Just Chute Me! (Or: Do We REALLY Have To Play With Our Kids?)

Filed under: Opinions

Here's my husband's brilliant book idea: "The Lazy Dad's Guide to Fun with Kids." It would contain all sorts of games exhausted parents could play without ever getting off the couch. Think: Shoe store. ("Hey kids, I'd like to buy some slippers!") And bus driver. ("Everyone onto the bus!")

Of course, he never got around to writing it -- too tired -- and now our kids are 11 and 13. But it popped into my mind when I talking with a very wise pre-school teacher yesterday who she shared her secret for raising happier, spunkier kids:

"Don't. Entertain. Them."

It was like the Tiddly Winks falling from my eyes. That's it! We have taken on the job of entertaining our kids when it is THEIR job to entertain themselves!

As modern day parents, we have been conditioned to believe our job is to stimulate/educate/entertain our kids every waking moment, whether that's via enrichment classes, museum trips, or using big words when we change their diapers. ("My, we're pungent today!") But the very best kind of stimulation, we've been told a million times, is the kind that involves us getting down on the carpet, playing horsie to our child's princess or cowboy or glue factory. (Depending on whether they've had a nap.)

You must play with your kids is so ingrained that we feel terrible when we're bored sick by the idea of pouring another imaginary cup of tea. But maybe, like most pain, that boredom is trying to tell us something: Kiddie games are for KIDS. They really don't need us!

In other countries, reports Utah State Anthropology Professor David Lancy, they already know that. When adults there hear that we play games with our kids, it's like hearing we go to work in feety pajamas. They laugh!

It's only in the so-called "Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic" [W.E.I.R.D.] countries that parents believe they must personally enrich each moment with love and learning. The rest of the world believes the parent's job is role model, not playmate.

This makes sense: Don't we want to raise kids who can figure out something to do when they're bored?

Besides whining, I mean?

My friend Alison felt guilty for not playing with her kids when they were begging her. Instead she'd point to a chore and say, "Ok. You can help me do X" and off they scurried! It's only with the help of 10 years' hindsight that now she sees her "benign neglect" made them independent and creative -- at least "for the most part."

My husband came up with his "Lazy Dad's Guide" idea because, like me, he was convinced we had to play, play, play with our kids, even when we were too tired to budge from the couch. Turns out, we could have just relaxed there together and role-modeled a rarity: Sane parents.

Related: Do They Have a Merit Badge for Texting Yet?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.