This seemingly innocuous (though highly exasperated) question was asked by my older child. I was of course taken aback by this question and stated – “you have so much time to play, now hurry up and get ready, you are getting late for your piano class.”
Very grudgingly he obliged and life continued on for that day.
But that one question started to haunt me and I set about to try and picture if what Peanut was crying about was really a matter of concern or was it just to be attributed to one of his lazy states? After all, he had so much time to play!
Buttercup had been asking to play in the park, but she was attending tennis classes, which was so much better than just whiling away time at the park. So her pleas were also dismissed most of the time.
Peanut and Buttercup would wake up early just so that they could squeeze in some time to play with their toys before school. That’s one time for play.
They would then get back late afternoon from school and here is where trouble was brewing. Instead of giving them a real breather, Peanut’s chess teacher was waiting for him or he had a piano class. But then he got an hour or so to play at home after this class. That’s another time for play. What was he complaining about?
Some days it was followed by Tennis and then the evening routine of bath, story and sleep. The other problem was that thrice a week the children’s daily rhythm (particularly of sleep time – they belong to the ‘early to bed’ category) would be altered to accommodate for the late tennis class. As a result they would be cranky going to bed and wake up not so refreshed.
I had very artistically scheduled my children’s lives, such that (as much as possible) no 2 classes were on the same day (except for Tuesday and Friday). That left 3 school days with just 1 class a day. That wasn’t really bad and he ought to have got enough time to play in his room with his toys. So again, what was he complaining about?
A rude shock awaited me as I did some more thinking, talking, researching and observed Peanut’s behavior.
Over the last few months (ever since this onslaught of classes had started) Peanut was becoming more and more assertive (even aggressive), was listening lesser, becoming more defiant and well, did as he pleased much to the chagrin of both his parents. In casual conversations with friends we were reassured that this was part of his growing up phase and was necessary even for him to form his own identity. OK. We were not pleased to see our otherwise calm and kind boy go through this transition but if it was a phase, then we just had to manage around it.
Then one day, almost like a sign, a parent on the school group posted about this book titled ‘Simplicity Parenting’ and the ‘The Soul of Discipline’. While I’m yet to get my hands on Simplicity parenting (out of stock), I did order and then devour ‘The soul of discipline’.
And the big takeaway for me (given my present dilemma) was children need downtime and not just one but many downtimes. Overscheduling our kids life doesn’t allow them the required downtime (at their pace and time) and infact leads to many a cry of help from our children (often not in the most pleasant ways and they will test our buttons just to get our attention.)
About seven months prior to this date, we were settled in another city and often my children and only a handful of others would be seen at the park while the rest toiled away at some class or the other. I probably didn’t enroll them in classes, because I thought the kids were too young. Then as Peanut started to grow older, I started 1 sports class. But the real problem started when we moved cities and for many reasons (peer pressure, children spending their time constructively, me-time, making new friends faster, keeping the children occupied etc.) I enrolled them in a bunch of classes.
This was fine (I guess) till their school timings allowed them to be home by lunch. But now, they were only coming home late afternoon and these bunch of classes started to severely interfere with their downtime and indeed, allowed them no time to PLAY ( at best a hurried play, in between their school and classes)
Hubby and self, called for an emergency parent meeting and we decided to stop all the classes. The children couldn’t believe it that when they came back from school, they had to do nothing. Nothing but PLAY. Then after all that Play, they would go to the park and play again.
With absolutely no exaggeration, in a week’s time, the children seemed more relaxed, less stressed, less anxious and happier. They listened to us with a certain ease (music for us parents). For days at end, both Hubby and self were enveloped in spontaneous bear hugs and sloppy kisses, loud ‘thank-you’ and ‘I-Love-You’ proclamations by Peanut and Buttercup, all as a thank you for letting the children just be. Just be themselves, just be children who wander, stop, admire and then wander off again. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but at all times at their pace and not being pushed. They enter their fantasy world, fly in it aimlessly (or even with a purpose) but without any crash landing by parents to urge them for another class.
Sometimes they play together, sometimes by themselves, sometimes Buttercup just lies down with a toy in her hand, sometimes Peanut is seen in the balcony admiring the plants, sometimes they take out their paint brushes and paint the rains.
And all the time there is this calmness (minus the sibling fights and mother – child irritants). As a parent, I don’t have to nag and push them for activities and the home is not treated merely as a stop gap place but one that offers sanctity from the rush, stresses and pressures of the outside world.
I have now reintroduced tennis in their lives (I cant help it J) but with timings that allow sufficient downtime after school and also suit my children’s sleep pattern. This is still in consideration, a wait-and-watch approach for a month and if things go south, then Tennis goes out!
This seemingly innocuous ( highly exasperated)