Thursday, July 08, 2010

Idling away

I've often wondered and worried over the past few years whether I should be playing more with my kids instead getting them to do the housework for me, I mean, with me and dragging them around town on errands. Should I spend most of my waking hours sitting on the floor teaching and playing and reading and talking with my kids? Should I plan every activity with their comfort and convenience in mind?

Here are the answers I've come up with respectively: Only if it's something I enjoy doing, too. And only if their discomfort and inconvenience will exponentially increase mine.

It sounds heartless in this day and age of hyper parenting to say what I just said. But, it's really not. The best thing I can do for my kids sometimes is to just leave them alone most of the time and take them along the rest of the time. Heck, I'm even finding that sometimes I need to leave the baby alone. Recently my 2 month old began sucking his two fingers to calm himself down when I can't get to him fast enough. Leaving Fiona, our 18 month old, is a dangerous proposition, but I have Fiona-proofing down to a science. She entertains herself in her own bedroom quite nicely. The other day, I left Danny alone in his room for more than an hour. He dug it, even though it was an extended time out. He went to the bathroom himself, returned to his room and closed the door.

And, honestly, I don't really enjoy playing with trains or play dough or making crafts. If making crafts were my thing, I'm sure my kids would be interested in it. It's not that I never play with my kids. It's just that I don't make that my main objective. It's not the only way to make my kids feel important and loved. I do that mainly by making them a part of the daily real activities around here.

Self-entertainment and self-sufficiency is important in this house and it's not because we don't care about our kids. It's important because we care about our kids. We don't want kids who are dependent on constant structure and external stimulation. We don't want kids who exist outside the realm of household duty. We want kids who can make their own fun and motivate themselves yet understand that life is not all fun and games, that chores are a shared responsibility and that work comes before play.

This evening, I felt like cooling off in the family-size blow up pool in our yard. So I did. The kids came, too, and we all had a fantastic time chilling out, literally, in the backyard. And when I felt like getting out, I got out. They didn't spend the rest of their time in the pool begging me to get in like they usually do. I sat in a lawn chair talking to baby Owen (all of 2 months old), who is quite the conversationalist these days, I must say. I just felt more like, well, a human being instead of a babysitter.

As for the housework, over the years, we've given Danny little jobs to do here and there. He was "taught" to sweep the kitchen floor shortly after he started walking. Currently, his favorite chore is what my husband calls the "squoosh and push." It involves putting rolls of toilet paper into a basket in our downstairs bathroom. He's real good at it, too; doesn't need a lick of help. I just set the package of toilet paper in the hall and he goes to it. I don't even have to trick my son, Tom Sawyer style, by telling him how much fun these chores are. Nor do I have to bribe him. My son knows he's doing work and he's proud. Today he was delighted to be helping me make a big "dentist" in the pile of laundry. "We've got a lot of work today," he repeated excitedly.

The truth is that my kids want to be adults. They want to do grown up things. They want to use adult forks and spoons instead of the plastic or miniature metal utensils that barely work. They want to use the big broom and mop. They want to use the bar rags to clean the table and the baby wipes to shine the trash can. They want to stir and mix and crack eggs and add ingredients, real ingredients, to whatever I'm making. They want to sit in real chairs, not child-size chairs, booster seats and high chairs. They just use the child-sized chairs to see over the Dutch door in the kitchen or turn on lights and fans or look out the top part of the windows. More often than not, they don't want the kid's view of the world. They want to see what we see and do what we do.

And part of being an adult is slogging through the grocery store or to the post office or the bank, even when you don't want to.

The way I see it, I'm teaching my kids to be adults and my kids are teaching me to relax and just be a kid sometimes. It's a delicate balance.


Erin C. said...

I agree 100% and I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts! It is comforting to know that I am not alone with these thoughts! My son wants (and has always wanted) to do what we are doing, even the "boring" adult stuff like paying bills or cleaning windows. His plastic-y, educational toys? Completely ignored. So we roll with it, and it's refreshing to read about how you do it, too. :)

morris.ashley26 said...

It is so nice to know that I am not the only one who feels this way. Sometimes I worry I do not spend enough time with Zoe playing. But she is a strong willed independant 3 year old. She likes to entertain herself and she LOVES to help me with chores and cooking. It is good to know that there are others out there who have the same outlook. Very well written (as always) I enjoy reading about your kids esp. that spit-fire Fiona. Lol