momma time

September 18th, 2012

Reprinting this, because it’s about time.

Last week I received this message from a young mother. I asked if I could respond to her via this post so others would benefit. No matter what our stage of parenting, we could all use a little time out to reflect and refresh.

I have two little girls, age 3 1/2 and 1 1/2. They are wonderful and show me what aspects I need to work on as a person and a mother.

Children are indeed wonderful. They are always showing us aspects of ourselves we aren’t familiar with. One aspect, for instance, is happiness. No one has ever made a mother feel as happy as her children do. The other aspect is sadness and despair. We’ve never felt so frustrated, hopeless or inadequate. Every day our children introduce us to a completely new human being: their mother. And although she vaguely resembles someone we used to know, at times we hardly recognize ourselves. When it becomes especially tiresome and difficult, our relationship with our children sounds an alarm. We need rescued.

I have them both at home with me everyday except for four hours each week. Perhaps I’m overwhelmed but lately I’m finding motherhood to be a total drag.

Too much togetherness is too much. Every mother needs more help. The first step is to admit it; the second step is to ask for it; and the third step is to take the help that comes. You never know where help will come from. Not every angel wears wings.

When we have help taking care of our children, it magnifies the love in our lives. When either by circumstance or choice we think we have to do it all by ourselves, we scrimp on love. Everyone suffers for it.

We don’t always have the money to pay for help, so we have to rely on family. We don’t always have family nearby so we have to make friends. We don’t all have friends so we have to be brave. We have to speak up, make calls, trust strangers, invite people over, walk the street, meet, listen and console one another. Last week I called a friend who talked me off a ledge. Just by contacting me you’ve done the same thing for yourself. And look: no one jumped.

Is it normal to not want to play with your 3-year-old?

Yes. Absolutely. Certainly. 100% normal! (Since I’m not a saint, I think wanting to play with a three-year-old all day long would be kind of unusual.) Still, our children need our company, and so we give it to them. We give them our attention and that gives them our love and respect. Respect gives them confidence and confidence gives them the independence to grow up.

But here’s a little-known secret. Our children don’t need us to play with them all the time. It only seems like that because we keep running away from them. And when we run away, they run after. This is why I equate motherhood to the sudden onset of flesh-eating disease. Joking about it eases the torment, but it still feels like we’re being eaten alive!

What makes parenting a spiritual practice is that it consists largely of doing things we don’t like or want to do. Doing those things changes us, and that change is love.

I find pretend playing to be so difficult and with the constant boundary pushing it’s not too fun.

Child development experts say preschoolers need one hour of undistracted play with a parent each day. (Actually, they say you can get away with half that.) Yes, you heard me, only one hour! But this means one hour when you sit on the floor and don’t get up. You don’t leave to fold the laundry or start supper. You don’t abandon the game to do something more interesting or important. You don’t check your email or fiddle on your phone. And the game is one they choose, not something you think is worthwhile or educational for them.

So the whole point of playing is for Mommy to give up and do what she doesn’t want to do.

Plop on the floor. Say, “Mommy’s going to play with you for one hour.” Set a kitchen timer. When it goes off, get up. See for yourself how it works. When our children are filled up with our attention, they stop misbehaving to get it. You won’t feel trapped because you know the timer will ring.

This really worked for me at a time when I felt like a terrible mother because I couldn’t stand playing with my daughter. I felt bad when I was stuck playing and I felt worse when I refused.

Here is an article that talks more about how a kitchen timer can refresh your parenting.

I’ve been home for almost four years doing this and I’m feeling burned out. I know you have no idea who I am and I appreciate your time reading this.

I know a little bit about you because I believe we are alike. We all need a little encouragement to make it through the day. One day is all we ever have, and time is the most important thing we can give to each other.

I have read your first book and I use it as a handbook at times. Thank you.

I’d like Momma Zen to land in the hands of as many people as possible. It’s the best I can do.

Thank you for writing, and thank you most of all for reading.



  1. Thank you for this post. I was at your retreat in Pittsburgh last month and I remember (intellectually) what you said about the timer and how children only need an hour of focused play with a parent. Since the retreat I’ve tried this and found it to be true.

    But yesterday was really rough. The Mister was out canvassing against Issue 2 (again) and I found myself alone with the girls for the better part of the day (again). I abandoned all of my coping mechanisms and chose instead to wallow in the frustration I feel when I can’t seem to work on anything for more than three minutes because my girls (3 and 5) need me to play with them, get them milk, referee a fight, etc…

    Today is a new day and it will be better. Sometimes it just feels good to know that other mothers experience the same feelings.

    Comment by Audra — November 7, 2011 @ 2:27 am

  2. darn, i only had to do an hour; if i had known, i wouldn’t have resisted so hard

    Comment by Kelly Salasin — November 7, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

  3. Thank you! This was perfect and most appreciated. It is really comforting to know that other moms feel the same way at times.

    Comment by anonymous — November 7, 2011 @ 3:40 pm

  4. Thought about you today when I sat down to play a few games with The Boy and peruse a Lego catalog. Somewhere along the way, the dreaded hour became a precious hour. I love that I don’t know when that happened or how.

    Comment by Meg — November 7, 2011 @ 6:22 pm

  5. Thanks again for these observations. Just reading this made me more relaxed. It’s always good to be reminded – Attention *is* love. And it *is* magic. Also – it works wonders with husbands and friends. Not the timer part, probably.

    Comment by Debra — November 7, 2011 @ 7:01 pm

  6. Um, did I write you in my sleep? These words came at the perfect time. I’m that mother and now I’ll show her mercy. Thank you for sharing.

    Comment by Vanessa Rae — November 7, 2011 @ 8:33 pm

  7. It is all about attention. Children also enjoy doing “big people stuff” with you though, and that can also be a win-win situation when stuff needs to get done.

    I loved your comment on not having family or friends around. We’ve been moving country for the last 20 years now and nothing is truer. For us there often haven’t been family or friends around as we’ve just moved house as a child has been born. It takes a lot of guts and courage to go out and put on a brave smile and risk being rejected.
    I would appeal to all moms out there to open up your groups and hearts and minds to new people. There are a lot of lonely mums out there and you never know when you may be one of them.

    Comment by gweipo — November 7, 2011 @ 9:38 pm

  8. I just forwarded a link to this post to my husband’s daughter (who you met at my house) and her husband, whose baby is due December 22nd!

    Comment by Swirly — November 8, 2011 @ 8:01 am

  9. This really resonated with me at this present moment. I have been feeling so inadequate as a mum – not good enough. trying to toilet train my 3.5 year old son which is frustrating and stressful. I just get to a point of getting angry with him but really he is showing me lessons about myself that I need to change. I have times where I just want to cry in despair because I am scared my son will be the only child in nappies. I hate being judged for a mum who hasn’t got her son toilet trained. BUT really I need to let it all go, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. I need to let go of the judgement within myself and being patient.things always work out I need to worry less. I love my son so much especially those moments that touch my heart and make it sing. I love your idea of 1 hour per day of special time, I think this might help with him actually as well. I will do this starting tomorrow.

    Comment by Michelle — November 10, 2011 @ 3:20 am

  10. I think your advice here was spot on

    Comment by Playcrane — November 10, 2011 @ 1:10 pm

  11. Michelle; I have been where you are with my daughter, like people told me at the time: “She’ll get the hang of it before she leaves the house.” Just bring an extra pair of pants with you where ever you go and you’ll be fine.
    For a while I walked through shops with a potty hanging from my youngest daughters pram, just so my eldest could go anytime she needed without me having to stress about finding a bathroom (cut to the scene where you ask the shopkeeper if you could dispose of the contents in their toilet, hahaha).
    Don’t worry what other people think, people who think like that are jerks (sorry about that) adding unnecessary stress to an already stressful situation. Live from the inside out instead of the outside in and you and he will be fine.
    Everybody does their best.

    Comment by Simone — September 18, 2012 @ 11:40 am

  12. I’ve read this every time you’ve posted it, but somehow it only now occurs to me to wonder where the woman who originally wrote these things to you is now. Has her child grown up? Does she know that all these people who visit this blog have been through the same things, and that we have shared her fears? Does she know we hope that she finds solace in our company? I know it helps me so much just to know someone else feels the same way. I wish her (and all other mothers, who are just like her) well.

    Comment by rani — September 18, 2012 @ 10:07 pm

  13. Wow. I am at the opposite end now. My twins are 13 and often spend the whole evening in their rooms doing homework, talking to friends, chillaxing, as my son puts it. I remember the days of them wanting constant attention and sometimes resenting it. Now I worry I am not giving enough attention. They act resentful when I quiz them about their day, friends, lives…Now I listen when I get the opportunity and then they speak, eventually. I miss my babies.

    Comment by Trish — September 19, 2012 @ 10:58 am

  14. And I wonder…have I given him an hr/day? Have I been present? Is it to late? Is the guilt selfish? Is the wondering. Can I sit in the middle of the circle instead of swirling around in the constant hurricane of my mind? Can I gently hold those perfect moments instead of holding my breath waiting for them to stealthily melt away? Can I unconditionally love, even myself? Can I rid myself of disappointment and sit with change? Can I walk the tightrope of gentleness and fierceness without burning up? Is is possible to always be true? To know the truth? Can I trust that despite everything I may have done “wrong” not done “enough” of or “failed” at that Love still remains the undercurrent of all?

    Comment by Crystine — September 22, 2012 @ 10:35 am

  15. […] Our children don’t need us to play with them all the time. It only seems like that because we keep running away from them. … Child development experts say preschoolers need one hour of undistracted play with a parent each day. … But this means one hour when you sit on the floor and don’t get up. You don’t leave to fold the laundry or start supper. You don’t abandon the game to do something more interesting or important. You don’t check your email or fiddle on your phone. And the game is one they choose, not something you think is worthwhile or educational for them.” – Karen Maezen Miller, momma time […]

    Pingback by 12 Aha Moments in 2012 « New Urban Habitat — January 7, 2013 @ 3:00 am

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