“Leave the child alone.”
-D.H.Lawrence, ‘Education of the People’, 1918
This is a frequent refrain in one of my favourite parenting books: ‘The Idle Parent’ by Tom Hodgkinson. It reminds me that even in this crazy age of digital entertainment, and boundless extra curricular opportunities, kids still have a need for quiet and space. A need to kick back, play and just be, unencumbered by our agenda of their personal development.
As homeschoolers, we have the benefit of more time in our day, for both structured activities and free play, but we also have that nagging voice in the back of our minds asking, ”If we are taking on the responsibility of their education, isn’t it our job to fill in all possible gaps? Enrol them in any activity they express an interest in, not missing the one niche that may be their life’s calling?”
Yielding to this fear can have us packing our schedule full to the point of exhaustion in an effort to do right by our kids. I am not immune. My eldest has been put into some classes out of a misguided notion that he should be learning this, that or the other thing. Or in the belief that the picture of childhood is incomplete without a particular experience -our dog for example.
And while these extras can be fun, and sometimes truly elevating, they should not, in my opinion, be the foundation of their childhood.
When I was a kid, my brothers and I ran all over the neighbourhood playing hide and seek and baseball, chewing double bubble, and engaging in childish neighbourhood rivalries. We went to school, took music and swimming lessons (never in the same season), and went on family outings, but there was still scad loads of time to lose myself in a book, spend hours in my imagination dreaming up what-if scenarios (an essential hobby for any budding writer), and walk around saying, “I’m bored.”
Where is my mom in these happy memories? I know she was there, available when needed, making sure we ate, bathed and slept, I know she and other parents were often on front porches, keeping an eye or ear out for trouble, but in this ‘free time’, it was all about us, the kids, in our own world.
“…and you don’t hang around talking when someone comes over. You mind your own business.” -Ramona Quimby paying her mother a compliment in ‘Ramona’s World’ by Beverly Cleary
Mom, thank you! You gave us a rich, exciting childhood and modelled my new favourite super power: Invisible Parenting.
When my kids are walking aimlessly around the house, crying out that there is nothing to do, that they are so bored, I do what all parents do; remind them, exasperated, of all the toys they have, all the games and art supplies. I tell them to go play out in the yard, look at books, or, their favourite, do a chore!
When they realize I’m not coming to their rescue, or mentioning television, they collapse with a deep sigh, one eye on me for any sign of wavering. This is the moment. The sweet spot. This is when I go to my little nook in the kitchen and get busy with something, quietly, nothing that could possibly interest them, and within moments, they are sorting it out for themselves.
This is when all of a sudden, siblings don’t look so un appealing. When the couch seems to be made for fort building, or important robot designs beg to be sketched.
The trick here is to become invisible. Not neglectful, just on the peripheral. Keep quiet, and don’t make eye contact when you sneak a peek, or the spell will be broken. You can make a phone call, read a bit of an adult book, make lunch, drink tea, clean up- whatever.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of books read, snuggles had, snacks munched and adventures made here-together, but in these pockets of time, they are figuring out how to be content with the present moment. They are contemplating, making discoveries, and building relationships with siblings. This is important.
Leave them alone!