I could focus on the fact that the moms in this video all look the same: upper/middle class Or that they are almost all white. Or I could discuss the churchy overtone. Instead, let me concentrate on its message: while we moms are notoriously hard on ourselves, our kids see less imperfection and more of the simple, basics that are right there in front of them. Watch this and do the exercise yourself. Imagine what your kids would say, if they aren’t able to talk yet. Leave me a comment below to share what you said and what they did.
One of the most difficult things that I have had to learn as a parent is to allow Elisabeth to direct our play*. I see a lot of parents struggle with this: the letting go of their child so that she can do her own thing. It is so hard. But in my continued reading of family therapist Jesper Juul’s inspired book _The Competent Child_, I’ve learned that it is absolutely essential to allow our child to exercise free will.
For me, allowing your child to exercise free will starts with taking her seriously. Which sounds a little wacky, I know It’s easy to not take a child seriously. They are small, not as strong as an adult and sometimes can’t even verbalize their own wants and needs. But really aren’t these are all the more reasons why we need to take our children seriously? It’s all too easy to just pick him up and move him where you want to, right? When you take your child seriously, though, you try to understand “the situation” from their perspective and value what they are doing or trying to do. So, in Music Together class for example, I can go get Elisabeth when she wanders off toward the bathroom instead of playing with her maraca OR I can allow her to do that, just sit there and notice what she is doing.
So, reason #1 to not pick up your child and just move them: it’s not sustainable long-term. At some point they will be large enough to fight you or at least make moving them physically difficult and likely embarrassing for both of you. But perhaps most importantly, reason #2 why moving them isn’t the best action to take is that when you allow your child the freedom to make their own choices, you teach them that their own wants/needs/feelings/experiences are valid. In doing so, you show your child that you take them seriously.
When I think about what I want my daughter to know above else, I come back to one key point. One of which is that she will always know that she is important: that she counts. Even if I or someone else doesn’t like her ideas or agree with her words. Even if she speaks loudly or doesn’t talk at all. She counts, no matter what. Her feelings are valid. And I can say “you can do anything you set your mind to,” (as my mother told me) or “you never have to compromise your beliefs,” or “no matter what, I’ll always love you,” but if my actions don’t back up those laudable statements, then what good are they? And, yes, she’s a little young to hear those exact words right now but she hears other reassuring words that validate her sense of self so it’s still important to back those words up with actions.
There’s also an usually invisible pleasure to be found in allowing child-directed play in that we give ourself “the bloom of the present moment,”. I love that quote and found it while reading Christian McEwen’s _World Enough and Time_. McEwen talks about time with children as a way to slow ourselves down and be guided more by fascination, as children are, than schedules. It’s a lovely sentiment. Fortunately it’s one that those of us who have small children can actually dip into when we allow child-directed play.
I am one of the most impatient people that I know and that absolutely carries over into my parenting although I work really hard to tamp it. So, I often find it difficult to just allow Elisabeth to do whatever her big heart desires. What that often looks like in real time is much back and forth of her handing off puzzle pieces and me reading each one aloud. As always (or so it seems), this is exactly where I think we’re supposed to be. Me helping the learning instead of directing it.
What do you think? Do you allow child-directed play and if so, what does this look like on a daily basis as a parent?
*within safety, of course.
I was asked this recently and the speaker wasn’t talking about an adult beverage. She was speaking about a different kind of second: a child.
I used to fidget a bit with this question. Sometimes because the speaker wasn’t someone that I knew but sometimes just because I felt the answer should always be an unhesitating “yes”. “I’m 40,” I always begin in a “doesn’t that explain everything?” sort of way. It never did.
“I knew that I could be a great mother to one but any more and I’d be mediocre.” said a commenter on Lauren Sandler’s recent piece in Slate on her decision to have only one child. That really resonated with me. I have all I can handle right now, with one toddler. Another child? I’d lose my mind and just as bad, I’d be mediocre as a parent. I believe that. I give E. 100% of me 95% of the time. It’s exhausting but she gets me, not a distracted version of me. I honestly don’t know how moms parent more than one child. They always amaze me! It’s just not in me to have the kind of patience.
I’m also one of the most selfish people I know. Alone time has always been really important to me. I love reading and writing. My creative work is essential to me feeling like I am still a woman with an identity outside of mother. At some point I want to read books about addiction, alcoholism and mental health again just because I can instead of mainly parenting and business books. I love being in the car listening Metallica at high decibels, ALONE, instead of the standard Music Together CD that E. and I usually listen to on our drives. I eagerly anticipate the day when I can attend a conference again or be gone overnight.
Speaking of selfish…my pregnancy wasn’t bad at all. I felt physically great throughout most of it. But emotionally, I felt anxious and vulnerable. I’m also one of the rare women who had the childbirth experience that she had hoped for. Do I want to go through either of those experiences again? No way. I LOVE that I can finally wear my “old” clothes again, not breastfeed every few hours and feel like myself…most days.
But it’s also a resource issue for us. I’m building a business that will launch later this Fall so I’m working very part-time. My husband makes a decent salary and we save money on childcare because I do the bulk of it. But I like being able to go to Whole Foods and buying mainly organic fruits and veggies for E. My husband’s family is in Germany and it’s important for us to return to see them annually, and not for a long weekend. E. will go to a little school before kindergarten certainly and because embarrassingly in this resource rich country there is no daycare, we will need to pay for it. No small chunk of change, as many of you already know.
E. is still breastfeed because it’s what she wants. I wear her on walks (all 20+ pound of her…and not in a backpack either!) because she is in a phase where she hates the BOB. We go grocery shopping together and I let E. steer (us, not the grocery cart!) toward the produce that catches her eye. I want her to know that I am there for her, always, always, always. Forever. On top of everything else, I know that I couldn’t give that to her if there was another child in the picture. It’s not in me.
“No,” I told this woman immediately, without hesitation. “One is enough for us.”