This was a long winter, as everyone knows, except for you lucky devils living in places that didn’t get repeatedly body slammed by snow and/or subzero temperatures. Through the better part of the winter I kept pushing the kids to stick to a relatively active schedule of activities, errands, and playdates. We got out of the house just about every day and I thought this was good for us. But at a certain point, Miles slammed on the brakes. Getting him out of the house to go anywhere became such an unbelievable struggle that eventually I had to STOP and reconsider. Maybe he was not just being a pain in the ass but had a real need that was not being met. A need to just do NOTHING.
Especially for us stay/work at home parents, this idea of “getting out of the house” every single day has become conventional wisdom. Even if it’s just to go to Target, right? Partly it reflects our adult needs for non-parenting human interaction, but I think also a lot of it is tied into a cultural belief that we need to provide daily – indeed nearly constant – “stimulation” for our children. Even if it’s just to go to Target.
The reason I call doing less an experiment in trustful parenting is that it involves rejecting the now common wisdom that one of our jobs as parents is to provide a constant stream of varied, enriching, stimulating, educational experiences for our children. I had prescribed for them certain amounts of time I thought they should be playing independently at home, playing with me and Mike, socializing with friends, going on outings, enjoying screen time (that will be a separate post soon!), and so on. But the truth is, these amounts of time were amounts I had pretty much pulled out of my butt. Except I suppose for the amount of screen time, which the AAP probably pulled out of its butt.
I don’t enjoy playing cruise director for my kids’ childhoods, but I did it out of fear that if I didn’t they wouldn’t be stimulated/socialized/educated/enriched enough. Because I’ve been socialized to view children as vessels, as dependent creatures who need us to mold and shape them and fill them with everything they need to grow. But I’ve been working on tuning out those cultural messages and separating myself from fear, and I’m coming around to the idea that children are in fact uniquely designed to know exactly what they need and are capable of pursuing it – from the moment they are born, aren’t they?
I’m a Gen Xer and I think my generation is one of the last to feel that we had a lot more freedom when we were children than our children do now. I’m not sure that parents who grew up in the 90s will feel this way, but I grew up in the 80s when we still banged out the door after school and were hollered home for dinner – what we did in between was our business! Many of my favorite childhood memories are about hiding in forts, riding bikes with the neighbors, looking for salamanders and picking blueberries in the woods, sitting around making books about cartoon characters based off of Nerds candy, mixing together mud and whatever baking supplies were allowed to pilfer from a parent’s kitchen to make inedible concoctions. I can remember my mom’s tagline was “every day can’t be a circus” when we complained that we had nothing to do. Some days were kind of boring but that was part of childhood too – having nothing to do sometimes.
A lot of parents rue the reality that our children don’t have that freedom, but then even with that ideal in the back of our minds we still attempt to conduct a circus of sorts every day. Freedom can’t be scheduled in for an hour a day. Freedom can’t be found in parent-directed activities. Even I did this and I am farrrrr from a Pinterest mom. I like laying around the house doing not much of anything, but I was chased by the fear that it wasn’t enough for my children. Guess what, sometimes it is. They never get around to immersing themselves in that world of imagination and pure play that’s so essential to childhood if they don’t have time, hours, sometimes a whole day of just hanging around at home. Some kids (Miles), like some adults (me), need a LOT of downtime to feel refreshed enough to enjoy learning and socializing and doing everything they need to do.
I trust that my kids know what to do with their time. I trust that their free play is more stimulating and educational than any projects I can come up with for them to do. I trust that when they let me know they don’t want to go ANYWHERE EVER, they are feeling over scheduled and need more downtime. I trust that what they need from me is constant love rather than constant direction. I trust that they will let me know when they need me and I’ll be there when they do.
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