Last summer I heard a presentation from a woman who had 17 children. 12 of them were her own and the other five belonged to her second husband. Her house was always immaculate. Her make up and hair we perfect (according to someone's standards, I guess). She was very in control. She was explaining to the audience of women just how she "does it."
I listened in awe. At that point I only had one child and I wasn't nearly as in control as she was. She had some pretty good advice. It was basically what you'd hear from any time management guru. But then she said something that really caught my attention. She said that very early in her life as a mother she decided that she would never do anything that required a lot of thought and attention in front of her children. For example, she wouldn't try to balance the checkbook, pay bills or read until after all of her kids were in bed.
When I heard this I realized that was my problem. I am ALWAYS doing high attention tasks in around my kids. I try to sew, make books, bake, and read with my little ones around. I started feeling really guilty and decided that I too would never do any of these things again (unless the kids are in bed.)
But later that night, while I was getting ready for bed, I realized what a terrible idea that was. How would Zoë and Ike ever learn to be interesting, engaged people if their mother wasn't? My kids need to see me doing things that require attention. They need to witness creativity and concentration. And as they get older we need to do that kind of thing together.
So we set up a small table for Zoë next to my sewing desk. When I want to sew, I say to Zoë, "Let's go work on projects." I ask her what her project will be and then tell her about mine. We work together. It always ends up in a big mess that we have to clean up when we're finished but I think it's teaching Zoë how to use her time (and hands and brain) well.
I'd sort of rather have a somewhat messy house (okay, so it's very messy right now) and ruffled hair and no make up than have kids who have no idea what it means to think and explore and create.