I have been thinking a lot about raising children today, and have been raiding the library for books such as Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids, Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting, Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds, and Parenting, Inc.. These are just a few of the parenting books I have read this summer, but they are some of my favorites. Probably because they all speak to what I have been seeing with my friends and family members who are parents of young children today.
I naively thought before I had children that this type of hyper-parenting today was only present in families with two working parents. After all, they have limited time to be with their kids and they want to make the most of it, right? But I was completely wrong. This culture of "I want to have the smartest, happiest, most well-rounded kid" affects us all, even the moms who stay at home in little Texas towns.
Milne Shepard tried to kill off Winnie-the-Pooh in The House at Pooh Corner
"Pooh!"This quote is so bittersweet to me. I have so many friends raising kids who never allow their family to do Nothing. Every free minute is planned with homework, soccer games, piano lessons, Spanish lessons, television, shopping, etc.
"Yes, Christopher Robin?"
"I'm not going to do Nothing any more."
"Well not so much. They don't let you."
This also effects the families with stay-at-home moms or dads. Look around my country neighborhood and you usually won't see any children playing outside, even those young ones at home with a parent. No children catching crayfish in the ditches, no children playing a spontaneous game of baseball, and no children sitting under a shady tree reading a good book.
These kids are at mother's-day-out, music lessons, math tutors, playing organized sports, swim lesson, horse-riding lessons, art lessons at the museum, watching baby genius videos, and shopping at the mall. I know stay-at-home moms who are more exhausted than working moms because their life revolves around trying to entertain, socialize, and "smartalize" (my word) their kids. Smart children are a status symbol now.
I also was naive in thinking that most mothers who homeschool do it because they want their kids to learn in a relaxed environment. I decided that if you taught at home you could spend some time studying frogs in the pond at your neighborhood park and learning Spanish from your native speaking neighbors and not have to worry about spending half of your day riding the bus, learning for meaningless No Child Left Behind standardized tests, and taking classes that have no use in real life.
I decided to go to an introductory meeting on a very popular homeschooling method in my area. They use the classical mode of education, and I decided they would be a great support system for us.
Everyone there was not only incredibly nice, but the parents and children appeared very intelligent. Shockingly so. In other words, I felt like a hayseed...
However, these intelligent parents who were giving up their free time to educate their children were not interested in their children doing Nothing. Oh no, these parents wanted to make sure their kids had the best education and would be very successful in their future high-powered careers. They wanted smart kids. And smart kids don't do Nothing because they don't have time.
I realized I was in over my head right away. One parent, a mother of two little children, asked if her 3 almost 4 year old could start the program because he was very advanced. A program that is meant for 5-6 year olds. They said absolutely if she thinks he can stay still. I have a 3 year old and the only time he sits still is when his brother tapes him to a chair. Seriously...
Another father who wanted to start his older middle-school children in the program was most concerned about their chances of getting into Ivy League schools. Many of the parents perked up when they heard this because many of them had gone to Harvard and Yale or other "good" colleges and wanted the same thing for their kids. Luckily these parents were assured that studies had shown that many of the students who went through this program did attend the top schools and become very successful.
But it was a comment from one of the teachers in the program that really hit home with me. She told a story about how her two year old had every street name memorized around their house, and if only she had been aware back then (before she started homeschooling), she could have started teaching him math rather than "useless" street names.
Finally they had each new parent talk about the ages of their children and when they started homeschooling. Most of the parents had two kids and they started homeschooling at 2 or 3. These parents were intelligent, kind and very enthusiastic about their children. Honest good parents who will do anything for their children.
Then it was my turn. I blushed and said "I have a 3 and 5 year old and I haven't started homeschooling yet because I think it is more important that kids play when they are little. They have plenty of time for school later on".
Oh my, the room got quiet. The parents and teachers gave each other knowing looks because it was obvious they had an underachieving parent in their midst. After all, their looks said, children are born to learn and are very bright from day one, so why would any parent waste that time doing Nothing with their child?
Yes, my children often do Nothing. They can't tell you all of the presidents in order, speak Chinese, read Latin (or even English), or tell you the history of the world from day one until today. My youngest won't even say his ABC's unless I am out of earshot. Shockingly, I don't think formal learning should start before a child is 5 or 6.
My children spend most of their days doing Nothing. But Nothing in our house can be pretty exciting. Nothing is playing in the mud, helping Dad drive the tractor, playing card games, watching the chickens chasing insects, reading books in the library, going to the hardware store with Dad, learning how to fold laundry, helping cook dinner, feeding their cats, playing with their friends, hanging out with their older relatives, building elaborate marble slides with found objects in our house and creating their own art.
Sometimes Nothing is not so fun and might include sitting in their room quietly because they were doing Nothing and upset mom. Like writing POOP on the bathroom wall with a Sharpie.
There are many times Duke comes to me and says "Mom, what can I do, I am bored!". A part of me wants to turn on a nature program on TV or perhaps give him some cool art kit to work on. But I suck it up and look at him and tell him that he could help me clean the toilets, they are pretty dirty. He usually decides to go find something to do with his brother, but sometimes we both get down and dirty cleaning. Being bored in our house almost always leads to creativity and sometimes even a clean bathroom.
You probably noticed the strange paper objects in the photo on top of this post. A few days ago Duke was bored and I told him to do an art project. I was working on lunch and didn't offer to help. He pulled out some paper, pipe cleaners, staples, and a hole punch and made that raft on the right without consulting me once. Imp made the boat on the left side, also completely on his own. They were so proud of their creations. And they actually usually love doing Nothing.
I have realized that being a parent can be hard work at times. But it doesn't have to always be that way. It doesn't matter whether you work outside of home or stay at home or homeschool or private/public school your kids, you can always find time to do Nothing with them. Tell yourself that allowing your children to be bored can force them to learn how to be creative and entertain themselves. Nonstop motion is stressful for you AND your kids. We all need some Nothing time. Even when we grow up and leave Winnie-the-Pooh behind. ;-)
I would love to hear your favorite Nothing you like to do with your kids!