Back off, Mom. I’m trying to play!

First off, let me apologize in advance.  I’m sure that someone out there is going to be pissed off by what I’m about to say. I may hit too close to home or be talking about someone you know.  But since this is my blog and you don’t have to read it, I won’t be offended if you don’t get all the way through the post.  Just know that I’m a good person.

As I type this, Ella is taking a lovely little nap that was induced by some heavy playing today at the Children’s Museum of Denver.  I love that place!  I think it’s a little pricey, but it’s fun.  If you live here and have a kid, you need to go.  I love sitting and watching Ella–our little cautious observer (a trait she acquired from both of us).  When she has stared at her surroundings long enough, she is ready to jump in with both feet.  It’s really fun to watch and wonder what goes through that little mind of hers.

So, I usually sit back and watch from afar.  On the weekends when Derek is home and we go somewhere all together, he and I sit back and let her explore the world on her own.  We give her room to breathe and freedom to take things in as she deems appropriate.  We aren’t negligent, mind you, we just aren’t on her back telling her what to play with, how to play with it, run faster, climb this, watch this, talk to this kid, etc.  I also don’t worry about every bug, piece of wood, rock, kid, sidewalk, shoelace, or blade of grass that she comes into contact with.  I let her tackle those all on her own, and if one or all of those end up in her mouth, it is not a travesty that sends us running for the hills.

I’m sure you sense my sarcasm here–you’re a smart person.  What I’m getting at is that I really can’t stand watching parents do all of the things I mentioned above.  At the museum today, I watched moms whisk their kids away because they were taking too long at the play stations.  I don’t understand why.  You want your kid to enjoy themselves, right?  There weren’t lines forming and there is no time limit, so why?  I watched parents get right into the tree tunnels with their kids and push them through, all while blocking the path for other kids to fit in.  Again, why?  If they’re too timid or young for the activity, why push them into it?  There was a cool tree thing that mimicked tree-climbing and I really wanted Ella to try.  I held her hand and put her up the trunk, but she whimpered and held her arms to me.  She wasn’t ready and it was okay.  She won’t be scarred later in life or become a coward because she didn’t climb it at 21 months old.

Yes, I want Ella to experience many things, but I want her to experience them when she’s ready to.  I also want her to learn from others, and feel a sense of independence by playing with other children instead of relying on me.  The playground is full of children, so why on earth would I not want her to play with them?  I just don’t get some parents!!  Ella would walk near kids and their parents would push them past her.  What the hell is wrong with my kid that yours can’t play with her?!  Oh right, her mom is cool and you’re not!

So, there I was at the museum today, with a few select parents around me, just watching and observing my child play.  She went down the same slide no less than 10 times. She sat in the tree house and let a boy cook for her as she stacked blocks at the table.  She pulled radishes from the little garden and put them back in the wrong holes.  Then she cooked me breakfast of oatmeal and an orange in a little wooden bowl.  Not once did I tell her what to play with or how to play with them.  Yes, I got bored of watching the same thing over and over again, but I didn’t push her away because she was having fun.  My OCD cranked in when I saw her put the play dishes away in the wrong places, but I fought it!  She was learning.  And she was happy.

I pondered all this while sitting on a little wood stool in the corner of the playroom:  Am I the psycho one?  Do I not care enough to follow my kid around and tie her to an imaginary leash?  Am I lazy because I’d rather just sit here and watch her play? Are other parents judging me?  I’ve always been controlling and obsessive, and why aren’t I that way with Ella?  Is it because I had her at 34?  If I were younger would I be all over her?  I don’t try to be this way–it’s just what feels right–so why am I worried?

My only conclusion is that we’re doing it right and everyone else is wrong. Just kidding…sort of!  I know that at the end of the day, parents all  want what’s best for our kids.  Most of us aren’t entirely sure how to do that, so we overcompensate and pretend really well and convince ourselves that we do.  We’d be bad parents if we weren’t in control at all times and have everything figured out, right?  Wrong.

Derek and I let Ella fall–not onto a bed of nails or off a tailgate, mind you, but we let it happen.  We let her take risks–mentally and physically–and watch as the outcomes unfold.  Sometimes it’s hard for us, and it will get more challenging as she gets older.  But this is how she learns.  And not that I need to justify my parenting to anyone, this is not to say that Ella is in control of us.  She pushes her limits every day, as every good toddler does.  Mommy and Daddy are in charge.  But when it comes to playing and discovering, she takes the lead.  And we are always there to lend a lap and a band-aid when the crying starts.

Sometimes I really miss the old days.  Remember those days?  Where kids played outside, got lice, fell off their bikes, played in dirty neighborhood pools, and had real life friends (not virtual ones via video games).  It seems like kids don’t get hurt anymore because parents are too busy not letting them do anything or running to their rescue every time a piece of dirt gets near their mouths.  I don’t know–I spend the majority of my waking hours with teenagers and I see the effects.  I’d say the two biggest issues I see daily are lack of coping skills and lack of critical thinking/problem solving skills.  Gee, I wonder why that could be when Mom and Dad make every decision at every turn…  And it starts now–at Ella’s age.

As I said earlier, some of you may disagree with my views on this.  But today, I gave myself a pat on the shoulder.  I don’t hover and swoop in at every moment of turmoil.  I am teaching my child to solve things on her own and approach the world in a way that is meaningful for her.  Truth be told, I’m surprised I’m not one of those moms.  I grew up being steered and controlled by my mother and that’s what I know. I also know how much I hated it.  I bailed at the first chance I got.  My mother and I don’t have a relationship now because of it.  I don’t want that for me and my little Ella.

I look forward to watching my independent, head-strong, willed and courageous toddler become a little girl.  Watch out world!!

~Marisa

<= don’t mess with me!

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4 responses to “Back off, Mom. I’m trying to play!

  1. Thank you for this post Marissa. I have to say it got me thinking. Am I a little bit one of these controlling parents u were talking about? I think I am and I don’t want to. I always pray that I am a good parent and that I do things different than my mom, things I didn’t like growing up…. . I am a single mom and i hate the fact that I have to be the good guy, the bad bad guy, the loving mon, the disciplinarian dad, the one kissing the bubu’s and telling her ‘get up, u gonna be ok’. I am worried because I feel at times I am to worried about some things that I shouldn’t be. I’m wondering sometimes do I dot his because I’m selfish and don’t want to feel the pain when she falls scrapes her knees and cries? Could that be? Would it be ok to let her do the stuff that might cause her to fall and scrape those knees and cry like it is the worse pain ever? I don’t know sometimes but I can tell you, thanks to your post I will start to pay attention and to do things a little different. So, thank you!!

    • Cos, there is no doubt in my mind that you’re a good parent. My mom was a single mom too and had to play all of the roles that Derek and I do together. And I think that’s why she controlled as much as she did–it was easier for her to do that than deal with the consequences (and expense) of us getting hurt.
      It sucks to watch our kids cry–literally and metaphorically–but it’s necessary, I think. We have to let them fall so that they know how to pick themselves back up.
      And I don’t think you’re like the parents I am talking about. They are the extreme. And don’t get me wrong–we don’t let Ella run with scissors or stick screw drivers into light sockets!!

  2. OK! You are right on, right on. Ella’s a very fortunate toddler to have you and D for her parents. When she starts talking and people ask her direct questions, let her speak for herself. It’s hard sometimes when she may not want to open her mouth to answer. Try not to invoke the words from her. Just shrug at the person and smile, walk away and let her figure it out. I’ve observed parents on Island handle it that way and the children are independent, intelligent youngsters growing up. It’s fun to watch this in group settings. You’re doing it right Sticky Fingers!

    • Thanks Marguerite! You’re right–sometimes it is hard to watch and shrug, but you have to do it otherwise they’ll always think you’ll provide the out for them.

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