“Play with me, Mommy!”
Lately, few phrases fill me with guilt more than this one. I love my four-year-old more than anything, and I absolutely adore spending time with her. But sometimes the answer to, “Don’t you want to play with me, Mommy?” is “no.”
Perhaps it would be different if I had a more traditional work schedule and saw her less because of it. But I’m fortunate to have a flexible arrangement that allows my children to spend more time at home when they aren’t in school and I’m not in meetings or racing a major deadline. During the summer, they spent a few days with a sitter and a couple of days with me. I did my best to block out time for the girls, and especially for playing one-on-one with the youngest, but then, eventually, I had to pull away. I had to work. Or make dinner. Or pick up the house. Or just spend some time NOT taking care of somebody else.
It’s harder right now because my youngest is going through a needy phase. She doesn’t like to play alone. She whines about most anything. She expects to be entertained. And she seems to have decided that I’m the VERY BEST ONE in the family. That’s flattering. She’s adorable. I’m thrilled she loves me. But after awhile it starts to feel like too much of a good thing.
I feel guilty telling a child, “No, I really don’t want to play right now.” I am fully aware of how quickly they grow, and of the fact that there will soon come a day when my daughter won’t want me around much at all. I know I need to take time for myself, and I know I need to encourage her to be more independent. I also know that she probably just needs reassurance that her Mommy is still here for her as she gets ready for a second year of preschool.
Plus, I know I’m fortunate to be able to spend as much time with my daughter as I do. Many working moms with less flexibility would probably take my place gladly.
I know all of these things. I do my best to find that right balance. But sometimes I still feel really, really guilty. Even after spending an entire morning walking with her to the store, baking a cake together, reading, doing puzzles and playing Squinkies, it’s hard to hear that plaintive, “Don’t you want to play with me, Mommy?” and have to answer, “No, honey, that’s enough for now.”
I’d love some advice on how other mom’s handle this. Play dates seem to help a lot. But what about days when it’s just you and the kids and you need to get stuff done? How do you deal with the mommy guilt?
49 thoughts on “My Latest Mommy Guilt: I Don’t Want to Play!”
I wish I had some words of advice. I’ve struggled with the same guilt for years. Our children sure do know how to pull at our heart strings. My son is VERY good at it.
Yes, it must be an evolutionary thing left over from caveman days. If our kids didn’t make us feel guilty we might forget to feed them or protect them from saber tooth tigers or something… 🙂
This is so hard. I struggle with this too. The hardest part is when I try to explain that I’m feeling guilty to my husband, and he shoots back with “It’s not fault. She’s not trying to lay a guilt trip on you.” Of course not! I lay the guilt trip on myself. But it’s still there, and I get so little understanding of the crushing weight that I feel.
Yeah, husbands don’t seem to get it a lot of the time. Mine has no problem just sitting and playing Candy Crush while the kids go apes&%t around him. Not that he doesn’t play with them a lot, but when he’s done he doesn’t seem to agonize over it.
I’m not there yet, but I know it’s coming. It sounds like you’re handling it the best way anyone could. 🙂
Thanks – it just seems to go along with the territory!
Why are you such a mean mom, Sara?!
Just kidding. I feel this way all the time. And I try to remember this very important fact — kids develop their creativity out of BOREDOM. When you don’t play with them, you’re DOING THEM A FAVOR! They are forced to figure out how to entertain themselves, which is a life skill they need anyway.
Also, I bet you still play with them more than moms did back in our day. So you’re good 🙂
Ah, excellent point, Susan!!! I will remember that. And I will probably still feel guilty because I’m starting to realize that
I’ve always needed something to feel guilty about – even back when I was a kid. So perhaps motherhood is filling a need by giving me a constant stream of the guilt I seem to crave so much. 🙂
Try setting a timer…I will play with you for 15 minutes then I need to work for 15 minutes(or whatever time frames work best). Have some toys or activities that are specifically for non-mom times that she can look forward to using. I’ve done both of these with my 3 at varying levels of success.
Don’t feel guilty…you are modeling good work ethics by fulfilling your job responsibilities and your “mom duties.”
Good idea, Wendy! I will try that. And thanks for the encouragement!
I Needed To See This Comment.
I’ve Been Struggling For Years And I’m A Single Mom To An 8 Year Old Girl, So Dad Can’t Take Over.
And There’s No Kids In My Neighborhood So I Know It’s Hard For Her And I Actually Cry A LOT For Not Playing With Her Or Just Watching Her Walk Away To Play Alone…. Kills Me!!!
This Is A Good Idea Though, I’m Going To Try It!
And Good Luck To All The Mamas Struggling.
You Are NOT Alone!!
I struggle with this everyday and I feel like it is getting worse. I work all day with toddlers and I am a single mother. I have all the responsibility and it is so hard. I feel like I don’t smile a lot with her even when we play. I just want play time to be over. I am aware that they grow fast just like you.. I don’t know how to change this I could really use some advice from someone.
I’m a single mother. I work for my grandmother and my daughter gets to come to work with me. She’s with me all day everyday. Everywhere I go she goes. She will come sit on my lap when I use the bathroom, or ask me to play Barbie dolls while I’m doing the #2. Everyday she wants me to play with her, which is expected from a four years old. But I honestly hate playing. I never been a kid person. I hated babysitting as a kid/teenager. I’ve never been the type to be super imaginative as a kid. My mother didn’t play with me when I was younger. And I feel like I’m doing exactly what my mom did to me, to my daughter. I feel extremely guilty bc the thought of me playing really gets under my skin. Idk if I’m going through a depression, or I’m genuinely not a kid person at all. I love my daughter with all my heart, I would die if something happens to her and I would die for her. I just don’t like playing. I would take her to the park but I would rather lay in the grass look up at the sky and space out. Maybe we spend too much time with each other. I feel like I need a good two weeks break from her. I can’t believe I’m actually typing this out.
This is the first time I have read about another mom who brings their kids to work with them! I work at my parents Asian grocery store and first my son came to work with me and now my daughter. I always felt we did more work because not only working full time, but also taking care of kids at same time, plus having to run a household before and after going to job. Last thing I wanted was more play time at home. Felt bad though they had no friends in store all day. I guess the guilt never ends.
I feel the same! I have so much guilt because I can’t stand playing kids games. It’s so incredibly boring and all I can think about is all the other things I need to do. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with my kids, it’s just that I’d rather do something else with them. I’d rather go for a walk or bake a cake together. I had such a great imagination as a kid but Imaginary play just seems so painfully boring now ?
Painfully boring. YES! We “unschool” here at home. My daughter is about to be 7. She is incredibly imaginative and wants to play ALL day everyday – these elaborate, thought out, lengthy ‘plays’ that drain every bit of my brain. I work from home too refinishing furniture. We live with my best friend of 30 years – he is her dad – and I am so thankful for him because I just could never do this all alone. She likes to cook with me b/c she likes to measure things and learn about fractions, so we do that often. She likes to work on the furniture with me too (for about 5 minutes…lol), we take her everywhere we can think of like the park and the play dates and the grocery store so she can help shop. She likes science stuff too, so we do that. Even if we worked, cooked, shopped, had a play date, did science and had her cousins and all her aunts over …… she STILL isn’t satiated until she has played out those games in her head!!! I love this kid more than life itself but I do NOT like to play. I competely understand where you are coming from!!!
Do not set a timer!! Geez….then you’re just telling your child he or she is a chore. You are lucky to have children. Don’t be so selfish!
Wow. I hope you are being sarcastic. Do you have children? Whether or not you can have children is besides the point, you just would not understand. If I played with my children every single time they asked then I would literally get NOTHING accomplished that needs to be as a contributing adult. No house work, no paying bills, no homework (college), no taking care of the infant, no eating or preparing food….literally nothing because children don’t usually understand adults have to do these things and some things HAVE to be done at certain times. I feel guilty all the time saying “no buddy I can’t play right now, I have to….” but there is nothing we can do do rid ourselves of the guilt. One day they will understand and clearly you tried your best and that’s all we can do. Take care of our children and ourselves and hope they catch on quicker..
Maybe allow the child to pick one activity (a game) that would only take 30 minutes or so. Or keep a mental note of the time and give a five minute warning and say “I’m having so much fun playing with you, but I have some chores to do.” It seems as if the timer does give a bit of an obligatory feel.
Ohhh I think you’re on the wrong article and comment thread if that’s how you’re coming at people. If you HAVE kids and don’t find this an issue- move along, it’s not for you. If you DO NOT have kids, then again, move along.
Mom of a toddler and teacher here- imaginative play with an excessively needy child is draining! There are a million things to do and I cannot spend every second with dolls or “pretend you’re this and I’m that” games. There has to be a balance. If setting a timer works for kids to understand the concept of ok we’re doing this now and then I’m going to do this for a bit, then great! If it works for time-out, why not positive activities also?
I think Susan makes a very good point. I was an only child and I played by myself all of the time. I never felt lonely, and my imagination was wonderful. I have a 4 year old, and I struggle with telling her “I can’t play right now”, because I don’t feel like it. I work and I’m finishing my A.A. degree, but my schedule is flexible and part-time, so I do get to spend time at home during the week. I think quality vs quantity is important here. I’m not against setting a timer – I’ve totally done that. I think spending a really great, attentive half hour playing with your child is better than spending a distracted two hours trying to be with them and finish other tasks. Kids know when you’re not paying attention to them.
My favorite part of the day is our books-before-bed routine. This is something I look forward to, and I know it’ll be something she remembers fondly about her childhood. It’s something we do together every night, without fail.
So, instead of feeling guilty for not playing enough, maybe having a solid routine where you are guaranteed to spend quality time with your child every day will help? Whether it’s books at night, or a kitchen dance party in the morning… something fun and no-pressure that lets your child know you’re there with them, having fun.
That’s my wise-parenting advice, hah!
Setting a timer does not make your child feel as though they’re a chore… It lets them know that you are a mom, taking care of everything, and that your time is valuable. You shouldn’t have to be available to play any time your child wants. That’s not good for either of you, in my opinion.
I like how you put that. I’m a single mom and work full time and have to cook clean take care of the house and do everything myself. My toddler gets upset when I cook dinner or have to do anything else. We had a play after work routine but in June I broke my right ankle and sprained my right knee but continued to do what I had to do u til I my doctor has put me in bed rest and in a bleh brace for 6 weeks. He goes to daycare and I have been working from home but I run the office and on salary so sometimes I have to work at night. I want to play with him and do things like we used to but my leg is killing me and if I do not follow the doctors orders then I will have to have surgery. I am tired and stressed and do not feel well and feel so guilty I can’t play with him like he wants. He plays by himself but it gets violent and when I give him attention and try and play he lights up and gets so happy. He is my world and I want my leg back!!!! I’m miserable!
Katey, maybe you should either come play with our kids or share the crack you’re smoking that gives you so much energy to do so all the time. Or get a job.
This just made my day! I’ve been feeling guilty about this forever. So glad to know so many other moms struggle with the same thing. Great! I’m not a bad mom . Lydia I actually laughed out loud!! Well said
So glad i found this post. Very helpful comments. I set timers for everything lol and it works! Keep up the good work mommas. We all try our best ?
So, I know this is a ‘mom’ blog, but I’m a DAD going through the same thing. Obviously how I found this post. Like the poster, I’m massively lucky to have been a full-time, at home ‘remote’ worker for ALMOST the entire time my 2 daughters have been alive. And I love it. I love being here for them. I love being with them. I love playing with them… sometimes. But I do have a salaried job (I’m a web/app designer/developer), I do freelance work on top of that, and my wife and I also have a company of our own and write music/dj together. But both our girls (4 & 6) are constantly wanting us (but mainly me) to play with them, and sadly, the answer a LOT has to be no. And although I know I’m doing what I have to do… although I know I DO play with them, take them places, read to them, interact with them WAY more than most dads (and lots of moms)… I still feel horrible every time. The hard part is how to deal with it… I’ve gotten mad at them… I’ve reasoned with them… I’ve explained things to them… but it still makes me sad.
Aw, hugs, Dad! Finding balance is tough – and you have a lot on your plate. Your girls know you love them and are there for them. Something I have to remind myself of is that it’s healthy for kids to be bored sometimes. If you’ve already played and suspect they really are looking for entertainment, then make them go outside and look at clouds for awhile – I know, easier said than done. Thank you so much for commenting, and best wishes to you and your busy family!
pfff i know im not a bad mom because i work hard for my two kids ( boy 4, girl 8) to give them everything they need (NOT WANT!) but when is PLAYING time, I’M OUT! dont know why i don’t like to play with dolls or cars , i prefer to feed them, cook, clean etc than playing. Normally they go to the daycare almost everyday, the time im working, so they can play all they want and when they are back i expect, ok maybe they are tired, but Nope! They still have energy, how come!? Anyway my guiltiness arrives during the weekends when we dont work, and the kids wants to play and i dont want and then i see those sad faces and i wish i would like to play but nope. I love them, love them sooooo much and i try to play but when i play with one the other also wants an so on and then i say; okeyyyy now you guys play together mama has to do some things. I wish i was a mom who likes to play with them, roll on the floor, hide and seek, paint together or cook, but im not, i wish i wish…..
I am so glad that I’m not alone!!! I hate playing. My son’s dad (and now ex husband) has always been a get on the floor and play cars type of dad. I never could seem to get into it. I haven’t ever been a kid person and didn’t even want kids until I was getting into my late 20s. I had my son at 30 and he was born 14 weeks early. He’s a miracle baby for sure and I think I have quadruple size helpings of guilt because I think I should just be grateful to have him at all. I was pretty much a single mom for most of his life with his Dad being in and out, sporadically at best. I do everything, including managing my son’s medical care which is a full time job sometimes since he’s been sick a lot due to his prematurity. His dad just finally moved back to the state we live in and has an actual visitation schedule. He now takes whatever opportunity he can to criticize the amount of time I spend with my son and how I manage things like medication and appts. I inevitably start to question if I am doing the right thing by letting him stay with my parents so I can go out with my friends or take that weekend trip with my fiance. He’s 3 years old and has the worst case of mommyitis ever! I can’t go to the bathroom or take a shower by myself. My ex likes to say it’s because I don’t pay enough attention to him but I can’t believe that’s even remotely true. The kid gets more attention than he needs. He’s the only grandchild for my parents and the rest of my family and friends dote on him constantly. I set aside time to do stuff, just him and I and I always read to him and cuddle with him when he’s sleepy or sick. I just hate to play. I really do. Im always thinking if the million other things I could be getting done. I work and go to school and I’m the only one that makes his Dr appts and deals with our insurance and pays bills and cleans and cools and manages our lives!! I wish his dad knew half of what it takes to make sure my son gets all the things he is eligible for and needs to ensure that he’s developing and that his lungs aren’t getting worse and so on. It’s exhausting. I just can’t find the time or energy to play Batman or whatever. Im just glad to see I’m not alone.
Father here looking to commiserate and find help. I feel the same pressure from my 3 year old, and struggling. I feel terrible telling him no and I really struggle with the fact that when I do play, I am not having fun and feel absent in mind from the activity. I grew up without my deadbeat biological father that loving me the way I love my son. My stepfather never put any effort into me like he did his own son (which I understand). I am also a stepfather to my 10 daughter and as hard as it is to admit, you look at your own DNA – someone that looks like you as a child and you feel a little differently about it. So where my guilt comes from is trying to be the father (and a better stepfather) that I never had. My son will be my only as I came from a family of 7 and we didn’t really have much growing up. I want to be able to help and provide for my children the best I can financially and not have to tell them that I cannot afford to send them to college if they’re worthy of it. The guilt is exacerbated by the fact I know I only have him and one chance to get it right. I don’t have any back-up kids to resolve any guilt lol. I don’t want to look back and regret I did not get 100% satisfaction of raising him or feel like I missed out on something watching him grow up. I just wish that when I played with him, I didn’t feel like it was a chore.
When my 3 year old asks this question (as he did tonight which led me to this post as I’m PMSing and generally not so prone to guilt) I rephrase it in my head: “Mom, will you make a connection with me?” So, playing with his cars or whatever isn’t what he’s really asking for…it’s just a moment to reconnect, a checking in so to speak. Biologically, if we don’t maintain a connection to our spouses or kids, we wouldn’t feel the need to stick with a marriage or feed a child right? So, this is actually a great thing kids do (not so much when the hubby does hahaha). Think of ways you can spend with your kids that you do enjoy where you’re both giggling and making eye contact as well as physical contact- for my son, I like to throw him on the couch and tickle him or swim together much more than playing with toys! Or we cook and I make a point to go slower and really acknowledge him. When I’m busy managing the home (I have a 1 year old baby too), I say “it’s mommys job to manage this home; it’s your job to play! I love you!” *hugs* Or “mommy and daddy’s work hard all day; other kids your size are for playing with. I love you!” I make a mental note he’s reaching out for a connection and I start considering how to fill that need in a doable way. I can’t live with guilt. It’s not fun, for any of us, but I can live with the reminder that connection is important and I could use to slow down a little for my kiddos.
Great point, Jenny! Thanks for giving us your perspective. Love it.
I’m a dad of a four year old. I read all of these comments and I feel the same. I love my son very much, but many days though i feel exhausted from work, housework and the daily routine of stuff that must be done. But I’m not going to explain my guilt, I’ll just say what works for me. I still feel guilt, but I tell myself this is the best I can do.
1. I do set a timer. I can’t play forever and there are things to do. If there is no timer and I break off mid-play he feels angry and frustrated. But when the timerr goes off, he understands i have to do something else. He will ask me how long we can play and I will tell him 10, 20, 30 or 1 hour and he accepts it. It is good, because when I literally only have 10 free minutes before I have to leave for work, we can fit in quick play.
Timers don’t work for everyone, but it’s one idea.
2. Tell him the day’s plan and don’t say maybe yes to something that will be a definite no. For example, on a Sunday, I’ll tell him “we” have to clean the bathroom, then toilets, then do the laundry, then go food shopping, then have lunch, then we can go to the park. Or for example on a weekday he might ask me if we can play after dinner, but I know it’s bath night. I won’t say”yeah, maybe” I’ll just say no, it’s bath then bed, sorry. But after a few times he gets to understand I mean everything I say.
3. When I don’t know what to play, then I replay days out we had. “Let’s play the zoo game.” And then pretend to go around our home imagining seeing animals. Instead of zoo you can do park, supermarket, restaurant, grandma’s, beach, library, anything, even mundane things like a gas stand. The good point about this is that you both know the flow of the roleplay because you already did it for real before. You will be amazed how much they remember, like “don’t forget the cucumber!” Because one time 4 months ago I forgot the cucumber, really makes you realise they notice more than you think.
4. You are never a bad mother or father if you are on here reading this.
5. If you are too tired to even move, it is okay to watch a movie or TV show, but i ask him questions like i don’t understand what’s going on. “Who’s that? Why’s he going there? Is he the good or bad guy?” You are making them explain situations, that’s good communication, if you can ask questions like ‘do you think that’s a good idea? How would you feel? Would you that?” Those questions are good for getting them to think and articulate, too.
That’s all I can think of for now.
Thanks for everyone writing how they feel. I feel guilt a lot about being reluctant to play. I need more ideas. If anyone has more ideas to play, please tell me.
LOVED your comment 🙂
so accurate and so inspiring and gives hope for the future playtime
Hopefully this helps. 🙂
Don’t sweat it too much. When I was in my 20s, my mom asked me if I resented her for not playing with me more. I was baffled. I didn’t remember things that way at all. In the grand scheme of things, your kids won’t mind, and it’s good for kids to entertain themselves.
Thank Goodness for the honesty of all you Moms and Dad. I obviously looked this up because of the guilt I feel. Have been a single non working Mom but with a five year old trying to start up something of a job. The question can you play brings me so much guilt. I have the time to but the pretend play is like finger nails on a chalk board for me. I try to detour her to puzzles, board games and projects but she just wants pretend. Very good suggestions here and I have tried the timer but felt guilty. So glad to hear some different takes of the timer and feel more confident to use it. Thanks. Feel so not alone anymore!
I’m so glad we could give you some perspective and peace knowing you’re not alone. I really appreciate all of the comments, ideas and commiseration – thanks to everyone who’s contributed!
I heard a comment somewhere… that these days there is sooo much to feel guilty for. Organic, meat free, gentle parenting, traditional values and manners, preparing children for real life teaching respectful independents but allowing them to be care free children. The media, the grandparents how everyone else might be doing it better. Yummy mummy anxiety and still being a wife.
Previous generations… feed them. Keep them alive.
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I’m a dad. I feel guilty every day, no matter how much time I’ve spent with them. Basically, I try to sit on the floor and play with my 3 for an hour every other day. Guilt. The only way I don’t feel it is if I take them out to 3 or 4 different parks in the same day. But the guilt is right back the next day. It’s an awful feeling. Guess I just need to be an adult and get over it.
I wanted to thank everyone for their comments — it’s nice to not feel alone. My (almost) 7 yr old daughter seems to understand that she can make me feel like garbage by saying things like: “I just feel really alone because you don’t play with me.” But she’ll say this after we just finished playing a game! She wants me to play constantly, and it’s always long drawn out pretend games with no rules where she’s constantly telling me that I’m doing it wrong. I was a kid who liked to be alone and read. I never really played and I don’t even know how to do it now. Add on to that that I do 99% of the chores at home, work full time and am apparently the only one she wants to spend time with (not dad) and I’m exhausted. Also — like others mentioned, I also brought my daughter to work with me for her first 2 1/2 years, caring for her while working full time. (And doing ALL the chores at home). I’m just goddamn tired now, still. Wonder if there’s a connection?
kids suck lol… we love them and want to run and hide from them… I like you was a kid who preferred books or I was outside playing by myself. Mine wont even watch TV. she will sit and watch a tablet for maybe 40 min a day and its sporadic. I could read a book while prego and a day. now its like 2 months before I can read a 400 pg book.
Oh, my sweet validation on not feeling like the world’s shittiest mother… I am a stay-at-home mom until August this year. My son blesses his 12 yr old heart was perfect in my mind. he watched tv, gave me space, and played by himself. My 3yr old daughter…. She hates me… I swear it.
at first, heaven forbid she never slept EVER… then doctor-approved melatonin. she now sleeps 11 to 12 hours a night with 1 to 2 wake-ups. Now it’s 15 min after waking up… no coffee or breakfast and I hear the dreaded sentences. Mommy Play with me… I start to internally cry. I love her, I really do. baking going outside for a bit reading swimming I can do. I however hate dolls mainly barbies. even as a toddler I myself never had barbies. baby dolls yes.
This kid goes hor 12 hours a day nonstop and at least every hour I hear the words play with me. I want to sit and watch tv or clean or heaven forbid read the book I have been trying to read for the last month.
I feel bad especially when she starts crying and tantrum-throwing. I know I am not a bad mom… but after 3 and a half years of having her by my side its nice to come across an article that other parents are like me and can’t do the whole plaything.
I was an only child growing up raised by my grandparents. I had to play by myself or do crafts. I give her attention all the time, but I just can’t. I even tried a timer thing and she just wants more and more. then she uses the mommy doesn’t love me bc I want 5 min to myself.
Her father plays with her for 30 min when he gets home from working 12 hours a day. but even then it’s in the living room and if I try to hide she finds me. I take a shower she is there, same with the potty. (She is a child great stalker)
as for the person who said be grateful and doesn’t complain. I count my blessing with my children every day but unless you experience the day in and out of what an active toddler can do to you then please don’t judge. especially on my end. where hubby’s parents are dead and mine or 2500k miles away so we literally have no one to help. no time alone no one to watch her.
I am literally counting down the days till the end of August.
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I’m soooo glad I found this thread!! My story matches a little piece of everyone’s lol so I won’t go into much detail. But, single mom of 2 girls, ages 3 & 4. And whew Chile!!! We’ve been home since the pandemic started. They’ve been to daycare twice, for a few months each time,early 2020 and late 2020. But they’re mostly home with me and EYE FEEL TERRIBLE about not wanting to play. They entertain each other for the most part, but the times they want me to play, it just doesn’t spark my interest AT ALL!!! Even still, I’ll do hide and seek, read a book, be a customer at their play restaurant… occasionally!! I might do a little tickling everyday, attempting to smile more even in a sh*tty mood, definitely embrace them and converse individually for a few min each day. But at my core I feel like I should be doing so much more. More academic lessons, more outside time (although it’s 80 degrees most days), more movie nights.i just have no interest in these things and I think it’s bc I get overwhelmed by having them BOTH come at me at once. I think I do better when one is napping and I take the other for some individual time.. but I still feel guilty if u don’t make that EXACT same individual time for the other child when she awakes smh 🤦🏽♀️ I have all the love in the world for those girls. It’s a strange and heavy feeling, but definitely nice to see it’s a common issue amongst mom’s who are actually attempting to be a good parent. Thanks for this!!!