Remember Robbie Williams belting out ‘Let me entertain you’? Well, I feel that is what my kids think is going through my mind each and every day. They get up out of bed and look to me to either amuse them, or let them be amused on a device.
I recall ranting to my kids a while back ‘when I was a girl, we didn’t have screens. We had one tv that we watched on weekends and the rest of the time we had to go outside and PLAY.’ My son, about 6, looked horrified and simply said ‘that’s awful!’ My children seem to have lost the ability to amuse themselves. I think they expect me to be an event co-ordinator, party planner and court jester. All the screens kids have access to these days seem to have detracted from their ability to sit down and focus on other activities for any length of time.
In the last school holidays this reality really hit home. We had been on various outings and one particular morning we’d spent time with some friends. Driving home, my 10 year old daughter asked ‘what are we doing this afternoon?’. ‘Nothing!’ I exclaimed. ‘You can play quietly at home and amuse yourselves!’ as I muttered ‘unbelievable’ under my breath.
I realised that they expected to be led through life from one exciting activity to another. And evidently I was responsible for providing all this. My kids aren’t great at just playing. They will only play with something like lego or toys if I force them to (and then they do enjoy it). But it’s always with the idea that after they’ve served their time, like a prison sentence, they’ll be eligible for parole with rewards of screen time that will come like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They feel that by playing outside, reading a book or drawing etc they are doing me a favour and need to be rewarded by getting copious amounts of time on a device.
I should add though that the only times they are excellent at doing something creative alone are: a) When I have asked them to do a job. At that point, they are completely engrossed in writing the next great Australian novel or drawing a masterpiece and much too busy to be disturbed, thank you very much
b) When they are busy doing something naughty (like ‘painting’ with my lipsticks) or extremely messy that will involve a lot of clean up participation on my part. Eg. moving all the cushions, bedding and mattresses in the entire house to make the world’s greatest cubby in the lounge. They will spend an hour creating it, play in it for 2 minutes then abandon it hastily like burglar who has just pulled a bank job.
I grew up with 4 brothers. We didn’t have a lot of money, so we had simple toys and games but a huge backyard. We had a TV but weren’t allowed to watch it much, only on special occasions, like for Disneyland on the weekend (anyone remember this? It was the highlight of my week).
The rest of the time we were expected to amuse ourselves. I read a lot as a kid and we regularly got banished to the yard. Here I am playing dress ups, old school style. But whenever I try and force my kids to spend time in the yard, all of a sudden they have the bladder control of Octomom and bladder capacity of a thimble. Every 5 minutes one of them will need to come in to use the toilet. Then
the fighting will erupt. Or they will wait on the deck looking mournfully bored at the back door like the dog in a thunderstorm. Anything other than peaceful playing in the yard without my involvement. To put this torture into perspective, we have a trampoline, a swing-set, slippery slide, a huge Japanese Maple climbing tree and a cubby house, not to mention a dog AND a cat. But it’s evidently SO boring out there. They make me feel like the worst mum on earth by forcing them to play in such conditions.
Fellow parents, am I the only one who is struggling with this? Do your kids expect you to provide entertainment for them? If screens aren’t an option are they bored constantly? I oscillate between wanting to see them spend a whole day without a screen on wholesome, creative activities ON THEIR OWN (aka without me) and feeling guilty for not spending 3 hours playing My Little Ponies on the floor (somebody please get me a chardonnay, stat!). How did we get here?! They get restricted screen time and are encouraged to read and do other things. As a child I didn’t expect my mum to entertain me. There were regular times she’d spend with us reading to us or some other activity but by and large my siblings and I were in charge of entertaining ourselves.
What is the correct balance of screen time, amusing-yourself time and mother/kid intense activity time? How can I get my kids to expand the talent of amusing themselves? After some reflection, my thoughts are that, like a muscle, this talent needs to be exercised, possibly even against their wills, kinda like my glutes. And I think I will start to use the phrase ‘when I was a kid…’ more frequently. They will probably get so sick of it they’ll run from me and inject themselves into any other activity. That…and forced manual labour if they need an ‘activity’ provided to them on a silver platter. My mother tells me this was always a winner: Bored? Need something to do? Wash the windows please. Or *insert other boring yet simple chore here*.
By roger, I may have solved it people! And if not, at least I’ll have a cracking clean house 😉