For all of we parents who are suddenly home, face to face with disintegrating schedules, noisy dance parties, endless pillow fights, toy-strewn floors and back-talking tweens, a harsh truth is coming to light. Our kids are kids, and they act like it.
The lie we’ve told ourselves all these years - that kids don’t necessarily have to be loud, messy, impetuous, or unfocused - is now being exposed. We thought that if we just scheduled our kids, improved our kids, empowered our kids, controlled our kids - that we could make them not kids at all, but smaller versions of adults. Small adults are much easier to deal with than children are; you can reason with small adults. Small adults enjoy practicing their musical instruments and performing in recitals. They like to sit quietly and color. They are kind and considerate to their siblings. They love participation trophies and taking turns. They think farts are embarrassing - not laugh out loud funny.
Small adults understand when Mom and Dad need to work and are respectful. They accept chores and enjoy the sense of pride they bring. Best of all, small adults are so easy to photograph and post on Facebook.
But now we know - after just a few weeks of living with them full time - that kids are not small adults. Turns out, all we had to do was let up for just ONE SECOND and they turned back into actual children. Rambunctious, clumsy, bickering, self-centered children. Also creative, silly, joyful, inspiring, spontaneous, generous, incredibly loving children.
Our past efforts were for naught - children are children no matter what we do. Alrighty, then. If their true journey is to be a kid for a very long time, we might as well settle down and enjoy the trip.
Perhaps now we can see the joy in two boys who are beating on each other with plastic light sabers. We can breathe in the freedom of screaming kids in a yard or toddlers jumping on beds. We can delight as they painstakingly construct a tower of blocks, only to kick it over with glee, and understand that childhood is a magical, temporary place that no one should be rushed away from. We can appreciate that an afternoon of getting the giggles or pretending to be a dog are just as worthy as painting a picture or solving a jigsaw puzzle.
I’ve heard it said “you get one childhood.” But that’s not entirely true. If you are a parent, and you keep an open heart, you can have a second one while watching your kids.
Growing up is messy! We tried to tell ourselves it didn’t have to be - that we could make it manageable and tidy.
It’s a relief to know we were wrong.
Family time is wonderful, isn't it?
But for those occasions when you need to get some actual work done, or you just really need a break, here are some games that kids can do on their own without any help from you. Most of us played these things during our own childhoods, but the recent trend toward scheduled or "enriching" activities might have led us to forget about them. No worries, kids still love them!
Build a fort - let them use all the blankets and pillows they can find and make a fort someplace. Anywhere you're not working is perfect! Depending on their age, this will take them longer than you think. Once it's built, have them take some games inside to play - cards, action figures, blocks, Legos - anything that would be fun to use in a fort. If you are an especially relaxed parent, you can let them eat lunch in there. If it were me, I'd let them do almost anything in there that kept them quiet.
House - so old fashioned! So fun! They get to decide who is Mom, Dad, Grandma, the baby, the dog., etc. Fun variations might be: Prairie House, Beach House, Grandma's House, Quarantine House, etc.
School - they can setup a little school and teach their dolls or stuffed animals or action figures.
Store - get out the canned goods (I know you have some!) and let them set up a store and take turns hoarding-- I mean shopping. No need for a real cash register, you can pretend with a shoe box and a calculator.
Dress Up - raid your closet and let them be superheroes, space aliens, princesses, knights, cowboys/girls - whatever they can think of. Hopefully they will act out stories these costumes inspire.
Tea Party - not just for girls! My boys used to play this for the express purpose of having horrible manners and spit-taking their "tea". Lots of hearty laughs.
This kind of imaginative play often leads them to invent their own games. There's nothing more delightful than seeing what funny things kids think up on their own. Yes, there may be a mess to clean up, but pillows all over the floor is worth an hour of happy quiet, if you ask me.