21 Jun On Joy, #3: Two Precepts for Summer Parenting
I’m having a couple of problems.
The first is that lately I have begun to crave silence during the day—periods of quiet and stillness in which to do the things I love.
Which brings me to my second (not unrelated) problem: the children. This summer my house is full of children, ages 3 to 7, who have decided that their greatest satisfaction in life comes from playing a game called “Boink Boink Revolution,” a game which consists entirely of their yelling the words BOINK BOINK REVOLUTION! (and many rhyming, nonsensical alternatives—DOINK DOINK BEVOSMUTION! SHOINK SHOINK KEVOSTUTION!) for up to an hour at a time, at decibel levels that vary from “mildly annoying” to “if I ever hear any of those syllables again I shall tear off my own ears.” They find this activity delightful. I, to put it rather euphemistically, do not.
There are many who might say I could solve both these problems with more discipline. I could discipline myself to get up earlier in the morning for some personal time. I could also help the children discipline themselves to play more quietly. These are options, to be sure, but neither would really get me what I’m after: adults and children enjoying themselves simultaneously, yet separately—and making the very most of it.
Joy is what I’m after for all of us this year. So this summer, in pursuit of joy, for the good of the children’s spirits (and mine)—I’m trying an experiment: parenting (and nannying) with the following two precepts in mind:
1. Where joy exists, let there be joy.
Or, put another way: allow the children their play.
I know, from eighteen years of childcare experience (plus three more as a mother) that many of the things that bring young children joy confound and exasperate their parents—this is the truth of things. I know that play looks like chaos. It’s messy. It’s loud. It does not operate by any rules we understand and it can be full of conflict: bickering and risk-taking and problem-solving. Though it seems impossible to us, it is (at least in part) precisely this conflict—being able to learn, through trial-and-error, what we are capable of—that makes play a rich and joyful experience. I know, and yet I forget.
So for myself, and for anyone else who might need the reminder: the children are safe. The children are well-supervised. Let the children be.
2. Stay still.
Or: I don’t need a quiet room. I need a quiet self.
The chaos of play does not need to be my chaos. It is valuable for me, as it is for all parents, to make time for myself every now and then in the presence of my child and to model what it is to cultivate an an inner calm. Taking the time during my son’s waking hours to do quiet activities that encourage mindfulness and bring me joy (meditating or praying, knitting, reading, or writing in a journal) doesn’t mean being unavailable to him; it means demonstrating that “grownup fun” sometimes looks different than “kid fun,” as well as different from the family fun we share together daily. All of these are important and all have their place.
Again, for myself, and for anyone else who needs it: the children are going to be loud. The children are going to be crazy. This doesn’t mean you must be loud or crazy.
These guidelines aren’t a cure-all. There will, of course, be whole days at a time when—despite my best efforts, despite my continuing to remind myself that the way to joy is internal and not external—the kids and I will (and I believe this is the technical term) drive each other absolutely bonkers. But there may also be days when I relax into the children’s happiness, no matter how riotous—and into my own.
I’ll let you know.