Friday, January 21, 2011

Permitting Play Time

My youngest sister, H, and her little son.

 During the three years I parented my two little grandsons, I gradually came to the conclusion that young parents are under enormous pressure. It seems greater than I remember from the time when my own children were small.

There is an intense push to have your child enrolled in multiple activities, to provide a constant barrage of educational experiences and classes of every description. I also think there is a bigger pressure now to be seen as the perfect nurturer, and to produce a child who is viewed somehow as "more special" than the rest.

In my months standing outside the school waiting for kindergarten dismissal each day, I listened to a litany of parents discussing their child-rearing methods and children’s achievements. There appeared to be an almost desperate need to display superior philosophies.

"We have her in dance three times a week now. The teacher says she’s very gifted."

"We already often eat dinner in the car. I don’t know what I’ll do once the baby is old enough to start activities!"

"He has developed a strong sense of personal space. He is a spirited boy.", said one mother, smiling as her son shoved several children out of his way as he pushed to the head of the line.

I don't like the guilt-mongering and pressure. We parents and grandparents need to be kinder and more gentle with each other. No matter what my preferences and prejudices, the goal should be happy, healthy children ... all children ... not just mine because they're somehow more deserving or "special" than yours. As though all other children are lacking, cheated, less worthy.

An excellent surgeon I once worked with, a very nice, empathic man, shared something with a group of us one day. He was taken aback when his eight year old daughter, after being informed that one of her extra-curricular classes had been cancelled, exclaimed joyfully, "Daddy, do I really have a whole afternoon off?!" If I remember correctly, this little girl was involved in a dizzying array of activities which included piano lessons, dance, gymnastics and Japanese Kumon.

During the holidays, I watched my youngest grandson, aged four, completely absorbed in arranging a series of small sticks in the snow, rocks dotted here and there alongside small cars in an elaborate design of his own making. His mind was cradled in its own rocking.

I passionately believe that children need, as we all do, spaces where passions and visions dance without specific shape. Being over-programmed with scheduled activity takes a toll not just on the child’s soul and body, but on those of its parents as well.

Maybe the only remedy is to permit ourselves and our children to play. To become absorbed in the apparent nothing which is everything.

My grandson, D (in the orange shirt), playing with some of his kindergarten friends.


  1. I don't know why, but some people bring out my competitive streak and I find I have to resist getting into a game of one-upmanship with them. But I try not to play this game where my grandchildren are concerned. My grandparent friends and I brag about our grandchildren, of course, but we also share our concerns. Our grandchildren sometimes have trouble at school, talk back and refuse to eat their vegetables. They are not perfect, and it would be way too much strain to act as if they are.

  2. I just wanted to say what a great post this is, Jo. But then, I guess you already know that we're singing from the same song-sheet.