Do things with your child.
I don’t mean that you don’t already do things with your child. I know you do. You help her read and do homework, you do chores together, you drive her to school sports activities parties…
But the things I’m talking about doing with your child are the things that your child wants to do – that you probably don’t want to do.
Like when your 2-year old wants to play ball, and all you have energy for is sinking into bed. Or when you have a deadline looming and your child is determined to lay out all her dolls and have an elaborate fashion show.
If I were faced with either of the above situations, I would beg to be excused. “I’m too tired / tense, so it wouldn’t be much good my playing with you right now, but I will definitely play with you …” (I’d mention a specific time).
And then, I’d make sure to do what I said I’d do.
Whenever your child asks you to do something with him, you may be willing and able to do it – or not, but know this: what your child will remember is how often you put him off. So you need to make a conscious decision each time your child asks you to do something – will this be yet another instance that he ‘remembers’, or will you both have a great time doing something together?
But maybe only your child has a great time doing the thing – you don’t!
When she was little, my daughter loved imagining stories with dozens of characters, each of whom she named. She described each character’s traits in detail, and if the name didn’t match the character sketch, it was changed. As a result, a 2-hour marathon session of ‘playing’ could result in a hundred-odd characters which were related to each other in some way, whose names and personalities were defined, but no story had been finalized – there was no sequence of events.
And every time we began the game, we played it from the beginning; or at least so close to the beginning, that we never really got the story off the ground. I love imagining games too, but it was a terrible strain trying to remember what the fifth daughter’s smallest doll was called, and how she looked! 🙂
My daughter would accuse me of not being interested, of having a bad memory, and of not ‘playing’ properly. I told her I simply couldn’t remember so much detail, especially since some of it changed every now and then. And what was the point of going on about all these people (and animals – but there I still tremble to go! 🙂 ) when the story just didn’t move forward?
But she was adamant. “You don’t play properly. And if you don’t play properly, I’ll be very angry with you and when I grow up, I won’t let you come to my house to visit me.” I was being threatened by a 2.5-foot high piece! 🙂
She loved the game and I didn’t. From my point of view, I was being the loving parent, sacrificing so much time and mind space towards utter banalities, indulging her, and she was threatening me because she didn’t appreciate what I was doing for her. Impasse.
This is a trap most parents tend to fall into. We do things ‘for’ our children, things we would rather not do if left to ourselves, and then we resent it when our kids don’t appreciate that we’re doing all this ‘for’ them.
Hmmm – time to introspect. I stepped away and told her I needed a few days of not playing the game to see what we could do to make things better.
I realized that my daughter didn’t care two hoots about my playing the game with her. What she really wanted was that I should ‘enjoy’ the game as much as she did. My playing the game was no good unless I got into the spirit of it. She didn’t want a martyr-type attitude from me – which is what she was getting.
I, on the other hand, wanted to put in the least possible effort towards playing the game to get the maximum parental mileage out of it: “My mom plays with me all the time! We have a great time!” And it wasn’t happening.
So which was more important to me?
I decided on a compromise. I told her I’d love to play the game “properly”, but I couldn’t play it as often as she wanted me to. So I could either play “not properly” 4 times a week, or “properly” twice a week. The ball was back in her court.
She chose (predictably) “properly” twice a week. And so, I put my best foot forward and really got into the spirit of the game. She was delighted, and I was thrilled too – because my ‘doing’ things with her was finally getting me the brownie points I wanted as a parent.
The lessons I learnt about ‘doing’ things with your child?
1. Do what your child wants – This is his game. Let him set the rules (but not change them to his convenience if he’s losing! 🙂 ). Let him decide what kind of game it will be. Let him be in the driver’s seat. Don’t tell him how to play; it is his game – you’re just playing it.
2. Concentrate on enjoying yourself – Unless you are clearly enjoying yourself, your child doesn’t register your ‘doing’. Get into the spirit of the game. Just as eating requires that you chew every mouthful to get the maximum flavor, apply yourself to every move, concentrate on every roll of the die, deliberate on every swing of the bat… Discuss the game afterwards – this is a big one. Usually, you only discuss things afterwards if you’ve had ‘fun’ doing them. 🙂
3. Ignore winning and losing – Do not play to win, but don’t play to lose either. The first is competitive, and remember, you’re ‘doing’ because you’re trying to make parenting easier on yourself and your child. The second smacks of ‘lying’, and though your child may appreciate your effort in the beginning, in the long run, the falsity of what you are doing will far outweigh any potential (if at all) benefits of such ‘playing’.
4. Go with the flow – As your child grows older and his interests change, the game may change rules, players, or it may be a completely different game. The little girl who only wanted to play with dolls may be fixated on chess now. And then it might be video games. Whatever it is, do it.
5. Let your child teach you – This is perhaps the most difficult thing for parents to do. I don’t know anything about dance, and my daughter lives, breathes, eats and sleeps dance (and a few other things). She’s always telling me about the new moves they learnt in class or exercises they do that will help me get fit or asking me to watch dance movies and videos with her.
So much of the joy we get is from sharing the things we love with the people we love. Even if it is not your ‘thing’, let your child tell you about how to animate a character, or play golf, or play a tune, or write a software program. When we refuse to participate, when we turn our face away, we deprive ourselves of shared joy and love; we extinguish the spark in our children.
You’ve spent your life showing and teaching him things. Let him experience what it feels like to be in your shoes, and let yourself be the one taught. Go ahead and let him teach you about the things that excite him. Learn actively, eagerly from him. If you pay attention, it will open up a whole new world of communication and connection with him. 🙂
Do write back and share your experience as you try out these parenting basics – I’m sure you’ll find you’ve put the zing back into your life with your child. Happy carefree parenting! 🙂