Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I am starting this thing.

I guess I made the decision this morning while I was at the playground with my daughter. She is a little over a year old, my second child, and it is such an interesting experience to just sit and watch different people interact with their kids at the park when I am there with her.

First of all, I am one of the only mothers who does not actually climb up onto the playground equipment or into the sandbox with my child. I never did. Apparently this makes me something of a freak of nature in modern American culture. I sit on the comfy bench drinking my coffee and my daughter pretty much does what she does. If she can't climb up somewhere that she wants to go, she either eventually figures it out on her own, or she doesn't go up there. I think that in the quest to insure that children achieve their "milestones", parents and nannies give them a helping hand...with everything...

This goal of achievement and fear of failure based on performance starts during pregnancy and seems to continue unabated until mothers are comparing which internships their 25 year old child is competing for-and how mom is helping them succeed.

It is fascinating to watch the beginnings of this pattern as parents of 9 month old infants hold their babies upright and drag them around the playground, "helping" them learn to walk, because they know other moms whose babies are already well on their way to completing this vital milestone and they already feel twinges of failure.

It seems like so much these days is measured quantitatively in terms of how we raise our kids. Mothers compare notes on the best afterschool activities and on when their kids sat, walked, potty trained, ate, read, etc. There is some sort of huge checklist and the pressure is on to have a kid who achieves and performs. Kids are pushed into so many activities that they essentially don't have a childhood.

But what about teaching independence? What is a child really learning when their mother choreographs every step they take, aiming to craft an experience that maximizes their "success"? I see it every single day. Mothers who stand next to their kids on playground equipment, putting their child's foot in the right place so that he can learn to climb up the ladder before he is a late bloomer, a failure--thus making the mom a failure.

They stand on top of their children saying "do you want to slide now? Let's slide. No, come back here, we are going down the slide now. Put your hand here. Now sit down on your bottom so you are safe. Now get ready...go! Wheee!!! So much fun!"

How can a child learn to be independent this way? How can they learn to learn? Learn that it's not a big de
al if it takes a little longer to figure something out?

So many kids have problems with attention, problems with resilience, problems with problem solving, patience, confidence. Is it any wonder?

My son is six. While I was at the park this afternoon with my daughter, he was bike riding with my husband. I raised my son the same way that I am raising my daughter, and he took a lot longer than most kids to figure out the slide, the swings, climbing, etc, but he learned independence, focus, and resilience. Now he is a happy and healthy boy who is up for every challenge. When my husband took him to rent bikes at Battery Park today after school, they only had adult bikes which were huge for him, and they only had hand breaks. He has never ridden anything but coaster.

So this afternoon, while I was sitting around watching scores of adult women negotiate the toddler playground at Union Square, climbing up tiny ladders, sliding down slides, and shoveling in the sand box, my son was riding an enormous bike (his feet didn't touch the ground when he was on the seat) with breaks he had never used before. He wiped out a few times, but (he proudly
told me) he didn't rip his school pants and he was happy as a clam. He rode more
than 100 blocks and is ready for more.

It would be a great thing if people could understand that teaching kids independence happens only when they are left alone to be kids. It is not something that is actively taught like piano
or ballet. It is something that kids are programmed
for from birth and is an essential part of growing up that is missing more and more. It seems so counterintuitive in our culture...like neglect or failure or incompetence...but it is essential for the health and happiness of our kids.


  1. you go,girl !I like your observations and it is charming that the boy proudly didn't rip his school pants.

  2. working as a nyc babysitter, i cannot tell you how many parents i've spoken to/interviewed with who were interested in me as a potential playmate for their child. i did not and still do not understand. i remember meeting with one woman who was less interested in getting to know me and instead wanted to see how i could engage with her 2 or 3 year old in a playground setting. that obviously didn't work out.