Dear Rachel,

I love my two-year-old daughter dearly but find it hard to keep her entertained all day. I would like to send her to a playgroup, but feel guilty since I am not currently working full time. My friends all seem to enjoy being stay-at-home mothers, and don’t want a playgroup. How come it is so hard for me?

Sharon K.
New Rochelle, NY

Dear Sharon,

Just as every child is different, so too every mother is different. And for starters, you shouldn’t be comparing yourself to anyone else. What is important with your parenting is that you are aware and focused on the needs of your baby.

From what you describe, it sounds like you have a very active two-year-old and you are not feeling that you are providing her with the stimulation that she needs and wants. So you have a few options available to you. Perhaps you could look into different activities that you could do with her or places to take her. Another option would be sending her to a playgroup where she would be able to interact and play with other children.

When it comes to making a parenting decision, we often find that we receive a lot more feedback and advice than we ever asked for or wanted. Strangers tell you that your baby is too hot, too cold, hungry or anything else, and while people may mean well, it is not always helpful. In your situation, you need to decide what is going to work best for you and your baby. The fact that it may be very different from what your friends want to do is fine, as long as they are doing what works for them, and you do what works for you.

And you should remember that loving your child and being able to entertain her all day long, are two different things. If anything, it is because you love your child that you are even having this dilemma. It is clear to me that your desire for a playgroup is as much if not more for her benefit than for yours. And along these lines, it seems you are aware of the importance not only of spending time with a child, but how you spend that time with your child.

Ideally, you want to ensure that your daughter is not only getting quantity in terms of time, but quality. While there are many benefits to simply being physically around your child, that is not always active parenting. Obviously any woman who is at home during the day will need to take care of practical needs and not solely be able to play with her child, but you need to really weigh if your baby is the main focus or if the housework or other errands are. Being a stay-at-home mother is a full time job. But it is a job. Leading your life as you would like, with the majority of time spent running errands, doing your thing, and dragging your baby along with you, means that the focus is not on her.

Children want and need attention and love. They also need creative outlets, social interactions and intellectual stimulation. In many cases a play group can offer just that. I do not think you need to feel guilty for sending her if you feel it will be in her best interest, either directly because it is what is good for her, or indirectly because it is good for you and will enable you to be a better and more active mother if you have that break in your day. If you feel that the break you will have from your daughter will allow you to take care of yourself and other needs, and then provides you with that much more patience and quality time for her when she is with you, then it is truly a win-win situation. Remember that the most important thing that children need is a happy mother.

There is a concept in the Talmud (Bava Metzia 107b): “Fix yourself up first and then fix others,” which definitely applies to your situation. The statement has various levels of meaning with the most basic level being that a person shouldn’t be a hypocrite, meaning don’t tell others what to do when you haven’t done it yourself yet. The second level, a deeper level, is that you have to prioritize, and your first priority has to be to improve yourself on a spiritual level and then try to help others improve. But the third and deepest level is that fixing yourself IS a part of fixing other people. Meaning to say, that by focusing on what you need is what is beneficial to others.

Now just as you should not feel guilty if you choose to send your baby to a playgroup, it is just important to remember that the opposite is true as well. No woman should feel that she is obligated to send her child out of the house if she does not want to. As much as a young child can benefit from a quality program, nothing can replace the love and attention that a mother can give, when the mother is able.