The following is an excerpt from my interview with Dinah Bucholz on my podcast, You’ve Got This.
We often get way too involved with entertaining our kids. As Dinah Bucholz puts it, “The thought of spending focused, quality time with each child was overwhelming. Dinah is a New York Times bestselling author, and a marriage and parenting coach.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a mom?
Dinah: When I was a young mom, I never got down on the floor to play with my kids—I just wasn’t that kind of kid. I felt really guilty about it too, but I thought if I didn’t organize all their time, they would get into trouble. I was also hearing from different parenting classes that I was taking that I needed to give every single child a certain amount of focused, quality time every day or I’m not a good mom. That was very stressful, because by the time my kids got home from preschool-and I had my first four close to together—there’s a big eight-year gap between my two youngest. I was exhausted because I had a small child at home too. The thought of spending focused quality time with each child was overwhelming. I was feeling guilty and stressed and anxious all the time. So I plugged my kids into the video machine, the world’s best babysitter! And then I was free because I could laundry, etc., without the kids bothering me. Of course, I didn’t feel comfortable about that either, because I didn’t think it was great for their developing brains. After allowing them lots of screen time for a while, I stopped cold turkey. We had one designated weekend day where they could watch one movie. I also didn’t play with them. I didn’t give them that focused attention. Too much attention isn’t good for adults or children. It isn’t healthy to be the center of attention all the time. I started to relax, and my kids started figuring out how to entertain themselves. Better yet, they started developing hobbies. My oldest taught herself to knit, and to this day she knits. My second one does pencil drawings. I didn’t know she had this talent and she never would have known either hadn’t we pulled the video plug.
That’s a great point, Dinah. When we schedule our kids to every inch of their day, whether it’s with screen time or activities, and we’re their social directors 24/7, either playing with them or getting them playmates, that doesn’t give them a chance to be bored and to discover in that boredom what they’re really interested in. We’re essentially robbing our children of the ability of self-discovery.
Dinah: It’s important to provide them with the tools to discover themselves. I always had markers and crayons and coloring books, arts and crafts things, around the house. I bought kits to see if they would spark interest, and exposed my children to range of things they might be interested into it. The balance is that they had most of their free time for themselves.
Dinah: A huge benefit to children when they learn things on their own, they develop hobbies and they self-entertain. They also learn to deal with boredom. There’s a huge benefit to the parents, especially the mom, when you don’t have to entertain your children all day. I call it taking yourself off the entertainment committee. So you have more time to pursue your own passions, which is so important. When raising children becomes drudgery because you’re so busy you have no time for yourself, you become lackluster and boring to everyone around you.
I encourage moms to become women of mysteries. What is mom doing? Where is she going? What is she interested in? Having a life outside of kids is eye opening to our kids when they see we have a life outside of them. We really need to make sure as our children get older that they see us doing things that are not for them, we’re not cookie-cutter moms—we’re women who have interests and you’re interesting. What hobbies do you have?
Dinah: Right now, I take voice lessons. I sing for fun, much to the consternation of my family members. I love to read, that’s my absolute favorite thing to do for the world. I write too, and love to cook and bake, I’m a food writer, which I love to do as my profession. Lots of things to keep me busy other than my mom interests.
When we’re talking about our day, we have more to share than what mom things we did. I love what you said about doing it for your own enjoyment. I think that’s missing in a lot of conversations in our social media-sharing society. Sometimes, we think if we can’t be perfect at something, there’s no point in doing it. When we show our kids that we’re doing this simply because it brings us joy, but it’s not perfect, it gives them the freedom to do things because they enjoy it, not necessarily be a career for them. It’s so hard to encourage our kids in that.
Dinah: That’s me with singing. I sing because I love singing, and I don’t care how awful I sound to other people. I’m never going to be an opera singer. I don’t care that my singing isn’t good, but it’s fun. I love to find interesting songs that I share with them. That makes me fun and interesting to my kids.
To hear more great advice and stories from Dinah, listen to “Stop Entertaining Your Kids” on the “You’ve Got This” podcast.