible!
For my faith
I’m including my relationship with God in this category too. I’m a Christian, so I believe in maintaining a strong relationship with God, which requires time together. I read my Bible and pray as part of my morning routine, so it doesn’t usually take any time away from the kids. But sometimes I sleep in or the morning doesn’t go as planned, so I need to have my quiet time while the kids are awake. Sometimes I involve them by reading passages or praying together. And sometimes I let them do their own thing so I can spend some time with the Lord.
Why you should try it too
If you’re a mom who spends 100% of her time with her kids, I would encourage you to create a safe place to let your kids have the reins. Give them the opportunity to explore and let their imaginations take over.
It doesn’t mean that you can never play with them. It certainly doesn’t mean you should ignore them all the time (that would be terrible)! Just, once in a while, let them go off on their own and see what happens.
Especially if you work at home, or you are desperate to have a moment to yourself, give it a try. You might just find that your kids thrive with a little time to themselves– and that you do too.
For more information on how to keep yourself balanced as a mom, check out this post: 10 Habits that Keep Me Well and Balanced as a Mom
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