Cheryl Hughes: Self-Affirmation
I helped my daughter, Natalie, with her yard work on Saturday. My granddaughter, Sabria, had a friend over, a little girl who lived down the block. Sabria has a gazillion things in her room to entertain a person, so Natalie and I were puzzled when the little girl kept coming out onto the back deck to interact with us. Yeah, I know that is often the case with an only child, but this little girl has a younger sister and two slightly older brothers. The little girl also kept reporting on what Sabria was doing—putting pink hair chalk in her hair, rummaging around for ingredients to make slime, suggesting they ride their bicycles out on the road—all things that kids left to their own devices would do. (Natalie was thankful for the bicycles-on-the-road report. She nipped that one in the bud right quick.)
I’ve spent countless hours playing with Sabria, mostly when there weren’t kids nearby, but if she ever had an opportunity to have a friend over, they would be all over the place, and I’d have to go looking for them to make sure they hadn’t left the county. There are some children, however, who would rather have adult interaction. Sometimes, it’s because the child is highly intelligent and bored by play for the sake of play, but I also think it’s the fact that kids of today receive so much adult attention that attention from other kids doesn’t give them the same sense of affirmation that it did for my generation. We were always trying to impress one another, the last thing we wanted was for our parents to be privy to what we were up to.
If you scroll through the websites that have to do with getting your children to entertain themselves, you would think we have a national crisis in the area of self-affirmation. The articles have titles like, “Why Your Child Should Engage in Independent Play” and “How to Teach Your Children to Play on Their Own” and, my personal favorite, “My Kids Can’t Entertain Themselves and It’s Driving Me Bonkers.”
A few of these sites make suggestions like, “Don’t entertain your child every time he’s bored. Otherwise, you’ll be taking responsibility for curing his boredom” (verywellfamily.com). They suggest you teach your child that it’s ok to feel uncomfortable emotions, like boredom, sometimes. The sites also suggest activities for you to suggest to your children, like make butterflies from buttons, have a scavenger hunt, set up a make-shift zoo for your stuffed animals or make a bird feeder. Yeah, all that sounds good, but what happens in these situations is the parents will start the project, leave it with the kids, get drawn back into the project then find themselves by themselves, finishing off the project while the kids, who have gotten bored with the whole thing, have wandered off in search of another parent-adult to entertain them with another project. I’ve seen this whole process in action.
When my children were young, a prominent leader in child development made the statement that parents of my generation were having a confidence crisis in their own parenting skills; it was obvious, as evidenced by the amount of time those said parents were spending with their children yet still feeling like they were coming up short in the parenting department. I think what happened to my generation is that psychologists of the time went back over our parents’ parenting skills with a fine- tooth comb and pointed out all the ways they had failed. They admonished the parents of my generation to do better by A. Being accessible and B. Being attentive. They just didn’t tell us to what degree to be accessible and attentive, and since we grew up with parents who were rarely accessible or attentive, we had no litmus test by which to measure ourselves, so we erred on the side of excess.
Looking back, I think what the psychologists of the day should have suggested is something like “Teach yourself that it’s ok to feel uncomfortable emotions, like guilt, when you have to cook dinner instead of making a teepee with your six-year old.” That would sure have served me a lot better than the endless jumping through hoops I did to make sure I was A. Accessible and B. Attentive.