When my kids are bored, they don't role-play or imagine or read books or even beg for TV. When my kids are bored, they fight. One child needles, the other child squeals, then the first yells and the second bites. It's like the totally predictable steps in a dance that I've seen too many times before. I'm not talking about ordinary fighting, by the way. People who see this are all oh wow, your kids are awful fighters and I'm all I know and then we both run and prise them apart before anybody ends up in hospital, or jail.
|A post-fighting time-out. In a department store. Because they had just pulled over a mannequin. I am not making this up.|
I can't stand it. I can't stand the fighting, obviously, and I can't stand the way it means that they never ever push through to independent, sustained play. It's kind of pathological and I feel sick just writing about it.
It can't go on. They are getting big - they are four, for pity's sake - and lots of kids their age are in school. We decided we wanted to have them home with us until they were five, for attachment-y reasons, and I'm glad that we did that. I'm aware that if we'd done something different, I'd probably be glad that we had done that, too; I know our brains are predisposed to think that we've made good choices, so my lack of regret means nothing, really. I have some Big Thoughts about school readiness, and how attachment stuff ties into that, but I don't know how to write about it without sounding like I'm being judgy. And believe me, I am in no position to be judgy. I met the lovely Dr Spouse recently, and during the two-or-so hours we were together, my children whined constantly, had tantrums, did constant baby talk, tried to drink HER coffee (after I'd already let them drink MY coffee) and then one of them ran out onto the middle of the road. She will back me up that I am not in a position to make statements about how anybody else does parenting. And did they hit me, K? Yeah, I'm pretty sure at least one of them hit me.
But anyway, yes, I'm glad that they've been home with us. Attachment-wise, I do feel like they have needed it. But if I'm brutally honest, sometimes I fear that I mistake ordinary clinginess for attachment stuff, or that I've enabled what I should have been helping them to overcome. It's all very chicken-and-egg: what came first, the parent who stayed home and did attachment parenting or the child who sobbed with fear when he had to spend ten minutes being looked after by someone he didn't know?
Yeah, I don't know either.
I think that they are well and truly old enough - and mentally and physically developed enough - to be playing on their own, but the problem is that they don't know how to do it. Most kids learn from when they are tiny, but not my two. Because boredom has always turned into fighting, then into intervention from me, they do not know how to push through that boredom barrier. They have no idea what might wait on the other side. They are too old for this. They need to learn.
So: my kids need to learn to do some basic independent play, but it seems that they can't do it at home. I can't just neglect them and leave them to get on with it, because of the violence. The only way they can seem to play for any sustained period is if they are at a park or one of those horrible indoor play centres. For this reason, I have determined to start neglecting my kids in public places. The way it works is that I sit on a bench or a chair, within their line of sight, but I refuse to get up and play with them. I'm explicit with them about what is happening - I am staying here because you need to learn to play without any grownups - and then I shoo them away.
The advantage of all this is that I'm there - no need for anxiety - but I'm not cruise directing. Occasionally, I give them tips: for goodness sake, you have a twin. Go on the see saw, obviously, but I refuse to leave my chair.
Two minutes later: Mummy-mummy-mummy! I am on the slide! and then I say Yuh-huh, that's great, now keep playing. And if they say Come and watch me on the slide! I say no, I am staying here because you need to learn to play without any grownups.
Because really - really- they do need to learn to play without any grownups. When I write it there, it sounds kind of harsh. Either harsh, or utterly ridiculous, that I'm so panicked about doing the wrong thing by my kids that I'm even subjecting them to strategic neglect.
I won't lie, though, it's also kind of awesome. Goodbye, boiling park-rage that I usually succumb to. Hello, twenty minutes to actually read a book (with one eye, at least). Hello, time spent just staring into space and calling it parenting.
Strategic neglect. It's all I can come up with. And it's working okay - they can manage playing together outside for much longer than they used to - but it doesn't seem to be spilling over into how they deal with each other or themselves when they are trapped inside our small house.
And winter is coming.