I ignore my kids… seriously
Since becoming a mother almost 5 years ago I have read a variety of articles about ‘types’ of moms. Helicopter moms. Tiger moms. Free range moms. And, I have also seen real life mothers and children in their natural habitat - the playground (haha). What kind of mother am I? I have honestly laid awake at night thinking about this. Of course I want independent, confident, smart, funny, happy (the list goes on and on) children. And like all moms out there, I do the best I can, and sometimes my approach changes weekly, or daily, or heck, sometimes hourly. But one thing I can say for sure, is my children will be independent. And how do I know this? Because I ignore them. Seriously.
My 4.5 year old daughter can play for hours, and I mean hours, on her own. She will set a scene up, change it by adding or removing items - people, animals, cars, etc, change their outfits, add more characters…. her ideas flow and she doesn’t really require much adult input. My friends will ask, how does she do that? My very simple answer, I ignore her. I am not talking about the head-stuck-in-a-banister ignore, or practicing-lighting-the-birthday-candles-by-herself ignore. I am talking about the I-won’t-play-with-you-all-day-every-day kind of ignore.
My daughter was only 13 months old when I became pregnant with my son. I suffered from the normal pregnancy symptoms of some morning sickness and exhaustion. I would pile some toys and books next to the couch and lay down. She would play and babble and show me things now and then. I would narrate a story and she would play along. As my belly grew and my floor sitting became a distant memory, she would continue to play on the floor alone with her things. Then, baby boy came and my attention was split. I think we eased into a family of four because as special as my daughter was, she was able to occupy herself. She will flip through books, color/draw, play with her toys. Of course, like any kid, she does want me to play with her, and like any mom, of course I will. But, I also love knowing that I can make dinner or put the laundry away, or whatever else I need to do and she won’t be sitting there waiting for me before embarking on her next imagination adventure. And I am happy to report that little brother has learned this skill as well. He will lay on the floor pushing his cars around or set up his barn and move the animals. And of course, the best is when they unite forces and play together - laughing, crying, yelling - all the best sounds when coming from a pair of siblings. I try to let them work things out - sort of the ‘give a man fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’ approach - I try to teach my children the skills of playing, sharing, negotiation, and patience, so when I am not there, they can work things out with each other, and other kids. And by ignoring them, and letting them work it out, I am giving them lifelong skills. Until tomorrow, when I have a new approach to parenting….
Erica Young has a MA in Early Childhood Education from New York University. She is currently a stay at home mom to a 4 year old pony loving ballerina and a 2 year old metrocard holding bus driver.
Photograph: The Poopsie Collective
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