By Malgorzata Piechowicz-Pietruszka
Being a parent in the 21st century, in my humble opinion, may be the biggest challenge that we as parents have to rise to. Never in the history of the world were there so many expectations and this amount of criticism and pressure that parents put on themselves.
Social media persistently undermine our already frail parental authority by promoting unattainable and in fact unreal pictures of ideal(ised) families. Even an experienced parent may feel at times inadequate, not to mention all fathers and mothers to be, whose self-confidence must be almost non-existent after scrolling through some of the Instagram accounts of ‘perfect’ mothers.
Sadly, I must admit it is usually women who tend to feature these photos of always-smily-children in always-tidy-kitchens. You ask yourself a question: How do they do it? Am I a failure? And now add to that yet another challenge of living in COVID-19 reality.
Parenthood is chaotic, messy and full of unpredictabilities. It consists of daily compromises, negotiations, exhaustion and quite a heavy load of worrying. Truth be told, ‘worry’ becomes your second name, a shadow that you need to learn how to accept and live with.
From the trivial daily things when kids are small: Did she burp? poo? ate enoguh? to more complex ones, like: Which university will be the best for their career? All these questions, plus a million more, constantly occupy the tired mind of a parent.
However, on top of that you also have to make sure that your children will be properly equipped for their future adult life. You obviously want them to have a better ‘start’ than what was offered to you. You wish them more fulfilling, more affluent and basically sweeter life that the one you currently (try to) enjoy. So you read to them endless stories from day one, preferably in a foreign language, because you know how crucial the first three years of life are in terms of phonology.
You enrol them in countless extra- curriculum activities because everyone does it and you read tonnes of research how brain stimulation is important for their future development. You chauffeur them around from French and piano classes to ballet and Ju Jitsu trainings because you do not want them to miss out on something.
You buy organic food, cotton and non-plastic lunch boxes. You cater for every need that your children have or at least you think they have. All that, so they can be fulfilled adults someday in the future.
And suddenly you realise that unintentionally you deprived your children of one of a kind, precious, innocent and carefree childhood. You think of your own parents and your own youth when it was totally OK to wander around the neighbourhood with a bunch of other kids having absolutely nothing to do but making experiments on a poor caterpillar or idly gazing at the sky trying to make sense of that whole thing called universe.
To be a parent thirty, forty or fifty years ago did not mean to inundate children with endless brain-stimulating tasks. Apart from providing safe home, healthy (enough) food, reasonable comfort and most of all love, parents were not expected to do much more. Why we have somehow come to believe that our kids need constant entertainment and stimulation – I do not know. Life as it is offers endless learning opportunities. Participating in daily family routines is very often enough for our children to grow as compassionate, kind and wise human beings. So, do not panic or worry when you children are bored. Especially now, during the COVID-19 epidemic, when we are confined to our homes and spend together 24/7. Juggling homeschooling, your own work, laundry, shopping, cooking and all the corona-inflicted worries is already quite a lot to deal with.
You will not simply be able to constantly entertain your children unless you are a cyborg. Let your children embrace boredom. It is not so bad in the end. When children are given a chance for undisturbed free play, it may become their favourite, most memorable part of the day.
Of course at first, espacially if they are not used to the idea of ‘go and play’, be prepared for some moaning and groaning. However, I can promise that after ten to fifteen minutes of being left alone and screen-free, they will discover something of their interest. They will improvise, experiment, build or simply daydream. Free play is children’s natural state and it can boost creativity and self-sufficiency better than any marathon of strenuous extra-curriculum activities or otherwise packed schedules.
When I was a child, whenever I wailed the infamous ‘I’m bored’ complaint, my father would tell me: ‘Intelligent people do not get bored’. Each time I felt a little bit offended but at the same time his words motivated me enough to prove to him and to myself that I can always find something to do.
Those moments of carefree, spontaneous and independent play are one of the most beautiful and cherished memories of my childhood. So do not fret Dear Parent. Be kind to yourself in this difficult time and let your children discover the bottomless possibilities of boredom.