If you read my Easter post, then you know I have taken on a new parenting project. The pandemic has thrown some aspects of modern parenting (and my personal way of behaving them) into contrast with what is reasonable. Actually, its thrown a new light on a number of things about modern life, but more about that later in a different post.
My project is to hand more responsibility over to my kids for entertaining themselves for parts of the day. I love my kids, but especially with being together all the time, I don’t always enjoy playing with them. However I feel the pressure to do so. Normally when we have less time together its OK, but for me it becomes too much to do it all day and I stop enjoying it. I need to remind myself that it is a choice and that its reasonable to do adult stuff too.
I have always believed in the power of independent play, mostly due to my own positive experience of it. I recall very fondly time spent roaming my neighborhood with my friends, letting my imagination fly on my own making up stories and games without the worry of what another person might think, and generally being allowed to decide how I wanted my days to go (outside of chores, regular meals, school and homework). I was a very well cared for kid and always knew my parents loved and supported me, but I did not think it was their responsibility to entertain me.
Now, I am not talking about being inattentive or involved. Each day we ensure there is structured focused time for activities like walks, online school for our oldest, riding our horses, cooking and drawing together as well as just talking and interacting. What I am talking about is more intentionally interspersing this time with periods in which I go get some working hours in (or read a good book) while not providing the kids with an activity or screen time.
I decided to aim to intentionally turn over entertainment responsibility to the kids for one hour. they are only 2 and 4, so the time needs to be reasonable. That also dosen’t mean I don’t expect to be involved at all- I will be nearby to listen, and to intervene if anyone hits or anything dangerous or unacceptable to our family norms happens. I just will do my own task, and will allow then to figure out what they want to do.
I steeled myself by reading this New York Times article to remind myself of all the reasons this is a helpful thing for both me and my kids.
Crying happened first. We came in from a good hour and a half walk which we all enjoyed together after spending the morning getting ready for the day. We came in and I said “OK mom’s going to work for awhile”. They wanted TV, and I said no- that started the crying. I empathized, then went and got my laptop out.
A few minutes later the crying became giggles as my 2 and 4 year old started making up a game together.
Then yelling happened. A few minutes after that, they went and got some big sheets of paper out to draw on. A few minutes after that, someone crumpled someone else’s paper, then the other crumpled back, then yelling and crying again. One came and ‘told’ on the other. I took a deep breath, stayed calm, did not get up. I empathized, and asked this concerned kiddo what they thought they might do to handle it. They came up with a good idea for how to assert what they needed. I said “good idea. Maybe go talk to her”, which is what happened. Then play happened again.
A few minutes later the 4 year old trooped over to the table where I was working with a big box of beads and told me “I am going to do this” and sat down, and proceeded to do it. We worked along side each other happily and quietly while the 2 year old played with babies across room.
What I learned today:
The hardest part was my own feelings and thoughts.
I noticed a bit of an anxious feeling when my 4 year old became bored, and when fighting started. I noticed some accompanying thoughts like “I need to stop this” and a feeling like I was shirking my job as a parent. I had to take a few breaths and remind myself of the reasons for what I was doing, and after that I could carry on. Thinking of it as an experiment (where realistically the worst thing that will happen is they might get bored and might argue, and those things happen at other times anyway) helped make it less personal.
They have good ideas and can solve problems on their own, with just a few questions from me to guide their thinking
This experiment kind of confirmed for me what I already know- I know my kids have skills. I know they need to use them to grow their confidence. I know that arguing is part of learning to negotiate and use social skills. I know that being bored wont kill you. I believe all of this. Seeing it in action helped remind me.
I feel better when I feel like I can choose to do something for me
When my hour was done, I felt refreshed and ready to go back and play with them. Its like anything, when we know we have some choice and control over what we do, we feel better (I wonder if they will come to value these aspects of this time for similar reasons).
My conclusion from this experiment today is that while I believe in giving my kids some space to play without me, I have not acted on that much lately- mainly because our usual busy work schedules leaves so little time with them that we want to spend it all together and can manage that as the time is short. However somewhere in there I started to feel like I ‘must’ solve all the conflicts and entertain, and this has been their expectation too. With pandemic restrictions keeping everyone home, it opened an opportunity to do an experiment that might help us all find a new balance in these new times. I’m curious about how it will go going forward.