We have to be real here. In a perfect world, Mom would have nothing else to do but be a constant and ever-vigilant companion to her children. Dinner would be made by the wave of a magic wand. Clothes would be sorted, washed, dried and put away as though elves lived with you. Mom would never need a break. And all the absolute horrors of the world would cease to exist. Unfortunately, that’s not where we live; it never has been and it doesn’t look like we’ll be moving there any time in the near or even distant future. The truth is, there are clothes to be washed, meals to be made, houses to clean and mothers who need a half a second to decompress, recompose and just generally get their sanity in check.
Anyone who thinks that a single human being on this planet who attends to these chores is committing an act of selfishness can’t possibly live in the real world. How about the mother who has to put her baby in a safe place to attend to her older child who is potty training – is that selfish? I know a lot of moms, and not one of them enjoys cleaning up a potty accident. There are just times when you need a safe place to put your baby and a playpen is it. It’s portable, it’s made for baby, and it’s safe.
Emergencies aside, let’s discuss independent play. It is undeniably true that children need and deserve their parent’s full attention, but they also need time to experience things on their own. It has been noted by many well-respected pediatric physicians and psychologists that babies benefit greatly from unstructured independent learning, in which they are given a chance to explore on their own. Placing them in a playpen with their toys is by far a safer option than letting them have the run of the house. And just because your child is in the playpen does not automatically mean you get to walk away. Whether they’re in the playpen or on the floor, you should always be right there to watch them. However, you are less likely to have to jump up and catch the falling lamp when they find the cord, than if you just let them sit in their own safe environment.
It’s obvious that having a baby means making sacrifices, however, your sanity shouldn’t be one of them. You’ve got plenty of time to lose your mind when they’re teenagers, so you should hold on to as much of it as you can until then. A healthy mother is a better mother. After being told by a million well-meaning people to nap when the baby naps and stay away from chores when your baby is asleep – when exactly are you supposed to do it?! The playpen is not an invention of this century, they’ve had some sort of area to keep babies in since the beginning of time. Mothers for centuries got their chores done while their baby sat close by with their own toys to play with.
There are an endless number of suggestions on what to do with your baby while you are getting your chores done. These suggestions, however, neglect to take into account that all babies are different. While one baby would be happy to play at the bathroom door with whatever safe items you gave them as you cleaned the toilet, there are others that will be down the hall and pulling down the aquarium on top of their heads the second you pulled on the rubber gloves. Only one of my three children was content to stay by my feet or play in a kitchen cabinet as I got things done, while the other two were gone if I blinked. The ONLY safe place for them was a playpen for the 15 minutes it took to get something done.
The thing you have to understand about the playpen is, it should not be used for extended periods of time or as a babysitter for your child. It should be used as a safe place for independent play. It is also important to realize that even the best mother cannot possibly be completely engaged with their child 100% of the time. It’s not good for the mother and it’s actually not good for the baby. The playpen should not be used to such a degree that there is no reading time or playtime together. However, used as a momentary safe harbor for your baby, while you either unwind or get something done, is an absolute must.
Letting my babies have some time in their playpens made them better sleepers in that they had already gotten used to being put down. They were never left to cry in their playpens; it was always a happy retreat for both me and them. They had a better sense of self and have grown into brilliant independent thinkers who love to play with their friends, but also appreciate playing by themselves. I truly believe that NOT being constantly in their face and engaging them at every waking moment gave them the ability to learn how to be happy with themselves and not require other people to make them happy. Teaching independence in a loving way at an early age, will build the strong, happy adults of tomorrow.