"PLAY IS OFTEN TALKED ABOUT AS IF IT WERE A RELIEF FROM SERIOUS LEARNING. BUT FOR CHILDREN PLAY IS SERIOUS LEARNING. PLAY IS REALLY THE WORK OF CHILDHOOD." - FRED ROGERS
Leave it to Mr. Rogers to deliver me the parenting advice that I needed. Just when I was teetering on the edge of ridiculousness the man with the loving smile and stellar cardigan collection grounded me and reminded me what childhood is all about. What I LOVED about childhood.
We tend to know the answers to things and yet push aside that simple knowledge (i.e..children are meant to play) with what other voices have allowed to creep into our minds (i.e. My kid needs to be focused, ever attentive and positively crushing it in sports/school/life/etc..).That would be the more unrealistic of the two.
I've written this post about 3 different ways and each time I reread what I've written I want to give myself a little smack across the hand with a ruler.
Let me back up. It seems to me that childhood has changed. No, it doesn't seem....it has! At least the parenting side of things. I read once that parents used to 'raise' their kids but now we 'parent' them. Many Moms run their kids' lives like a small business. Scheduling them up in activities to help them find their passion and be put on the road to success. Researching the right school with spreadsheets and interviews to assure that this child is taught well. I'll admit. I've totally caught myself in a couple of these situations. Naturally, I look around me. I see kids who are in soccer/lacrosse/after school enrichment programs/lego builder clubs/chess club. (I should note the child I'm referring to here is SIX). I can't help but think "Am I missing something? Is my child missing out? Did I not read that parenting book!?"
When I was Six I was in dance and tumbling and maybe little league over the summer. But never do I recall my parents getting frustrated with me because my writing wasn't 'where it should be' or that I wasn't taking the game or class seriously enough. "This is your future, Amanda!" was never something I heard at the tender age of 6. I honestly remember playing with neighborhood kids, riding my bike, digging in dirt and looking for roly polys. It was AWESOME!
So something that happened that made me realize my crazy. The example is at one of my 6-year old's recent soccer games. I caught myself getting super frustrated at him because he didn't seem to be taking it seriously. He wasn't focused. Playing aggressively enough. He was more interested in being silly with his teammates. (Classic class clown which I'm pretty sure he gets from me). I was so frustrated with him. I told him to get into the game. Focus. And in that very moment I gave myself a mental smack across the face. Frankly, the look he gave me made me want to crawl in a hole.
He's a six year old boy. Of course he's more interested in playing and being silly. That's exactly what he SHOULD be doing at this age. How many six year olds are 'serious' about anything other than what they are going to play at that moment and with who?
So I know this truth. And yet....the energy around me (people, school, expectations) tells me that by NOT having him focused and involved in every activity known to man makes me a failure. That I'm not setting him up for success. And then I read that quote up top from Mr. Rogers and a light bulb went off. I tend to be a little over-dramatic and over the top so when I read that my first instinct was.."Yes! Let's get rid of most of the toys. Throw the TV away and just get this kid PLAYING. Outside preferably". I want dirty nails. Bug collections. Mud Pies. That is the real learning of a child.
So this me saying that I am 100% going to ease up on the expectations despite what anyone else is doing. I'm lowering my bar so he can raise his on his own time. After all, I know what's best for my kid. He's going to learn to read really well. On his own time. He's going to find a sport or activity that will get him so excited that he'll be serious about it and want to do nothing else. On his own time. Scheduling him to death isn't going to make him a Harvard grad. If anything it could crush his self esteem or crush his childlike wonder which is what I LOVE about him to begin with.....
I'm going to just let them be little and do my job to set him up for success...teach him empathy, honesty, how to love, etc...and to PLAY!