Posted tagged ‘patience’

Finding Out That My Good Parenting Skills Were All Make-Believe

September 29, 2009

An article by Paul Tough, in The New York Times on September 25th, called “Can The Right Kinds of Play Lead To Self-Control?” brought me to a dramatic  realization.

 I have terrific kids;  they are tolerant of others, and though not automatonic, stiff, or repressed —they are kids—they have been patient, co-operative, and self-controlled pretty much since passing the bounds of young childhood.   All these years I’ve been (secretly) congratulating myself on my parenting.  I knew I wasn’t particularly schooled in parenting, and I’ve never actually thought my parenting out that much—still I privately believed that the results (i.e. my children) must demonstrate some innate maternal skill.

 Now it turns out that all these great qualities in my children are primarily due to the fact that they played loads and loads of make-believe.

 And, on top of that, even though I’ve sometimes characterized myself as a bit of a single parent, I really do have to give a bunch of credit to their dad, who was terrifically good at fomenting imagination games, particularly if they involved blocks or little playmobil figures.  (He is someone who had a couple of thousand toy soldiers as a boy, so he was extremely practiced in the set-up of forts, installations, whole towns, and any other type of miniaturized construct.)

 After reading Tough’s article, in fact, I’m not sure I deserve much credit as a parent at all.  I will protest that I did supply the occasional comic voice in many games of make-believe.  (Usually I played a rather duncelike- compulsive figure, Mr. Potato Man, who was represented by a small plastic snoopy dog with a sack of potatoes plasticized to his back.)  I also talked stuffed animals, provided tea sets, watered down “tea”, and had certain of my own playmobil and block skills.  (It wasn’t all their dad.)

  And, when there were no actual toys handy, I supplied puppets made up of my talking hands and one forearm.

 But, frankly, my main pratical, measurable, contribution was to turn off the TV. 

 Since TV did have to be on some of the time, I made our TV as unattractive as I could, for as long as I could,  retaining antiquated and very small television sets.  (I remember my mother, horrified, to hear my daughter proclaim after watching a well-known program at her house – “I didn’t know Big Bird was yellow.”)

 Finally, I was blessed to be able to arrange long periods of time (i.e. summers) in beautiful places where there was no TV at all.   (I realize that not everyone has such phenomenal luck.)

 The result was a great deal of make-believe.

 I really do believe that TV, and now the computer, can be insidious for developing minds.  (I won’t even go into the problems discussed by Jane Brody today in the article “From Birth, Engage Your Child With Talk” about the distractions electronic devices provide to caregivers.)  

 Yes, there is often something good on.  A program that is ostensibly enriching, educational.

 But it’s still not the same as playing “sick baby” with leaves for medicine and pine cones for shots, and, if you’re lucky, a younger sibling who (for a short time at least) is willing to lie still.

 It’s not even as good as “Mr. Potato Man.”