I was tidying in the kitchen when I peeked out the window to see my four-year-old playing in the backyard. He was lying with his belly on a swing, looking at the ground, and moving himself around in little circles. A pang of guilt hit me, and I felt a quick urge to leave my chores and go out to engage him. But then I checked myself. Although he looked lonely and bored, that probably wasn’t the case.
He was probably thinking some interesting thoughts or watching bugs live their lives. It’s likely he was enjoying his own peaceful company and discovering the world around him. He didn’t need me to rescue him. He was deeply engaged in his own world.
In today’s very stimulating environment, moments like these are sacred for kids. They need quiet time and space to hear their own thoughts, discover their own beliefs, and pursue their own interests. Our kids don’t only need good relationships with us- they need it with themselves, too.
As parents, we are advised to read, sing, play, teach, and talk to our kids endlessly. Rarely are we told to leave them the heck alone, and no, not with the TV on. Leave them to their own devices, and no, not technological ones. Children need space to cultivate contentment and beat to their own drum. A little bit of this goodness never hurt parents, either.
When I had my first child more than four years ago, I was committed to being the best parent I could be. I spent my days sounding like Mother Goose until I grew weary of my own voice. I stacked blocks, played peek-a-boo, and read books over and over again. It was draining. I felt guilty for the moments I wasn’t actively engaged with my little one, until I burnt out.
Parenting like this gobbled me whole. Becoming a mother was transforming enough, without handing myself over completely. I could hardly recognize myself or remember the things I personally enjoyed. I did everything I thought would make me a great parent, except allow myself to really relax and enjoy motherhood.
I realized I needed boundaries. Constantly entertaining my child was exhausting, and was a disservice to him, too. I continually directed and interrupted his play with my own fabulous ideas and phony enthusiasm. Now, I have more respect, not only for myself, but for him, too. Dr Belton, who is an expert on the impact of emotions on behavior and learning said, “Children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them.”
Parents need the same. I want to be not only a mom, but an individual. I want to play with my children, but I also want to think my own thoughts and pursue my own passions. For these reasons, I learned to foster independence in my children, and trust that they are well and capable without my constant intervention and attention.
I used to feel bad when my child wasn’t stimulated, but now I know that boredom isn’t scary or a sign of neglect. It’s the root of creativity and discovery.
Since those early days of motherhood, I learned to interact with my children in ways I truly enjoy. I play with them when I want to, which is often. I laugh when I feel like laughing. I sing when I feel like singing. And I jump when I feel like jumping. But I don’t pretend to be into something I’m not. I don’t overdo it. I no longer walk around with a big red ball on my nose. I’ve learned to sit back and just watch my children in their own element, and because of this, I know them better. They understand me better, too. I enjoy motherhood more that ever. I am finally thriving as a parent and an individual, and allowing my child to flourish, too.
Still, when I catch of peek of my unoccupied child, I sometimes grapple with guilt. I need to remind myself that I’m not supposed to constantly entertain them. We’re all worthy of a little downtime, and better for it.
If your kids look a little under-stimulated, there’s a good chance you’re doing something right. Leave them alone a minute, and they will find something very interesting to do or imagine on their own. Deeply and authentically connect with you children throughout the day, but don’t feel guilty for giving them plenty of time and space to kick rocks around, too.
Copyright Amanda Elder, 2016. Originally published on BonBonBreak.
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