Shirani Alfreds is an expat mother of two living in Shanghai. She will be writing about her experiences in a regular "Dragon Mama" blog for Urban Family.
I seem to have regular playdates with my toddler these days. I say ‘with’ and not ‘for’, because there is a certain stage from infant to toddlerhood where kids don’t actually play together but play alongside, seemingly oblivious to another human being. When playdates are arranged at this st(age), it is with the intention of socializing kids but lets face it, also the mommies to maintain sanity and have adult conversation. Ironically, whether the playdate is at your house or someone else’s, you still need to follow the toddler around to keep them from killing themselves which means you may not really socialize the toddler or yourself.
There are a lot of unfinished conversations and someone’s kid always starts yelling, crying, fighting or sometimes there’s a medical emergency. I was at a playdate once where the host’s three-year-old shoved a bead up her nose and they had to rush to the hospital as none of us dared to try getting it out. I couldn't really fault her for leaving me in mid-sentence and suddenly in charge of her house - I was just relieved everything turned out ok. It recently struck me though - we still haven’t finished our conversation from six years ago.
This begs the question, how do you strike the balance, especially as a stay at home mother, between keeping the kids happy and your own needs to say, finish a sentence? Of course there isn’t really an answer being based on subjective factors like personal needs, parenting philosophies and life goals.
Here in Shanghai, I have met what seems to be an entire spectrum of mothers in from those who refuse an ayi and do it all themselves including homeschool, to those who work full time and outsource everything from buying toothbrushes to doing homework after school. Who is the better mother? Depending on which end of the spectrum you fall, you will defend that position, but my question is, where do you draw the line between your happiness and your childrens? Is it the same?
For me, it is not. I have an almost desperate need to be a separate person from my children and my interests and pursuits are more … adult. Sure I can bounce on the trampoline and make mud cakes but most times I’d rather be at an art gallery or in an interesting discussion. Sometimes my children’s happiness means less of mine and vice versa.
Balance is therefore imperative and for the moment, I am privileged to have found a pretty good one between work I can do from home that allows me to spend time with my little ones and also have my (adult) life. That doesn’t mean there still isn’t a trade off. I have definitely lost something by outsourcing elements of childcare and I see this when my toddler hugs our ayi when she’s upset. (This might also have something to do with the fact that mommy disciplines but ayi is amenable to toddler tyranny, but you get my point).
“You can’t parent by remote control” a friend once wisely told me when I was considering going back to the insane hours of my job ‘BC’ – Before Children. Her point was that if I outsourced everything including childcare (which would have been necessary to continue that job), I would sacrifice the right to parent ‘my’ way. I would then have to live with that and whatever followed. It was then that I decided I needed a more child-friendly occupation that allowed me to raise my kids my way.
Though there still is a cost for my balance (toddler tyranny amongst other things), I know that it is the right way for me. Not only do I get to spend great amounts of time with my kids, buy them toothbrushes and do homework, I still enjoy maintaining non mud-cake related pursuits. Quid pro quo? Most days it is. Some days, I still wish I could finish a conversation.
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