“Mommy, can you read to me?” My son gazes hopefully up at me, books clutched against his chest. “And then you can read this one and this one!” He hastily places library books on the couch next to me and excitedly wiggles his way into my lap.
“Has our new book come in?” I lean past my son and turn to my daughter, hoping she’ll say yes to the arrival of a new audiobook. I recently downloaded apps for our library onto my iPad, and we have been requesting digital and audiobooks.
“Nope,” she tells me.
Sighing, I pick up my son’s book about a fire ninja and begin to read, attempting to focus on the characters he so enjoys and wincing as his bony body squirms on me.
I wish I was the type of parent who enjoyed reading out loud to my children. I like books. I like reading. I like my children. But I do not enjoy sitting and reading aloud to them. When I sit down to read, I feel my energy wane and my mind wanders to other things I could be doing. My own voice drones on as I ignore the dishes needing to be washed, dinner needing to be made, laundry needing to be folded, and then put away. I’m a multi-tasking, Type A, efficient worker, and the weight of household responsibilities pulls at me as my schedule is interrupted. I sit here and attempt to fight the distractions, bound by my desire to be a good mom and connect with my child over stories.
I have seen many studies about the benefits of reading out loud, about the connections formed when I sit down and read with my children. They learn rhythm and new vocabulary by listening to the sound of my voice, increase their attention spans, and build comprehension, among other benefits. I do try to focus and listen to their comments about the characters and the pictures, to ask questions about the plot or setting to engage them. I do enjoy hearing their thoughts and appreciate how their minds work. I just don’t actually like to sit down and read out loud to them.
My son accidentally elbows me in the ribs and I move him to the cushion next to me. “Do you want me to finish this?” I ask him. “Then you have to stop moving.” I don’t like the frustration that comes out, and it takes effort to control it. I continue to read the story, attempting to add emphasis to the characters, growing resentful at the fact that I am stuck in this spot, hoping my son doesn’t catch my impatience. This isn’t how I envisioned I would be.
Some of my earliest memories involve my mom reading to me. We went through the infamous Little House book series the summer before I started kindergarten. She read the Narnia series and countless picture books. I can recall the cadence of my mother’s voice as it washed over me, painting pictures of prairies and woods, lions and witches. I was secure and warm by her side as she read about life on the prairie, snuggled up in my bed while she read about snowstorms and a White Witch. Though I was swept away by the plot, I stayed tethered to my mother, knowing that no matter what happened in the story, she was going to be there for me.
I hoped that when I became a mom, I would imprint upon my children the same love for stories—that they would sit quietly and listen as I read intently, stopping to comment and await their input. I wanted them to feel safe and secure, warm, and protected as I curled up with them and read to them.
I never expected I would be the problem.
I try. Really, I do. I research the best read-alouds for their ages and request the books from the library. I plan reading during their snack or quiet playtime, or just when they’re sitting nicely. I know they truly enjoy listening. The stories can be interesting, the characters comical or relatable, or the embodiment of someone we know in real life. But still, I am glad when I don’t hear the sound of my own voice anymore.
I finish the stack of stories my son brought over and send him off to play, fretting about the time I wasted and the mountain of things I need to accomplish. I work on the dishes, listening to the chatter of the children in the background, relaxing as I get a moment to myself.
“Now can we check if our book came in?” my middle daughter asks me.
“Great idea!” I reply and dry my hands to grab the iPad, hoping to hear that the audiobook we requested is available.
“Look! It came in!” my oldest says as she scrolls through the app. “I’m going to borrow it.”
“Who do you think the masked man is going to be?” I ask. We’ve been waiting on tenterhooks to find out what happened in our current series, The Land of Stories. The last book ended on a cliffhanger, with the protagonists coming across a masked man.
“I think it’s a bad guy!” my son pipes up.
“I bet it’s their dad,” my daughter says.
“What makes you think that?” I ask, and we talk about the clues from the last book, remembering details together and laughing at some of the crazy antics our favorite characters got up to.
I set up the iPad at the kitchen table, and the kids grab their art supplies. They settle in to color, and I start the audiobook. Then I continue with the dishes, parallel to my children, smiling as we all listen intently. I am content, not distracted by the pull of a mile-long to-do list from the never-ending drudgery of household responsibilities. My hands are working, so my mind is free to be engaged, and I laugh alongside my children as the narrator describes a silly scene.
I don’t like reading to my children, but that doesn’t mean we don’t read together. They might not hear the sound of my voice as often as they’d like, but they know I am near them, listening with them to the voice of a narrator whose words wash over us, painting pictures of magical lands and fairy-tale characters. There are plenty of characters and places we can talk about, laugh about, and connect with. The memories we’re making might not be precisely what I pictured when I imagined how I would be as a mom, but we’re still connecting with one another over books, sharing ideas, and learning from each other. And I have to say, I do like it.
Beth Robinson resides in Northern California with her husband and three children. A former teacher in a public school, she now teaches her own children at the dining room table. Her mother introduced her to the library at a young age, and she did the same for her children. She’s thrilled to see them share her excitement each time they check out new books. She’s even more thrilled that two-thirds of the children can read to themselves now. If Beth is not reading, you can find her gardening, attempting new recipes, or taking her children out to explore.