Saturday, March 15, 2008

More Childrearing Advice from a Mommy Who Learned Many Lessons the Hard Way

I can remember being really little, and I can remember my parents playing with me. They played with me whenever they could, but it wasn't very often. I can remember Mom sitting on the floor, playing paperdolls with us, and showing us how to dress and undress our dolls. She still loves to play board games. I can remember Dad rolling a ball toward us in the back yard, teaching us to play kickpen, the Major Game of the Playground back then. He taught us songs and poems and put us on top of the table and had us sing and recite for people. They both sat with us every year as we watched "The Wizard of Oz," which used to be a big deal before it was found in the bargain bin for five bucks. Mom and Dad interacted with us, just enough to make it special.

I do NOT, however, recall my parents being at my beck and call. When my parents got down and played with me, it was a big deal, partly because it was such super extra fun, and partly because it was rare enough to be a genuine treat.

Mom was busy. I remember her ironing in front of the tv while the kids played all around her. Was she playing with them? No, she was busy. But it was all right, because we knew where she was and what she was doing, and we knew if we needed her she would drop everything and come.

We played outside in the yard. Our house was on a VERY busy corner, and the wide street was dangerous. We did not go near it because we had been told not to. Period. We played with each other and with the neighbor kids. If a parent had tried to play with us, we would have been frightened and we would have gone into the house. I mean, jeepers. All the parents in the neighborhood, however, watched over us and never hesitated to tattle if there was something they thought another parent would want to know.

I did not expect my parents to play with me constantly; why should they? The world is not supposed to be a 100% blend of adult-child things; there is an adult world and there is a child's world. Frequently, they interact; mostly, they do not.

Nowadays, however, I guess I should phrase that last: mostly, they SHOULD not. Because in many households today, the children are in charge.

"Play wif me, watch Barney wif me, sit wif me, stack blocks wif me. . . ." And the parent drops everything and lets the child be the person in charge of the household, because to deny a child immediate pleasure is to be a bad, bad parent.

Children do NOT need a parent to play with them every minute of the day. Children need to be forced to acquire the inner resources to entertain themselves. Most kids own enough toys to stock a store; put the kid in there and tell him he's on his own because you've got grown-up things you simply must do. Be sure you can keep a close eye on him, if he's tiny, but make him do some exploring on his own, for crying out loud. And speaking of crying out loud, don't fall for THAT one, either.

A child who doesn't have the inner resources to entertain himself becomes an adult who requires outside stimulation (shut up) at all times because they don't have what it takes to sit quietly and dream, or think, or draw, or read, or open the damn toy box and find something to play with. Requiring your children to learn to entertain themselves encourages them to become imaginative and creative. Being at your child's beck and call discourages these things.

Far too many parents give up and turn on the tv. That creates yet another generation of adults who can't entertain themselves; it has to come from OUTSIDE themselves. How many adults do you know who MUST keep the tv on pretty much 24/7 because they CAN'T function without some sitcom or show on, always? I know several. Listening to background music isn't the same thing at all, because there is no picture - often not child-friendly - for a kid to be captivated by.

I used to think I was pretty much alone in this reasoning until I read this month's Woman's Day and found an article full of helpful hints about raising children. Lo and behold, this one was among them!

Do not become your child's on-call playmate. Make your child entertain himself. Whenever you can, sit down and play with him, but honestly? Your kid does not need a grownup play buddy. Your child needs to learn how to figure out how to play by himself.

Is your child more important than housework or yard work or home office work, etc? Absolutely. But your child also needs to learn that Mommy or Daddy is NOT at their beck and call, 24/7.

"Playpen" is a dirty word for many parents, but the fact is, with a playpen, you can put your tiny tiny toddler in there with some toys and get some work done. "But he cries when I put him in there!" So what? Let him cry a while, and eventually he'll see he's getting nowhere and he'll start to play, by himself. This isn't a sad pitiful thing, poor lonely child, etc; it's a step towards independence and a step towards becoming a person who has what it takes to keep himself occupied and entertain himself, and become resourceful, so he won't grow up to become a person so in need of outside stimulation and affirmation and so "entitled" to attention in all aspects of life that he talks out loud in the theater, bellows in a restaurant, talks on his cell phone in public, is at a loss if he finishes a test early and is told to just sit there and read for ten minutes, doesn't have any homework and can't handle the free time in study hall, etc.

Play with your kids whenever you can. But don't let your kids rule your home, and don't deny yourselves your share of the "adult" world you are so very much entitled to by reason of your ever-advancing age. And yes, those ARE grey hairs and yes, they appeared AFTER you had kids.

Seriously? There is something sad and creepy about a parent so involved with her kids and their activities that her feelings are hurt when the kids don't invite her to play, too. It's almost as creepy as the kids who have no conception of figuring anything out themselves because a parent is ALWAYS there to explain every. single. little.thing.

The children's novel "Understood Betsy," which is one of my favorites, has this to say:

". . . Elizabeth Ann had always before thought it an essential part of railway journeys to be much kissed at the end and asked a great many times how you had 'stood the trip.'

She st very still on the high lumber seat, feeling very forlorn and neglected. Her feet dangled high above the floor of the wagon. She felt herself to be in the most dangerous place she had ever dreamed of in her worst dreams. Oh, why wasn't Aunt Frances there to take care of her! It was just like one of her bad dreams - yes, it was horrible! She would fall, she would roll under the wheels and be crushed to. . . She looked up at Uncle Henry with the wild eyes of nervous terror which always brought Aunt Frances to her in a rush to 'hear all about it,' to sympathize, to reassure.

Uncle Henry looked down at her soberly, his hard, weather-beaten old face unmoved. "Here, you drive, will you, for a piece?" he said briefly, putting the reins into her hands, hooking his spectacles over his ears, and drawing out a stubby pencil and a bit of paper. "I've got some figgering to do. You pull on the left-hand rein to make 'em go to the left and t'other way for 'other way, though 'tain't likely we'll meet any teams."

Elizabeth Ann had been so near one of her wild screams of terror that now, in spite of her instant absorbed interest in the reins, she gave a queer little yelp. She was all ready with the explanations, her conversations with Aunt Frances having made her very fluent in explanations of her own emotions. She would tell Uncle Henry about how scared she had been, and how she had just been about to scream and couldn't keep back that one little. . . But Uncle Henry seemed not to have heard her little howl, or, if he had, didn't think it worth conversation, for he. . . oh, the horses were CERTAINLY going to one side! She hastily decided which was her right hand (she had never been forced to know it so quickly before) and pulled on that rein. The horses turned their hanging heads a little, and, miraculously, there they were in the middle of the road again.

Elizabeth Ann drew a long breath of relief and pride, and looked to Uncle Henry for praise. But he was busily setting down figures as though he were getting his 'rithmetic lesson tor the next day and had not noticed. . . OH, there were were going to the left again! This time, in her flurry, she made a mistake about which hand was which and pulled wildly on the left line! The horses docilely walked off the road into a shallow ditch, the wagon tilted. . . help! Why didn't Uncle Henry help! Uncle Henry continued intently figuring on the back of his envelope.

Elizabeth Ann, the perspiration starting out on her forehead, pulled on the other line. The horses turned back up the little slope, the wheel grated sickeningly against the wagon-box - she was SURE they would tip over! But there! Somehow there they were in the road, safe and sound, with Uncle Henry adding up a column of figures. If he only knew, thought the little girl, if he only KNEW the danger he had been in, and how he had been saved. . . ! But she must think of some way to remember, for sure, which her right hand was, and avoid that hideous mistake again.

And then suddenly something inside Elizabeth Ann's head stirred and moved. It came to her, like a clap, that she needn't know which was right or left. If she just pulled the way she wanted them to go - the horses would never know whether it was the right or the left rein!

It is possible that what stirred inside her head at that moment was her brain, waking up. She was nine years old, and she was in the third A grade at school, but that was the first time she had ever had a whole thought of her very own. At home, Aunt Frances had always known exactly what she was doing, and had helped her over the hard places before she even knew they were there; and at school her teachers had been carefully trained to think faster than the scholars. Somebody had always been explaining things to Elizabeth Ann so carefully that she had never found out a single thing for herself before. This was a very small discovery, but it was her own. Elizabeth Ann was as excited about it as a mother-bird over the first egg she hatches.

She forgot how afraid she was of Uncle Henry, and poured out to him her discovery. "It's not right or left that matters! she ended triumphantly; "it's which way you want to go!" Uncle Henry looked at her attentively as she talked, eyeing her sidewise over the top of one spectacle-glass. When she finished - "Well, now, that's so," he admitted, and returned to his arithmetic.

It was a short remark, shorter than any Elizabeth Ann had ever heard before. Aunt Frances and her teachers had always explained matters at length. But it had a weighty, satisfying ring to it. The little girl felt the importance of having her statement recognized. She turned back to her driving."

If you're not familiar with Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield, run out and get it immediately! It's a charming story, full of delight.

That magazine article also advised parents not to tiptoe around the house and speak in whispers when the baby naps. Let the baby learn to sleep through the natural noises of a busy household, and you'll save yourselves and everyone who lives with you YEARS of tip-toeing and whispering. You'll also end up with a child who has learned not to wake up every time a feather falls to the floor.

I remember when Mom was teaching my brother to stay in his own bed all night. That first night, his crying broke all of our hearts, and it lasted pretty much all night, too. The next night, he went right to sleep and stayed in his bed all night.

They test us. They test us constantly. As they get older, the tests get harder. During the first years, they cry a lot to try and break us. As they get older, we cry a lot because sometimes, they do. But we can't let it show, or we've lost.

Oh, and that curse all mothers put on their kids, the one that goes "I hope, when you grow up and get married and have kids, that you have a kid who is JUST LIKE YOU."

That curse works.

By the way, the biggest problem with childrearing advice is that the best advice often comes from someone who has learned these things the hard way and wants to spare young parents from the same battles. The second biggest problem with the best childrearing advice is that young parents don't know what these old people could possibly know about raising children.

Times change. Babies don't.

Unless, by "change," you are referring to diapers, in which case, starting saving your money now. Oh, and if you've got a sensitivity to bad smells, buck up and get over it.

My point? Do I have to have one?

You are not obligated to play with your children every waking minute. You are an adult and you have things to do, too. Kids will learn if you give them no choice. Make sure they know you're nearby and can hear them, but require them to learn to develop inner resources for themselves. We've already got more than enough adults who don't have what it takes to keep themselves internally entertained; we certainly don't need any more.

One of them usually sits by me on a plane.

P.S. I'm not talking about newborns here, although I used to put mine in the playpen to keep the cat off her. I'm talking about toddlers on up. Duh.

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 11:32 PM | |


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