Fairies and Philosophy

By , March 3, 2008 9:47 pm

On Saturday my 7 year-old daughter had her always homeschooled 9 year-old friend over. I went about my business listening with amusement to the chatter and negotiations involved in a complicated game of “fairies,” complete with multiple changes of fairy outfits.

In the context of the recent NPR reports about the disappearance (and importance of) good old-fashioned imaginative play, the afternoon of overhearing the girls play fairies resonated with me even more than usual. In case you missed it, I wrote about both these reports recently (Imaginative Play and Cognitive Function and “Creative Play Makes for Kids in Control”).

Side note: I wonder how many 7 and 9 year-old girls play fairies any more?

I have spent a lot of time in the past week reflecting on my “parenting-style,” such as it is. Here are a few highlights:

1) Obviously I believe that too many electronic toys, games, video games and TV can be harmful. You only have to look at the title of my blog to figure that one out!

2) I have also never felt that I needed to be my children’s activity-director (like Julie on The Love Boat, to bring a TV-related image into this). See: How to get by Without the Electronic Babysitting Box. My mother didn’t spend all day entertaining me, although I certainly would have liked it if she did. There is a very common belief out there that if your children are TV-free, more input and direction are required of the parents. Many feel that a TV-free life means getting fewer things done for yourself, and a commitment to spending lots of time with your child. I have to say that I respectfully disagree with this school of thought. Which leads to…

3) I think there is nothing wrong with children being bored. In fact I believe that out of boredom comes creative play. See: Let Your Kids be Bored.

4) I feel that children today are overscheduled. I can already see that overscheduling is an easy trap to fall into, especially as children get older. I am precariously attempting to maintain a delicate balance between an activity or two, and lots of free time “to be bored.” I feel a bit like a tightrope walker… See: The Six Year-Old and Her Executive Secretary.

True Confession Time:

I absolutely adore my children with all my heart and I love spending (some) time with them. I enjoy the Unplugged Project because we can all sit down together once a week and have some fun. Yet I don’t want to be communing with my kids all day long. I wish I did, but I don’t. I have interests and goals too, and I don’t want to ignore that part of myself just because I am a TV-free, stay-at-home mom.

I am in complete awe and admiration of all those moms (and dads) out there who homeschool. (I expressed my feelings about the first day of school here: The Rapture). I would certainly attempt homeschooling if I was unhappy with the current school situation (a small Montessori school that has been wonderful for us), but honestly I think homeschooling would be hard for me. Have any of you homeschooling parents felt such things, and if so, how did you overcome it?

My friend Wishy and I talk about this subject often. We have come to the conclusion that we must be missing some sort of “mothering gene.” We worry about being Bad Moms, or at the very least, Slacker Moms.

Wishy is a big believer in “Love and Logic” parenting and she has kindly passed along a few of the podcasts. “Love and Logic” calls for a consistent approach to parenting (with which I completely agree, although consistency can be hard to carry out successfully sometimes). In fact in one of the podcasts, they go as far as to say (kind of jokingly, yet kind of not) that it is even OK to be a substandard parent, as long as you are consistently substandard. “Consistently substandard.” I like that!

And now that there has been this recent public revelation of the value of leaving kids alone to just play in creative and imaginary ways without adult involvement, I am beginning to feel like my Consistently Substandard Slacker parenting style might not be so bad after all. (I call it: CSS Parenting).

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24 Responses to “Fairies and Philosophy”

  1. warillever says:

    I call it “salutary neglect.” Within the bounds of safety, I think that it is good for kids to learn how to entertain themselves.

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  2. Diane says:

    CSS parenting! That’s hilarious. But, joking aside, I can identify with your post a lot. My daughters are 3 and 7 and -like you- while I adore them and am thrilled to have the opportunity to be home with them, I can not play with them constantly- or even longer than say 15 minuets. I have a longer tolerance for reading to them, so we go through the books like butter.

    Also like you, I have friends who homeschool and while I have always known that I could homeschool the girls if the conditions really called for it, it is not something I long to do. The girls have just started at the small Montessori school in our area and I think it is a lovely school.

    As to being bored, I agree that it can be the rain that germinates the seed of creativity! We all need time- simple, un-filled, peaceful time. We all need time to process and simply to see and hear and understand. While I really want my girls to be able to learn hobbies/sports that call to them, I refuse to be over scheduled- running from this lesson to the next and picking up McDonald’s on the way home to be supper! It makes me grumpy.

    Thank you for your post! :)

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  3. calicobebop says:

    Great Post! Your parenting style sounds a lot like my own! I find that the “consistancy” part is the hardest. Some days I just don’t feel like enforcing the rules! Thankfully my daughter doesn’t appear to be suffering too badly.

    She’s four and I asked her to go play in her room while I made breakfast this weekend. When I went to get her I ended up standing outside her room and just watching her play. She had an elaborate system of “Car-Ball-Catch” going on that involved a few toy cars, a castle, some weebles and, of course, a ball. I love how creative kids can get when they are allowed to “get bored” – as you say! It’s lovely to watch.

    Again – great post!

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  4. greenemother says:

    I’m 100% with everything you’ve just mentioned and the other commenters. Sometimes when I watch other moms playing with their children I do feel sort of like a bad mother. But on the flip side, I can have a good conversation with friends while my two year old is happily playing next to us entertaining herself while listening to our conversation. I have always been pretty straight forward with her about playing by herself since she could understand me, and it was something my my mother always told me. I mean honestly, we want our children be become independent thinkers and learners so what better way to start than being able to play by themselves.

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  5. Summer says:

    I’m a homeschool mom, and I still don’t play with my kids all day. LOL I absolutely agree that being bored is good for kids, it can inspire creativity and imagination in them. It also seems to get my kids to play together rather than fighting.

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  6. Claudia says:

    Hi, I’ve found your blog a few weeks ago and I like it a lot.

    I can completely identify with this post and would like to talk about it and translate parts of it into italian – and maybe french (I have a three-lingual blog) on my blog if it’s ok with you…

    Obviously, I would put a link to your post on mine…

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  7. jen says:

    It’s so hard though. I do let my boys have tv and computer time, and I work like a madwoman to get stuff done while they’re otherwise entertained. But I also insist that they go entertain themselves, without me there. Right now they’re upstairs dancing to the music from “Meet the Robinsons” and playing. Yay! I’m all for the benign neglect method of parenting.; )

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  8. Since I started reading your blog I have been really tuned in to how my son wants to hang on me all the time and constantly asks me what he can do next and if I would come and play with him. This is very hard on me especially as I often (okay most of the time) feel obligated since I can’t “send him outdoors” or “downstairs to the rec room.” Maybe this is partly due to his age (he’s just 3) and that he doesn’t yet fully engage in cooperative play with other kids but I am trying to find more times when I can ask him to pick out something to do while I do some chore (it’s almost impossible for him to leave me alone if I sit down). Today it worked a little because I told him we would sit and read a big stack of books and then I would go and do the dishes while he did something by himself. We decided ahead of time that he would do some puzzles and it did work to a certain extent, I think mostly because I gave him some focused attention beforehand.

    We can’t afford private school but I am hopeful that we can find a suitable public school as the city has a lot of options. I love to read homeschooling blogs but ultimately I think it is healthier for my son not to have a mother who is insane, even if his school is not perfect.

    On another note, we did play your alphabet hiding game today and it was a hit. I especially enjoyed the time I got to relax, umm, I mean wait patiently…, in the other room while Kiddo did the hiding.

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  9. Dee says:

    I’m right there with you. My mom certainly didn’t spend all her time entertaining me, and I didn’t want her to. I’m giving my kids the gift of CSS Parenting. :-D

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  10. Jenny says:

    I don’t think that letting your kids get bored means that you’re a Slacker Mom! I enjoy spending time with my daughter IF she gives me some space at times and plays on her own. I’ve encouraged her to do this for some time now, and usually she’s very good at it- I love to listen to her dialogue when she doesn’t think I’m listening! I can see where consistency is critically important, so I’m totally on board with your philosophy even if I don’t think you’re really a slacker. :o)

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  11. Kate in NJ says:

    LOL, I have trouble thinking of someone like you who is such a thoughtful parent being a “slacker”. I can tell you that I do not entertain my dd, even though we homeschool. She does her thing while I do mine, and we meet up to do things together.
    She does not need or want my constant “attention” or to be in front of the T.V. to get through her day.
    She reads to her kitties, makes her own music and cooking shows..she is very busy..lol.

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  12. You and me? We’re a lot alike. I love my kids but I don’t want to spend every waking moment with them catering to what they want to do. I don’t think we’re slacker parents, I think we have a sense of ourselves and our needs.

    I’ve been thinking briefly about homeschooling (VERY briefly), and I (again like you) don’t think I have it in me. I know I could handle the education part of it, but to be attached all day to the kids would brake me! :) I had a very positive public school experience. I think I’ll just wait and see how things go for my kids… I always look forward to the first day of school and lightening my “load” at home. Next year, my oldest will be in K and my middle son will go to preschool 2 days a week. I’m almost giddy! :) LOL! See…. I don’t think homeschooling is for me….

    Also, this whole post reminds me of the Simple and Slow Fridays carnival I host over at my place. Maybe you’d like to check it out?

    Anyway, nice to pop in and “chat” again. Looking forward to our next meeting as always! :)

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  13. Claire says:

    I’m a home edding mum and I don’t spend all of the time with the kids. They do a lot of their own thing. One of the reason why I home educate is that I don’t want their day to day lives organised for them. Unless they plan on a career in the army or something of that nature it’s a very unrealistic situation to be in. We do set activities at home and away from the home, but the vast majority of the time is spent ‘just living’ – and they can choose to join me in what I’m doing or get on and find something of their own to do.

    There’s nothing wrong with a child being bored. I think it is a healthy stage in maturing and developing a greater sense of self and understanding of the opportunities that surround us.

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  14. Dawn says:

    Whew – I’m glad to hear I have more blogging time in my future :)

    No, really, my biggest problem is that I’m finding that because there are no adults around that I enjoy the tv MORE just to have voices around me. Sad of me, I know.

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  15. Great post as always. I have to respectfully disagree or perhaps just jog your memory back to when your first was a baby/toddler.

    I think you DO have to play/entertain and most importantly teach your child how to play imaginatively up to about age 4 or 5, at which point, he or she then has the tools to know how to play. (Doesn’t count for siblings- the older teach the younger this skill).

    I try not to tell people that it will be easy to raise children without TV. It was absolutely HARD the first years when I looked, sometimes longingly at the TV wishing to plop him in front of it. It required a lot of time and effort on my part to entertain him. It also required study on my part – really- books, articles, etc on imaginative play…then it all came back to me!

    My TV-free friends with more than one tell me this only applies to the first one…the first teaches the others how to play…so one is looking at perhaps 5 years of playing part time (remember they nap a lot in the early years) with a child and viola…they learn how to imaginatively play.

    BTW- missed that NPR report..thaks!

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    mariah m. Reply:

    I love your response, especially the part about it not being easy to raise a child without television. This blog has some pretty interesting activities and I admire the angle. I hope that I am able to help other parents find a way to get rid of the electronics in their children’s lives through my blog as well.

    Whatever happened to good old imagination? We didn’t have many toys in my childhood home but we managed to have a blast everyday with aluminum foil shaped into action figures or boards stacked on top of roller skates and pillows as seats. I’m working on bringing that back. I think I have my job cut out for me lol.
    mariah m.´s last blog post ..Whered the Pinch Go

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    Mom Unplugged Reply:

    Hi Mariah, I am glad to find a like-minded blogger! It does feel like an uphill battle sometimes, but so worth it. Good luck with your blog and thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  16. Mom Unplugged says:

    Hi MC,

    Thanks for your thoughtful and interesting comment. I must say however, that your experience differs greatly from mine. I never did spend a lot of time entertaining my first child (or my subsequent ones), and I never felt the need to do so. My oldest daughter seemed to initiate creative play on her own without my intervention. I still remember her walking around the house at less than age 2 carrying a bottle of shampoo like a doll, putting it to bed, feeding it, etc. Blue Baby she called it. In fact I remember finding it fascinating that she would have come up with this game on her own at such a young age.

    I can only speak about children who have never had TV at home. It could be that the innate ability (and I do believe it is innate and not taught) to play creatively is inhibited by TV and when TV is abruptly taken away, then children are at a loss for what to do. These children perhaps do need to be pushed and assisted in beginning to play imaginatively. Or perhaps parents feel that there is a need to step in to assist with play before really watching to see if their child begins on his own.

    To speak in Montessori terms: is there perhaps a “sensitive period” for the development of creative play skills? If so, then children who are not given the opportunity to develop these skills during that sensitive period (by being plopped in front of a TV for example) may have trouble developing them later. I don’t know, but it would make for an interesting study.

    In my experience, I don’t think that raising children without TV has to be more time-consuming on the part of the parent. It has certainly not been for me. Weaning them off TV if they have begun life with it might be more of a challenge.

    As a TV-free mom, I must also add that my observations differ from that of your TV-free friends. I really do feel that my oldest was never “taught” to play imaginatively by me, or anyone else.

    Thanks again for your input!

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  17. [...] am NOT a Perfect Mom, far from it!!! In fact “Consistently Substandard” is my parenting philosophy (CSS=”Consistently Substandard [...]

  18. Sin Yee says:

    spot on! lurve this post.
    .-= Sin Yee´s last blog ..Preparation underway =-.

    [Reply]

    Mom Unplugged Reply:

    Thank you!

    [Reply]

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  20. [...] certainty that my kids go to bed early not just so I can have my own evening peace and quiet (as a Consistently Substandard Slacker Mom, I’ll admit that has always been my main reason), but that by sending them up to their rooms [...]

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