Parenting – Protect their Play


 Protect their Play: a parenting perspective

 My youngest daughter turns 13 in two weeks. I can see her daily going from tween to teen. She’s a young woman with lots of friends, lots of school activity, lots of interests. There’s not so much time for hanging out, getting an ice cream, taking mini vacations. The 13 years today seem like a day or two – so ‘quickly go the years.’

 I remember her playing in the back yard with her best friend, our next door neighbor. They’d spread blankets in the sun, host picnics, and, my favorite, build gnome gardens. One summer she asked me to make gnome furniture and I happily spent many evenings carving wood couches and lamps, even a refrigerator. These miniature pieces were kept in a box I made that she painted on the outside – a beautiful meadow done in pastels with trees and a brook.

That time was precious for her and I being an older father, wanted to protect her and her best friend from any intrusions as they played . I built a kind of bubble around them – wouldn’t interrupt them if someone called, wouldn’t ask them questions, wouldn’t let older siblings come by for a quick visit. Their time was precious and I wanted to give them the freedom and safety of uninterrupted play.

 Our two parent working family is always busy with ‘things to do.’ We have a large family and there’s always opportunity for visits, birthdays, get togethers, school functions, business demands, house repairs and on and on. Our children need, I believe, not so much to be prepared for the ‘future’ but to fully be immersed in their ever shrinking childhood.

 We all know about the intrusiveness of our expanding electronic world. Children routinely get cell phones earlier and earlier. They can watch movies on their cell phones, text continuously, play games. I’m not yet fully a curmudgeon and I do get that living in this world is always a challenge of adapting successfully to what is rather than a nostalgic dream of the way it was..

 Nevertheless, the need for free, unencumbered and natural play time in the outdoors, the need for imaginative play – forts, tents, weird food creations – indoors, must be consciously protected and even ‘sponsored’ or, I’m afraid, the electronic inventions will obliterate the nurturing of garden building in our children’s inner lives.

 As a coach for couples who are trying to build better marriages I notice almost daily that relationship failures are a function of too little imagination. We all can be seduced by the linear laundry list of what’s right and what’s wrong. Our children need a strong and healthy and expansive imagination to meet the challenges of living successfully in a rapidly changing world. Our job is to provide the muscle that guards their time and circumstances so they may have the opportunity to let their imaginations – their inner gardens – grow and flourish.

Yes she soon will be thirteen and that world will offer opportunities and challenges that will shape the coming decades. But I will volunteer to be a guardian of her need for quiet time, for time without duties or demands, time where her own inner world is honored. It’s my gift to her.

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