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ASK MOM: Mom struggles to be present for kids

Dec 08, 2023 01:47AM ● By Mary Follin and Erika Guerrero

Drawing by Suzanne Johnson

THE PROBLEM: I love my kids SO much, but for some reason, I have trouble being WITH them. I’ve got three (5, 8 & 9), and they’re good kids. Actually pretty easy to handle and fun to be around. But I always finding my mind wandering, and I keep wanting to check my phone. We were playing hopscotch the other day, and they were all getting along so well I just checked out. I pretended to watch the game, but took secret scrolls on my phone and kept thinking about a pair of shoes I want to buy. When I realize how much I’m missing of these sweet kids’ growing up years, I get depressed. What can I do?

MARY SAYS: You have three kids who enjoy hanging out with each other and are ‘fun to be around.’ They play together on their own, and you don’t have to manage games, break up fights, or pretend you like playing hopscotch.

Somebody is doing something right here.

I’m guessing that would be you. Kudos for being the kind of mom that lets her kids do their thing while she does hers. 

But there's something in your question you might want to address, and it’s not about your children. I would suggest your scrolling, distracted state of mind is more about your inability to be present for yourself. We all get that way at times, but when you feel as though you’re missing out on your life because you’re constantly craving entertainment, it’s time to do something about it. 

Shift your focus off your children and onto yourself. What do you see when you look out your window? Step onto damp pavement after it rains? Hop on the subway to get to work?  If the answer is ‘nothing, I’m too busy thinking about something else,’ look again.

Paying attention is a practice. A hard one. But if you stick with it, you’ll get pretty good at it. And the beauty of waking up each morning is that we get another chance to experience the joy of being present to whatever we do—and whomever we’re with. 

ERIKA SAYS: Sweet Mama, you’re running on E and experiencing mom burnout. You’re not alone! As parents we carry a hefty mental, physical, and emotional load, whether we’re working moms or staying home with the kids.

The good news is, life won’t feel exhausting, demanding, and overwhelming forever. But with each stage, there will be challenges, so it’s important to learn tools to help with stress management. You’ve got quite a few years to go!

Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Take breaks: It’s okay to prioritize yourself and take time alone to recharge. Ask yourself what brings you joy or what you haven’t done for yourself that makes you feel happy and recharged. Step away to read a book, get your nails done, or have coffee with a friend. Creating separation will allow you to fill your cup so you aren’t pouring from an empty one. 
  • Find a support system: Find a mom friend or two, or perhaps join a mom group, a safe place where other moms can relate to what you’re going through and not make you feel judged or shamed. 
  • Get some rest: I’m guilty of this, so believe me, I’m preaching to myself, too. When the kids go to sleep, you should as well. I have a habit of staying up late after bedtime and using that time as “me time.” Sometimes, that looks like cleaning up, scrolling through social media, catching up on work, or watching a show. The problem is while it feels great at the moment, the next day, I’m not adequately rested; I'm moody, which leads to exhaustion. 
  • Practice mindfulness: Get into the habit of practicing being in the moment. When you go outside to play with your kids, leave your phone inside. Pay attention to the weather, your children’s laughter, and your feelings. Grounding yourself will help you focus and engage in the moment. 
  • Seek professional help: Lastly, seek professional help. It’s never a bad idea to speak to a therapist. This will give you an outlet to vent your concerns and frustrations, and you will also learn coping tools. 

Your children know you love them. You aren’t a bad parent for feeling disengaged; this doesn’t make you a bad mom. We’re overworked in a society that tells us we mustn’t slow down. Create your own boundaries to avoid falling into that trap. Take time for yourself, recharge, and fill your cup. You can’t give anything to your children you don’t have.

ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in! 

If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you! [email protected]

Read more ASK MOM advice.


Mary Follin is the author of Teach Your Child to Read™ and ETHYR, winner of the Moonbeam Children's Book Award and the Gertrude Warner Book Award. She is mom to two grown sons and enjoys sharing her more seasoned perspective  with parents of younger children. 

Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.



Suzanne Johnson, mother of five children and grandmother of eight, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of the Realms of Edenocht series.



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