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Thursday, June 9, 2016

How Do I Entertain My One Year Old All Day Long?

In the past week two friends have asked me, "how do I keep my one year old happy and entertained all day every day at home?" If you don't speak Mom, this question can be re-worded as a simple statement: "HELP. I am simultaneously bored, lonely and overwhelmed every day."

My first thought was, "Oh friend. Bring over a bottle of wine and let's talk... because you are in the thick of it.I had to take a minute to put myself in their shoes. It seems like an eternity ago I spent a summer with a one year old. At the time I was pregnant with my daughter. I wrote these words toward the end of that hard season. It was long and lonely, and something about the unrelenting heat in Georgia and the crazy logistics involved in simply leaving the house with a kid that age makes it seem even longer. I laugh now when I read the text exchanges that used to happen between 5pm and 7pm with my long-working husband, but back then I assure you it was not funny

This gig is HARD.  And it's actually harder when you only have one young kid than when you're surrounded by little ones as I am. So the first thing I told them was this: give yourself a break. It feels hard because it IS hard. This is hard and holy work mama. 

And the second thing I said was, you need a schedule.  By schedule I don't mean an hourly breakdown of Pinterest-approved toddler activities for your one-year old. A schedule is just a flexible structure to keep you from going stir crazy on long days with a little one. I have four simple things that I schedule into every. single. day.  
  • Creatively PLAYING
  • CONNECTING with Community
  • Recharging with QUIET
If I can have a little bit of each of these things in my day, it helps me ensure I'm checking off all some important "must-dos" around the house while being reminded there is a world beyond the walls of this home. Today let's dive into the first two things: being Productive and making time to Play. I've got a second post coming next week about Connecting with community and recharging with Quiet - because I know you weren't looking to read a novel today.

When I was a new mom I felt guilty about being productive around the home while my baby was awake. I thought I needed to be engaging this little human and filling his world with wonder at all times. We would play blocks (time spent: 45 seconds) zoom cars on the carpet (2 minutes) take a walk outside (12 minutes) come in and read books (7 minutes) over and over again. I was exhausted AND bored trying to fill up hour-long blocks of time with minutes' worth of activities. And the whole time I was playing halfheartedly because I knew the only time I would have to myself that day (nap time) would be spent cleaning up the mess we were having "so much fun!" making.

So what does it actually look like to find time to creatively play and to be productive with your one year old each day?

I bet you could look up from your screen and see 15 different ways you could get productive around your home right now. In the face of so many options, I write down two or three important things that need doing (almost always related to food, clothing or shelter) and make those my priority for the day. I literally write down, "Make Dinner" on my list EVERY DAY. If I didn't, I would look up at 5:30pm and wonder who the crap was going to bring us food that night.

When I had a one year old who napped twice a day, I would use the morning nap for household chores and I reserved the afternoon nap to engage my heart and my soul in a meaningful, non-mommy way. Whatever didn't get done in the morning or couldn't be done while he was awake, didn't get done. If your babe is down to one nap a day - congratulations! You are officially released from nap prison. Use the timing of your child's new nap schedule and your own energy levels to figure out when it works best for you to tackle these things. (I usually take that new found morning freedom and LEAVE the HOUSE!'s when I hit the grocery store or meet a friend for some connection, but more on that next week.) Now the trick is to figure out how to do all the things you used to do while they slept in the morning with a little buddy by your side.

We would all probably like to have a clean(ish) house and kids in clean(ish) clothes, but kids under age two have a knack for un-doing the work we are doing as we are doing it. Unsure how to make both of these things a reality, we end up either being the fun mom who plays constantly with her little darling and figures the chaos of the house is the price we have to pay for it, or the crazy cleaning mom who would love nothing more than for her child to quietly entertain themselves in a pack-n-play in the corner so we can dust the bookshelves and polish the silver in peace.

I struggled for a long time to figure out what it looked like to take care of my house and not banish my child from the premises (I'm definitely the crazy cleaning mom) until I realized this game-changing truth: creative play and being productive can overlap. Turning the empty laundry basket upside down (now it's a climbing apparatus!) while you fold laundry is play. Putting your toddler in his high chair with straws and a colander while you wash dishes or prep dinner is play. You can even put your little one in the bath to play/self-clean while you clean the rest of the bathroom. That's like, 3 birds with one stone I think. All of these things fill their little minds with new experiences, stimulate their senses and don't require you to sit criss-cross-applesauce on the carpet across from them. No it's not as simple as doing these things while they are napping, but it will enable you to redeem that precious afternoon nap for some sacred quiet time of your own.

I found that once I started integrating my son into the things I needed to get done around the house, I was more willing to sit down and devote my attention to 10-15 minutes of fully engaged play time with him. My favorite parenting moments often happen during this one-on-one play time. I think true PLAY is a far cry from the highly-stuctured, adult-manufactured experiences modern moms often feel pressured to create for our tots. True play is the giggle you share when you're blowing bubbles in the driveway.  It's the way your daughter mimics your animal sounds while you read a picture book.  It's the pure joy you revel in together when they discover how loud their own clapping is. I could preach a sermon on the fuss surrounding entertaining toddlers these days.

Children are the most self-entertaining creatures on the planet. 

They don't need an elaborate set up and expensive pre-paid activities. They do not need Mommy & Me yoga classes, story time at the library or painting in the park meet-ups. Those are great once your kid is over the age of two, and probably even better if they are nearing age three or four.  But before then? It is a lot of work. Now if you enjoy those things, go for it! Tour the zoo, visit the museum, join a play group. But if those things don't make your heart sing, DO NOT FEEL OBLIGATED TO DO THEM. There are better ways to meet your need to connect with the outside world (we'll talk about that later this week) and your little one doesn't need them. For real. They will be just as happy following you around the house playing with the empty oatmeal container. And you might be surprised at how much stress you save yourself if you're not trying to feed them, dress them, get a shower and dress yourself in order to run out the door for a 10am toddler-enrichment class.

So instead of taking them to story-time, sit down and read 5 books (or let's be real, the same book 5 times) before moving on to folding laundry. Try taking a walk around the block and be fully present, because you know you've already started the dishwasher and you have a plan for dinner when you get home. When you're not staring down a 10 hour day of simply trying to keep a little one entertained, I think you'll find some freedom to deeply enjoy the moments of play in between the other tasks that make up your day. 

Up next we're going to be talking about the other two things I schedule into every single stay-at-home day, time to connect with community and time to re-charge in the quiet. These two things can easily slip off the radar if you're not intentional about them, so subscribe to the blog (enter your email address at the bottom of the page or over to the right under my picture) to get next week's post in your inbox, I think you'll be encouraged! 

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