10 Talents of Parenting: Conclusion Putting the 10 Talents of Parenting in Perspective
For some people, parenthood comes easily. They seem to always be able to play, respond to their children's needs, understand children's feelings, and remain calm under stress. But most of us aren't naturals; we need to develop those traits that will make us the parents we want to be. After all, you can't do anything complicated without a lot of practice, and raising children is about as complicated as it gets.
Over the last year, I have written about how to nurture The 10 Talents of Parenting. Of course, there are always different ways to divide up the pie. I could have written about the talent of stretching yourself. For example, roughhousing with your kids if you always avoid that type of play, or getting on the floor to dress up dolls if you can't stand to do that. Or the talent of handling uncertainty. We all love to know what's going to happen next, but parenthood comes with no guarantees - except the absolute certainty that you won't be prepared for whatever happens next.
Moms & Dads on Parenting
The parents who logged on to the 10 Talents forum at Parenthood.com wrote about a variety of ways that they nurture their parenting abilities. Many wrote about playfulness, saying that they tried to remember to make it a part of every day.
One dad said that he would go with his son to "places where we could be 'silly' without being self-conscious." Apparently getting filthy with sand and dirt was part of the fun, but this kind of wild play was also "a great cure for the grumpies."
But this dad also recognized that play can be deeply meaningful too: "When we would go puddle- or dust-jumping, or screaming, or singing we sometimes talked or sometimes we didn't say a word. But there was never an empty silence between us - there were times when we didn't need to fill the space with words."
One mom, who discovered that her child loved it when she pretended to trip and fall over during games of chase, suggested another deeply meaningful reason to practice being playful: "I try to play with him as much as I can since I'm a working mom and don't get to see him much in the evenings. I hope that our play grows as he does, and he has lots of great memories of that time."
Another mom described a long and complex playtime ritual that her daughter plays with Dad every night when he comes home from work. She acknowledged that it is time-consuming, "but we would not have it any other way. She loves it, and would be so disappointed to miss it ... I know that we make mistakes, that's what it is to learn, but I know that playfulness is such an important part of childhood, and it's something all children need to thrive."
Yet another mom discovered that she could end the constant power struggle over cleanup time by making a game out of it: "I make it a race," she wrote. "We say, 'On your mark, get set, go!' And we all race around the room picking up toys and laughing. It makes it go by in less than five minutes, where if I didn't do it this way, it would take me two hours just talking them into doing it."
If you don't want to make it a race, try what one mom tried: "I used to tell them they were vacuum cleaners. They would go 'plug themselves in' and I would 'turn on their switches' and then the fun part: that vacuum cleaner noise! They got to be loud and giggly and 'suck up' all the toys. We'd 'empty their bags' (arms) into the toy box as they got filled, and then they'd head back out again for more stuff. It was great fun!"
Common Concerns & Advice
A number of parents online worried about yelling too much, and about their ability to manage their stress. "When I have a bad day everybody has to run for cover" was a popular response in a recent Parenthood.com poll.
I also found that self-doubt and self-criticism are common among these parents, just like parents everywhere. I think we all care about our kids so much that we get a little worried - some people panic about doing the right thing, while others are even concerned about being too concerned!
During the time I spent answering questions on the discussion boards, I found that my most common responses were: "It's normal, relax" and "How about trying something different and new?" Of course, my "different and new" ideas were usually goofy things like making up silly games, falling over or singing requests in a fake-opera voice instead of nagging.
Over and over, I found myself urging parents to get more support, because most of us don't get nearly enough. In order to have one-on-one time with every child on a regular basis (one of the cornerstones of a happy family), we need to figure out who is going to take care of the other kids while we do this (or who is going to wash the dishes!). Online communities like Parenthood.com are a great way to increase support, since the Web brings together like-minded parents with new ideas and encouragement - and it's available in the middle of the night when your best friend or your mom might not appreciate a phone call.
Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D., is a psychologist who specializes in children's play and play therapy, and is the author of several books, including the award-winning Playful Parenting.