It was a Thursday morning, and I had just buckled my two children into their car seats to take my son to school. I sat down in the driver seat and turned the ignition only to be blasted with unpleasantly-loud music. It was the kind of volume level that makes your stomach sink while your heart jumps out of your chest. I yanked the volume dial down, caught my breath and waited for what I thought would be two major meltdowns at the glorious hour of 7:45 a.m.
Instead, there was a moment of silence. They were waiting for my reaction. I awkwardly burst out laughing in an effort not to cause fear. “Oh, my goodness, what a funny prank!” Then both of my kids laughed and asked for me to turn it up again.
We carried on the next 17 minutes of our drive with laughter and seatbelt-contained dance moves. It ended up being the perfect way to send off my son to school. We had a moment of connection and spontaneity to break up our otherwise predictable routine.
In that moment of something that was initially stressful, I had a choice. Let it bother me or find a way to make it fun. It felt so good to choose fun, but it also felt so out of the ordinary.
Why? I don’t want choosing fun to be out of the ordinary. Being playful with my children is an amazing way to connect with them, and yet it seems so easy to miss.
I think part of this is because we just carry more on our shoulders as adults. We’re serious business because we often have to handle serious business. In contrast to our rigid days, play is the work of our children – it’s effortlessly full of joy and wonder. We tend to separate these two worlds, don’t we?
On the one hand, this is a necessary separation. Montessori taught me that. My children’s play belongs to them. I no longer direct, interrupt, or take control. Removing myself from their play is important because it’s not really play if they didn’t get to choose it. This concept of “independent play” is purposeful, helping our children gain confidence, find a love of learning, and adapt the lifelong skill of concentration.
On the other hand, have I grown to take their play so seriously that I have grown too serious as a parent? Being playful with and in front of my children does not come at the cost of interfering with their own play; it is complementary to it. It is modeling for them how we find joy in everyday moments of life. It is showing them more of who I am as a person beyond Mom. It is breaking out of “prepared parent” mode and into “engaged parent” mode. Genuine connection is just as important as respectful guidance toward their independence.
It has become a new coping skill for me in moments of stress, and it has been working. When power struggles surface, whether it’s over getting dressed for the day or brushing our teeth at night, I try to let go of approaching it as strictly another thing we
need to do and choose the attitude that we can still have fun while doing it. Sometimes, our children don’t need more to do; they just want to be with us. When we stop to think about how much we expect of our children, this isn’t that surprising.
Yes, my world is different from theirs, but it shouldn’t be because of a rigid division in play. Play simply means, “Engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.” That is something we all benefit from, regardless of age.
In our quest to honor our children’s worlds, let us not overlook those crucial moments to join them. Chances are, they are inviting us in. Have a car concert. Get dressed like roaring dinosaurs. Brush your teeth with a funny rhyme. Or, as my son asked me in the middle of getting pajamas on for bedtime the other night, “Can we watch the sunset, Mom?”
Every part of my body was done mothering for the day, but his zest for life was more important to nurture in that moment than it was to drill routine.
“Yes!” I said. “I think we could all use a few moments to admire the sunset tonight.”
About the Author
Jenna Wawrzyniec is a writer and Montessori-inspired mother of two children under the age of four. Her two dogs also count as children. Read more of her work at itslittlebird.com.
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