I had crawled and climbed up to the top of the soft play structure and slid down the slide with my son by my side multiple times, we were laughing, playing, chatting and enjoying the freedom of play without time restrictions. Another boy started following us through the maze of activities and I watched and waited for a growl, scowl or annoyance to appear on Raff’s face. It didn’t, they started talking, they started going down the slide together, and then they raced past me. I sat and watched as they whizzed around.
As he made his way back to the top of the slide were I sat observing their interaction Raff scampered towards me and whispered, ‘Mum, we’re making friends!’
My heart exploded in my chest; I felt proud, and happy and in awe of my 4-year-old boy who delights in time alone, or with just his Mum and Dad. I thought over and over … We must be doing something right.
Because as a parent I question everything, and I don’t always know why. I have that simple aim of wanting to raise a decent human who is connected to his family, empathetic, understanding of his own emotions, and able to make strong connections with other people and eventually, his community. Witnessing him make a friend right in front of my eyes gave me confirmation that, yes, we are doing something right.
Why do I need it? The confirmation? I guess because we are cultured to question everything we do. And there is something about this generation of parents, that evil presence of comparison that exists all around us, that makes us do this on a daily, hourly, even minute by minute basis. We compare what our kids are eating, how they dress, what time they go to bed, how they play with others, how they play alone, how they deal with conflict, how they cope with separation… and the list goes on.
So we compare… then we question ourselves… then we doubt our decision making… and wonder if we have ruined our child because we worked too much, stayed home with them too often, sent them to childcare, stayed home with them until they started school, or because we decided to only have one child.
I watch Raff play on his own, see his imagination unfold in front of my eyes as he uses his own resourcefulness and change his voice to suit different characters in his imagined world, and I think, how wonderful is it that he has had the time and space to develop these skills! Then I see him not willing to share something with another child, especially younger ones, and wonder if this is purely a result of not having siblings. Then I see him crouch down on the floor and talk to one of his friends in such a refined verbal manner and know this is due to the time my husband and I have spent with him, talking to him, reading to him and encouraging him to develop his language skills.
And then, some days, when he just won’t stop asking for me to do something for him, that, yes, he could do himself… Muuuuummmm, can I have something to eat, can you find my shoes, can you pick up this piece of Lego, can you play with me, can you do me a favour (this is his new one!) … I wonder … how will I nurture and encourage him to become more independent?
Then I remember… he is 4. He is supposed to act like this. His patience skills still need many years of refining, and he is an only child who has only spent 8 months at childcare, so he hasn’t spent a lot of time away from us (his parents), thus had the opportunity to develop these skills.
Parenting is an endurance game, so to avoid burnout we need to stop feeling the pressure to compare and question everything, and live in the moment, revel in the glorious moments (making new friends and playing so beautifully together!) and remember, they are human too… we aren’t perfect adults, perfect friends, perfect parents, so we can’t expect our small children, who are still growing and developing at an immense rate, to be perfect either.
What a perfect picture of park happiness captured here though…