This morning at the park, I decided to implement some of the French parenting styles that have been occupying my thoughts of late. (See last post if you’re not up to date.)
After the first ten minutes, I realized I was hovering over the toddler. I was following him around the playground, urging him to try out various toys and suggesting what activities he might enjoy. Most of the time he ignored my advice and did his own thing.
Then I started listening to myself. I found I was narrating his play, adding sound effects like “Wheee!” as he came down the slide, and praising him whenever he completed something, “Good boy! Great job! Yay!”
I realized with a jolt that I was acting precisely like the stereotypical American turbo-parent, as described by Pamela Druckerman in “Bringing Up Bébe.” She describes a stark dichotomy between American and French playgrounds, in which the former have parents running after their kids, narrating the whole play date, while the latter are a notorious free-for-all, with minimal parental interference.
I decided to experiment and plunked myself down on a bench with the baby in my arms. From my vantage point, I could see the whole playground. My son didn’t even notice I was gone. Periods of aimless wandering were interspersed with minutes of intensely active play, followed by more wandering, and I was amazed to see that the wandering didn’t concern him one bit! He was simply checking things out. He had a few falls, visited with some strangers, asked someone else to push him on the swing, and never looked around once for Mommy.
I, on the other hand, had to glue my butt in place to keep from running after him. I began to observe other parents. One dad never strayed more than a couple feet behind his son, even following him down the slide. Another mom kept asking repeatedly, “Go on the swing! Let’s try the swing. Don’t you want to swing?” The kid was utterly disinterested. One parent walked around with a bag of food, suggesting snack time to her kid, who couldn’t care less.
Conclusion of my mini social experiment? It was actually quite nice to sit on the sidelines and observe. I think I’ll do it more often. What’s your approach to managing your kid(s) at the playground?