Thursday, August 10, 2017

Things Lost

I am in summer survival mode around here. That means: 1) I'm ready for the kids to go back to school and 2) I can't possibly keep up with them, so please don't look at the state of the house.

There is no camp for anybody this week. No visitors and no trips planned. Fritz has started teaching, so he's not around much. August is always teaching season for him. I won't lie: I'm always overwhelmed by handling both the end of the summer and the start of school year all by myself. You'd almost think it was planned: things like evening classes that Fritz has to teach only happen two or three times per year and every year it just happens to happen on Meet The Teachers Night. Where hundreds of nervous elementary aged kids run around on a playground under the auspice of getting to know their teachers and classmates. Riiiight. They should call it Lose Your Preschooler Night.

During summer survival mode, I adopt a policy of if-its-not-broke-don't-fix-it. I let the kids do what they want, assuming that it's safe and not hurting anyone. If the play seems rather pointless (like filling up endless cups with water and flowers), so what? It is makes a mess, we'll deal with that later. You want to make a salad with mint and carrots? Sure, why not? Just do it yourself. As long as they are happily playing, they get to play. I do not micromanage. In fact, I rather ignore them. When they start crying or fighting or going over the tip-top, I intervene. In order words: if they play well, they get to continue playing. And as soon as they stop playing well, they have to clean up the mess they made. Or I take them to the grocery store. Or I separate them. Whatever it may be. What I certainly DO NOT DO is put them on a schedule of any kind. It sounds counter-intuitive. But I find they will play quite well for hours on end as long as I don't intervene. Having a schedule (like: at 11am we are going to the pool and at 3pm we are meeting friends at the playground) is EXACTLY the way to make my life more miserable.

I think it interrupts their rhythm and their imaginations and they simply forget how to play if I am always pushing an agenda.

At the moment, we are badly in need of a trip to the grocery store, but they are wheeling themselves down the driveway in a toddler trailer. They are perfectly happily playing. So, we won't go to the grocery store until they are unhappy. And I will have some time to post.

In the spring, I had a job interview in which I was explaining this to an interviewer. For most of our professional life we are taught and expected to be planners. We think about what we are going to do when and why and we prioritize and write and down and then execute it as close to what we envisioned as possible. But being a stay at home parent doesn't work like that. At least, not comfortably: it's not about planning, it's about strategy. If planning works like a ladder: one step after the next, then strategy works like a tree. Every time the tree branches, you survey your options and choose the best route. You're still climbing, but it's more improvisation. And when the branch you are sitting on is strong and stable, you sit on it and rest a bit.

The thing is, this strategic type of thinking, which many people used to learn from parenting? It's a lost art, because there are so few of us who take the time to learn it anymore. We're busy with work and schools and camps and, generally: schedules. And if you notice the way so many of our kids are: sensory processing issues, ADHD, video games, massive amounts of screen time, easily bored, etc.  Well, you see the fallout from losing our strategic parenting skills.

1 comment:

Pregnantly Plump said...

I agree! About the lost art of not planning things for them. If left alone, two of the boys will play and play and play and play. They will have the best time. Inserting the third into the dynamic sometimes messes it up, but other times they will all three do all sorts of crazy, and I'm assuming fun, things.