Why the Chores Can Wait

“Mama! Hey mama! Do you wanna play with me?” her 3 year old asks as she tugs on her mama’s pant legs.

“In a minute sweetie. I need to finish these dishes.”

“Mama! Mama! Chase me!” She says with excitement.

“In a minute. I have to get this done.”

“Mama! Mama!” she tugs on mama’s shirt. “Can I help?”

“Maybe next time. I need to hurry and get this done.”

“Maaaammaaa!” she whines. “Mmmaaammaa play with mee!”

“I said in a minute!” Mama misses the momentary disappointment on her daughter’s face. She recovers quickly.

“Mama look! These toy animals are flying!! Look!”

“Wow, they are flying!” she looks back down to her task at hand.

“Mama! I said look! Loook!” she screams. She begins to cry.

“I saw! They were flying!”

Keep looking!” she sobs.

“I will in a minute! I said that I need to finish cleaning!” she shouts. And thinks to herself, “why can’t she play by herself for 5 minutes while I get these chores done!”

Do you see the problem in this scenario? It’s not the 3 year old whining. It’s not the 3 year old begging for her mother’s attention. It’s the distracted mother. The distracted mother with a To Do list a mile long. But you know what, that To Do list can wait. Those inanimate objects can wait. They’ll be there later. The little girl can’t wait. Each day she gets older. Each day she learns what her mama’s priorities are. Each day she logs away how her mama makes her feel on a daily basis.

I’ve been in this scenario myself. It’s tough to juggle housework and raising children in an attached way. Sometimes I have to step back and ask myself:

1. Does this NEED to get done right this minute? Usually the answer is no. I just really WANT it done. If it NEEDS to be done, then do it. Give your child a cue of when you CAN watch rather than saying that you can’t. “I really need to get this done really quick. I will watch you, just give my 3 minutes to finish xyz (obviously this is an age appropriate scenario, as a toddler won’t quite grasp the concept of time).

2. How many positive interactions have I given my child today. For every negative interaction, he needs 5 positive interactions to maintain a healthy, positive relationship.

3. How can I slow down and offer to include my child in the To Do list? I know it takes longer, but the rewards will be huge. Your child will feel included and connected with you. You guys will be able to spend quality time together doing something mostly productive. You will also be modeling and teaching your child important life skills! (Oh, and the whining will most likely stop).
On to that question you asked yourself.

Why can’t she play by herself for 5 minutes?

She probably can. You just need to look at the day so far. How much positive attention has she received? Have you guys connected? Has she been watching television? (There often needs to be some balance and self-regulation as far as watching screens. We like to offer (without strings attached) other creative activities when screens have been on for most of the day – building blocks, art, imaginative play, running around, going on a hike, engaging with other people. These activities teach children self-regulation, and are the foundation for the next stages of learning.)

All of that being said, sometimes the chores just have to get done. If it’s non-negotiable, there are some options to help it go smoother.

Offer choices. 

Would you like to help put the silverware away or play with Legos at the table or insert whatever?

Be empathetic. 

This is key to every interaction with your child. Acknowledge her feelings. “I know you really want my attention right this moment. I can see that you are upset. I have to finish xyz really quick, and then I promise we will play.” Follow through with that promise. Allow them to express that upset and just be present with them. Offer a hug when they are ready. And also continue to encourage her to help. Keep your house as much of a ‘yes’ environment as possible so she can wander around and create her own play while waiting. Read this article to learn about how to set your house up as a yes-environment.

Be playful! 

Having a playful attitude can work wonders with children and your own mindset. When you feel like snapping, take a deep breath and force a shift in your attitude. An example from above.
“Maaammmaaa play with meeee!” She whines.

You can feel yourself getting irritated and wanting to shout “just give me a second, will ya!”

Instead, take a deep breath. Keep your mouth closed until the urge to shout passes.

Acknowledge within yourself that I am really frustrated. I just want to get this stuff done so that I don’t have to worry about it anymore. How can I achieve this without shouting, without putting it until later and with a better attitude?

Make it playful.

In a silly playful voice. “Play with you? But you’re a plate! I can’t believe I forgot to put you in the dishwasher!! Get over here plate!!”

And chase her down. Scoop her up.

“Oh I forgot some crumbs. I am starving! I better eat them up!”

Munch, munch, munch on her tummy while carrying her to the kitchen.

“Oh no! You don’t fit!! I wonder if this plate will? Can you see if it will fit?”

And hand her the real plate.

“How about this one?” And on and on.

Provide an enriching, open environment.

Provide open-ended, simple toys that allow your child to use her imagination. The more we or her toys do for her (ie battery-operated, single purpose toys),  the less the child does.

Childhood is short and oh so sweet. So I recommend you shorten those To Do lists, ask for help with chores so you have more time with these little sponges, lower your expectations of what needs to get done and also of how you think a toddler or preschooler should act. And remember that for every unwanted behavior there is an unmet need.

Dig to the root of the issues in situations that frustrate you or concern you. Attachment parenting isn’t an easy road, but is a very rewarding one.

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