Back in our youth, my brother and I were pretty good fort-builders. With a
stolen borrowed sheet, some
clothespins and yarn, we could finagle a cover over the front hedges or a
lean-to in between a couple of trees.
Give us a couple fried bologna sandwiches and plastic cups of Kool-Aid
and our mother wouldn’t see us until the streetlights came on.
My kids have the luxury of a play structure in the backyard, a requirement of every suburban home these days. They’ve taken some leftover house paint to decorate it and hauled some make-shift furniture into it. On occasion, however, they will construct a second outdoor home with a blanket and some plastic poles left over from something, or a separate indoor room with the couch pillows and a sheet. I don’t participate at all in any of the construction.
So, my mouth dropped in awe when I saw this article about these amazing forts that moms could build with – no, for! – their kids. These things had lights, poles, semi-permanent structures, contraptions hanging from the ceiling of the living room. And if you didn’t want to actually sew and cut, you could order them all ready made.
Have we been doing this fort-building wrong all along, just making it up from whatever was around the house? Nah. I shook my head at this article and the guilt-laden message it sends. Moms: unless you are taking charge of building these play structures for your kids, you’re failing as a mom.
I think the real message should be: Moms, step out of the way and let your kids develop their own creativity.
That cardboard “house”? Great. Give the kids the box, some markers, and a pair of scissors and let them figure it out. It will be just as fun without moms perfectly straight cuts and lined brickwork.
The tent in the bedroom? Wonderful idea for a hideaway. Tell the kids where the sheets are, give them some binder clips and send them off to build their own space. They will be fine without mom sewing hemmed covers for the sides.
There are a lot of articles out there on how to play with and entertain our kids. They would have you believe that if you are not hop-scotching and crawling through the playground tubes and providing perfectly pitched pots for the kid to bang on, you are not doing your job. And we moms, myself included, internalize that message. If you are not entertaining your kids, you are abandoning them. Show your kids you love them by being with them all the time, doing everything with them.
What we’re doing is crippling their creativity. Every time we say “here, look what I did for you” or “here, this is the thing you should play with and how you should play with it,” we’re not letting our kids develop their ideas and problem-solving skills. The other day, I took my daughter to the playground. She climbed up on this spinning structure thing and hung upside down and asked me to spin it around. Umm, that’s not the way I would’ve played on it, mainly because my body is not as nimble and partly because my adult mind had an idea of the prescribed way – the safest way - to play on the thing. But my ideas shouldn’t have gotten in the way of what my daughter thought would be fun. When we parents tell our kids how to play, we’re not letting them grow as their own people with their own memories. They can’t develop their own sense of pride and “look what I did” when we do everything for them.
Instead, let’s give our kids the tools to create their childhood. Give them a blanket, some string, and a sandwich; step back and let them imagine.