Who said parenting means entertaining your children?

I have often heard this (even among very aware parents): I don’t know how to entertain my child. Or heard them whining when the more active partner is away that they they don’t know how to keep them busy.

I don’t get this.

Why is entertaining your child even a thing?

I got into this trap for a brief while when Re was still in his crib and had a limited geography within which to entertain himself (although my cats helped hugely).

It was boring as shit: Singing. Making faces. Speaking in funny voices. Peekaboo. The hand puppet thing. Yes, Re loved it. But then I realized I am not his playmate. Why should I pretend to be? As soon as he started crawling and then walking, he was on his own. And he found plenty to amuse himself with, mostly in the kitchen. I still have a video of him trying to sort a bunch of cherry tomatoes and talking to himself. And one of him trying to roll a chapati with a rolling pin and board and proceeding to wear the chapati as a mask.

Every time the other parental unit came home laden with games/toys, I arched my eyebrow. It was excessive and unnecessary. Collaborative games which assume the parent who’s around more often is stuck with playing them with the kid get me worried.

On the few travel dates that I had with fellow parents, I always noticed that they come armed with suitcases full of toys, gadgets, books, games. I found myself saying: but it’s just two nights. Why do you need so much? And they replied: Oh, if we keep them entertained, we can get more time for ourselves.

It never made sense.

Traveling alone with Re was much more satisfying. It still is.

Why is constantly being entertained a way of living? Why is it a norm? It is as though one is teaching children that this is how life is – a series of fun-filled, action packed time capsules on loop, where there is no time for recovery, stillness or nothingness.

If you are doing this, you are in a dangerous place. It’s a slippery slope from there.

Yes, we all want our children to have a happy childhood with a variety of experiences. We just have to stop curating it for them. I have seen friends plan reading lists for their kids, populate their schedules with every activity that looks good on paper and that they can tick off an imaginary list. It’s like every hour of their waking life has to be accounted for.

I feel like telling them: It’s your life, it’s not a pinterest board.

Yes it’s important to engage in fun with them occasionally, listen to them, keep conversations going, but by not allowing their imagination and creativity to come up with something on their own, you are actually hampering play.

We have to provide for our kids, nurture them, look after their basic needs – clothing, food shelter. I signed up for these when I became a parent, not for being his entertainer. And if I do play with my kid, it will be when I am having fun doing that. Not because of some boringass article that said, “Imaginative play with your child helps nurture their soul”. And who started this anyway? I am sure they didn’t think it through. It’s not sustainable for sure. Besides life is all about a lot of mundane things on loop and our kids need to know that and be a part of that too.

For a year now, Re has been assigned the task of arranging the utensils daily after they have dried in their rack, folding and arranging his own clothes in his shelves, feeding the cats in the evening and refilling their water bowls, making his bed, and helping us put the house in order before going to bed every night.

When I was 10, my mother handed me the keys to our house. Until then, we went to school together and returned together (I studied in the school she taught in). I now had a three hour lag from the time she left. In these three hours, I had to help Appa finish the cooking, pack his lunch dabba, pack snack dabbas for me and my twin siblings, wake them up, get them ready (this involved detangling and tying my sister’s unruly hair into two tight plaits, which took the longest time), send them to school (which was an hour earlier to mine), help Appa staple his shirt sometimes, when a button was off and he had to rush for work, and finally, get ready (which involved tying own long, unruly hair into two tight plaits) and go to school myself.

We were poor, we never had help, we all had chores to do, but we never needed to be entertained.  We also didn’t have money to afford toys. Books and play were all we had. We came home from school, ate a snack, did our homework and went out to play (I usually did my homework in school so I had more time to play). Sometimes we played physical games that involved running, jumping, getting dirty in the mud. Sometimes we played “school” and “office” and “restaurant” and “home”. Our parents never asked us what we played. They never played with us. Except Appa teaching us bridge. And Amma who taught us some fun board games from when she was a child, like pallankuzhi.

I was the queen of imaginative play and Enid Blyton with her scones and ginger ale and meringue descriptions hugely helped my childhood. I always imagined myself as an only child who had a secret room in which she hosted midnight feasts. Each time one of us announced we were bored, another chore was handed to us. I learnt to cook at age 10 because I was bored on Thursdays (our convent school day off) and since I was already souz chef to Appa, I started trying things on my own, and one day, I put a meal together and surprised Amma. Vacations were full of jam, pickle, karuvadam and sun-dried fruit projects. And then we traveled.

When I remember my childhood, I remember the cooking, I remember the baking and knitting and crosstitch and embroidery that I did as my mother’s apprentice. I remember making papercuttings of things my mom learned in her sewing class and making them to scale for my only doll, Neetu (who was named after Neetu Singh)

Most afternoons, Re is engaged in active theatre with his dolls: giving them makeovers, tattoos, braiding them, making houses for them with blocks or Lego, sometimes turning them into mermaids, having car rallies with mermaids driving cars, cooking, baking in his play kitchen, making paper clothes for them (now that he can use scissors, he often asks me for fabric swatches), and more such. Or he is sketching or painting. Hours pass by.

I may not be the ‘engaged parent’ but I know when my kid is having fun.

I often get this from people when I visit them with Re or when they come over: He is really good at entertaining himself. My response to that is: well, shouldn’t we all be?

Once in a while if Re does come up to me and say he is bored, I tell him: be bored. It’s good. Boredom is fertile.

What is fertile?

It’s a place where new things can grow.

You mean things can grow in my head? he asks.

Yes, they can. Of course they can.

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16 thoughts on “Who said parenting means entertaining your children?

  1. Spot on as always… Recently, daughter and I were visiting people and daughter was praised for having taken the plate she had eaten in, to the washbasin .

    I loved seeing the list of stuff that Re is expected to do at home. I often get the looks of “How could you make the child do so much work” and tell people that “When I signed up to be a parent, it was in the fine print that the kid will do chores…” The beauty is that children seem to be very happy doing this stuff

    Am wondering if we have much less expectations for the children than what they are capable of!!!!

  2. Good read. Being a single mom, I struggle with activities that my daughter be involved in over weekends. TV has also become such a big part of their routine now (completely opposite to my liking!). However, this particular weekend, I just let her be at home and asked her to follow me around if she wanted to and help me with what i was doing. I guess it helped, but I will have to leave her to figure this out in the due course and find her peace 🙂

  3. Lovely article!! Couldn’t agree with u more! I think the more we allow our kids to free play, the more we enhance their creativity!

  4. Excellent article ! I have never been much of a “forced entertainer” for our kids and have been chided quite often for that. Reading your article made me feel less guilty ! 🙂

  5. amen! i in fact tell my friends kids when they say they’re bored: good! its awesome to be bored … hahahaha mine are 19 and 11 and are self entertainers and chillers! irreplaceable!

  6. A true wake up call for all parents who are on autopilot mode trying to engage their little ones wid endless stuff… Wake up to reality and let them grow up the way we did…Makes me wonder ,
    Mam have u written anything about daycare and is leaving a child in daycare a sin ?!

  7. Best write up i hv ever read…i am always perplexed regarding how to keep my girls entertained…… but now i wl try to make them learn self entertainment…

  8. Great article. I am guilty of carrying things around when we travel though. Unfortunately, both parents should have the same logic when we parent. When as a working mother, I travel, I too feel the need for just some me time without kids fighting, bickering and wailing all through the journey and my husband escaping the trouble, just sleeping it off beacuse he has motion sickeness. Atleast if each one has their own toy or book, they are quiet enough. Will keep trying to do it the right way till either I get it or they grow up:))

  9. Hi,
    Love, love, love your blog. This was my first read on your blog and it hits me hard. I am amma to a 9 year old and I have been doing the ‘entertainer’ job for too long now. I guess society, family and everyone in this world has a say in how you bring up/entertain/ teach your child. I am no exception and was ‘feared’ into doing it all, only realizing that I have a dependent 9 year old, who depends on me for her entertainment/times of leisure. Well, better late than never! But hey, I am an amma who believes that kids should do chores around the house. She did enthusiastically, until she was about 5/6 and then the “this job is too boring” came into play and I have no clue on how to get her into it. I tried pocket money for chores, but hey I don’t get paid for doing chores around the house and I don’t want her thinking that doing housework is remunerative. They just need to get done because, that’s what being part of a family is. I don’t live in India and hence do not have the luxury of helpers for household chores. My husband is a big help, as he does the weekly mopping/vacuuming, but a house needs constant maintenance. So, any pointers along that line will be super helpful.
    Thanks, do keep writing, so much of what you say resonates with me, only that I was too afraid to voice it out, let alone put it in black on white!
    Love,
    Neela.

  10. How sanctimonious and disrespectful your tone is about other people’s parenting choices. If something works for them, and is different from what you do with your kid, why be the judge and sit on your high horse?! Not all kids are cut from the same cloth, my dear. Your child may be the perfect little person to just be and follow your lead as you deem fit, but kids come in all stripes and try as we may to have that perfect kid who will do as told (chores, or stare in space, or have the most imaginative play skills or whatever) as were you as a kid (completely engaged by your parents to suit their lifestyle and domestic situation, I might add), not all kids are the same. I stay away from parenting blogs for exactly this ‘sancti-mommy’ reason. Just chill, ok? Do your thing and let others be. Let parents who bring toys and gadgets or whatever on travel etc so they have time to themselves be without judgement…they may have a sucky in-law situation going on at home, they may have a special needs kid and need more tools to engage, they may be working crazy hours and need to unwind.
    And ohh…before I forget, you don’t have to engage and entertain your kid because you provide him with dolls, play kitchens, legos etc etc…so he keeps himself occupied…but make no mistake, these accoutrements definitely “entertain” him. I’d like to call you out on this fact. And not all parents may have the time and resources to provide these toys and activites the way you do.
    I hope your can grasp that life isn’t black and white and your way isn’t the only way. I know you’ll probably not publish my comment. But I hope this will open your mind a little to the many shades of grey that exist in parenting and in life. Peace to you.

    • Hi Shelly. Sorry to have offended you with my ‘sanctimonious blog’, but you may have entirely missed the point here. This is not an anti-toy, anti-gadget lobby. Of course I know there is no getting away from them, given the times we live in. It also doesn’t address children with special needs, because one knows the same logic doesn’t apply and the caregiving is of a more intense nature. All I am saying is that if you are constantly writing your child’s script, choreographing their play/activity, you never allow them the full expression of their wondrous imagination. It is important to sometimes let them be, to allow them some boredom, so that they learn to use their minds and you never know what lovely places that will take them to. Perhaps some of us are led to this by circumstance, as I was, but most children nowadays aren’t even allowed the complete room they deserve and can occupy as their parents are constantly filling in the gaps. We all have more financial resources than out parents ever had, but there has to be a prudence in how we use them. And in case you were hoping I wouldn’t publish your comment, you were wrong. How could I let you sit alone in my inbox? Let others also have the benefit of your thoughts.

    • Shelley,
      It is so disappointing to see a comment such as yours on this blog because it reeks of nothing but insecurity and an inability to see a different point of view from what is traditionally well acknowledged. May you be blessed with more joy in your life so you can be more encouraging of diversity in thought.
      Fyi, i am not a parent, but someday, i will be and i hope i can raise a child who will have the balls to have an opinion and publish it on his or her own blog instead of playing the lazy troll on someone else’s!

  11. I am a avid reader of your blog .They so aptly describe my musings of today’s parents micromanaging so much in their child’s life that their capability to be innovative is stifled.I have been a late 30s mother and couldnt agree more on the entertainer role that is expected of parents.

  12. Bang on, what ever happened to good old play? Classes and competitions have taken over. I remember lazy Sunday afternoons, my parents would be resting, my sister reading, my brother out with friends and I’d be painting. The TV movie began in the evening so the afternoon would be free and not necessarily filled with studies or learning skills.

    Being alone and busy is okay. It’s a fine way to be.

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