Tuesday, June 13, 2006

the pangs of parenting

I'm astounded by the reaction to my last post - not so much the number of comments (though there were quite a few), but the length of the responses you all wrote. Thank you. I so enjoyed hearing all the different perspectives, and I think I learnt something from each and every comment.

I also realised that one thing that weighs so heavily on me, as a parent, is a matter that some older bloggers still feel guilty over, and that bloggers with young children agonise over, too. (I am not alone - oh joy, oh joy!) It seems all parents worry that they are not spending enough time with their little darlings.

We all believe that all those other Marvellous Mothers and Fantastic Fathers are spending hours every day reading, painting, singing, and talking face-to-face with their kids. We all believe we are the only bad parents who read one book, then try to put a load of washing on; we fear we are the only evil mothers (or fathers) who put the paint and paper out for the kids, then sit down nearby with coffee and a magazine. Yet I suspect we're almost all harbouring this guilt.... so most of us aren't acting like non-stop entertainers/teachers/life coaches. We're just parents at home. Besides caring for children we're trying to get the kitchen clean, trying to pay the bills, trying to stay sane with the odd spot of blogging!

One of the most guilt-assuaging theories from the book I read ('Perfect Madness' by Judith Warner) was about this very issue. While giving our children time and affection is obviously important, Judith Warner discusses studies, and relates comments made by educators, which suggest that the modern concept of child care - of interacting for hours, providing numerous activities, directing their play by joining all their games - may not be ideal. Teachers are beginning to despair of children who are not only self-centred (after having non-stop parental attention), but who are also unable to play spontaneously, to create, to think for themselves. Who knew? It turns out talking to your kids every now and then as they play, maybe giving them a few props to play with (dress ups, Lego, even cardboard boxes!) and just letting them explore their world with our intermittent participation .... just doing what a lot of us do anyway.....turns out that is thought to be just fine.

Oh, what a relief. We're doing OK after all. Join with me now as I sigh happily.....ahhhhhhh!


Motherkitty said...

As a young child, my parents owned a corner grocery store which was located next door to our house. My grandparents lived upstairs and other relatives lived in the house next door. My sister and I were mostly left to our own devices during the time my mother was in the store.

One of my favorite areas of play was under the dining room table, which was covered by a tablecloth, and a container of fancy buttons. You can imagine, I hope, all the games I made up by myself with a perfectly safe hidey hole and a box of treasures/jewels or anything else my imagination made of these buttons.

Mother wasn't there to supervise so we used to supervise ourselves. She was always in and out, and readily available if needed. What a lovely way to grow up. No wonder I could read at a very early age and always had a vivid imagination (still do). I guess this is why we all love to play board games so much.

There is nothing more important we can teach our children than being self-reliant, having a vivid imagination, and being able to have time alone to fantasize. Parents who feel they must supervise every minute of their children's lives are doing a disservice to them in the long run.

T. said...

With a family of a seemingly endless amount of young kiddies to compare one another to, I have discovered that the ones who were not coddled and smothered by parental affection, the ones who were allowed to have the occasional moment to think of creative ways to entertain themselves, the ones who were occasionally kicked outside and told to go play; these kids seem to have it more together.

Not that I am advocating ignoring your kids and locking them outdoors. (Really, I don't), but sometimes we grown ups have to go back and remember what it means to be a kid. Relax.

And unlock the damn door so the kids can come inside.

(Yes, that last one was directed at me. Shhh!)

Franny said...

Wow, I thought I was the only one who was too tired to get on the floor and play with the kids all day! And when I do, I often feel like I am *faking* enthusiasm.

But then there is the 'organic' fun...something looks interesting and draws you in, or someone makes you laugh, or you get involved in the kids books and read another one aloud just to enjoy the story.

I don't know what my point is. Maybe that the magic can't be faked or forced, and the moms out there, including myself, need to stop the guilt and just relax. We are not raising axe murderers!!!

Abandoned in Pasadena said...

Being the mother of 3 grown children that were stairsteps
(ages, 1 week, 1 yr. & 2 yrs. old) I'm "sighing" right along with you.

Danke Shane said...

My parents were attentive, but not to the point of taking away my ability to create my own adventures or use my imagination to entertain myself.

I see children today that have every decision made for them and are so overprotected that they are not even allowed to play on a playground for fear of injury. In short, they are not being allowed to just be KIDS.

While attention from the parents is golden, I think that perhaps you are being to hard on yourselves. If your children have your support and encouragement (which I am sure they do) they will figure out the rest just fine. Smothering them takes away the ability to form their own identity and persona.

Enjoyed visiting your blog!

doubleknot said...

I don't have any more to add - those are great comments. I always pushed my daughter to be independent - she is so smart she had to learn to make decisons early on and she had jobs to do - mostly concerning her care like folding and putting away her clothes. She made a few bad ones but didn't make them again.

susan said...

I can't remember parenting - since I am one of the 'older bloggers' - but I must have had kids, because now I have grandchildren, and there is always time to be found to spend with them!

Mimi said...

What bothers me about my kids experience as opposed to my growing up in the mid sixties is that there isn't that freedom to just go out and play. Kids do not have time or opportunities to go out and organize and play games. We played hours of tag (all varieties), wiffle ball, softball, even football with all ages and all levels and yes we fought but I do not remember an adult ever intervening. Kids do not seem to be able to organize their own play as much today.


Alice said...

Question for Mimi - WHY don't kids have time to go and play anymore? I understand about the safety issues in today's society, but the lack of time seems to be one of the main issues in the book Jelly is reading.

Kerri said...

My childhood experience was similar to Motherkitty's in that my parents had a pet store attached to our house. My brother and I entertained ourselves while our parents were working in the shop. We did our chores, homework, played with our friends and stayed out of trouble. I used to do the weekly grocery shopping for Mum at about 12 years old, maybe earlier. I would carry a basket on my arm and coming home with it always hurt my arm. I loved grocery shopping then. Don't much like it now :)
I used to play with Mum's good china and knick knacks in the china cabinet. I told her about it years later. She could laugh about it then:)
I do think we used our imaginations more and definitely played more outside before TV and computers become so much a part of everyday life.
I'm a big fan of technology if it's used sensibly (having said this I'd better get some sleep!! :)

jellyhead said...

Ah, even more great comments - it's been a veritable discussion forum here!

Hi Shane, thanks for dropping in, and for giving your perspective. I was relieved you didn't take any offence at my kidding around on Mackey's blog! (you know how sometimes the written word doesn't come out sounding the way it's intended?)Glad you liked the blog :)