On a recent, lazy Sunday afternoon, I was busy with some chores around the house and my husband had brought some work home from the office and was working in the basement. The kids were bored. The novelty of their new Christmas toys was starting to wear off and it was too cold to send them outside to play.
My oldest asked me to play hide and seek with them. I was folding laundry that was piled up to my chin and turned to look at him like he had lost his daggum mind. I suggested that he play with his little brother and sister instead.
“It’s more fun with you.”
“Well, yes, honey, most things are, but I really need to get this done. Maybe you could help me fold this and—“
He left the room before I finished my thought.
I went downstairs later and all three kids were wrestling in the family room. There was a lot of noise. Screaming, crying, yelling. I was about to do what I always do when they start roughhousing and tell them to stop before someone got hurt, but then I stopped and really listened.
There was no crying. They were laughing. And singing. There was actual singing. And squealing. And a lot of giggling. As I stood there listening, I felt like the Grinch waiting for all the Whos’ crying when they realized their gifts were all gone.
Maybe roughhousing, I thought, is really okay. Maybe roughhousing ... perhaps ... is a good way to play.
I let them play for awhile longer and then I heard the inevitable crash and the accompanying wail. Typically at this point I would march in the room and see what was broken, who was hurt, and order them to stop wrestling. This time I waited.
“Hey, guys!” my oldest said to his siblings. “We need some rules so no one gets hurt."
They then proceeded to develop a list of rules. So no one got hurt.
“No spitting, no pinching, no tickling, stay off the furniture, only sit on people bigger than you, no throwing objects, don’t pull other people’s pants down- just your own." Wait, what?!
As they made rules for nicer ways to play, I think, just perhaps, my heart grew three sizes that day.
Typically when they are wrestling around in the family room, and I
quietly and politely ask them to please stop scream at them to knock it the hell off, they retreat to their electronics or the television and sit on their arses. They are quiet. But they also aren’t playing with each other, and their faces are buried in a screen. Not exactly a win for mom.
So on this lazy Sunday I let them play.
They laughed and giggled. They problem-solved and got some physical activity.
More importantly, they did NOT bother me or whine about being bored. They did not have their noses on a screen.
They had fun.
For about approximately 6 minutes. And then, apparently, one of their rules was broken. There was a loud crash, and my daughter started wailing. I knew right away, as all moms do, that this was not a hurt cry, so I ignored her. I waited for them to start talking about safety again. She kept going with the banshee wail.
Soon my husband came barreling up the stairs and bounded into the room yelling “WHAT’S WRONG?”
“We were wrestling and-“
“KNOCK IT OFF! DON’T TOUCH OTHER! FIND SOMETHING ELSE TO DO!” he bellowed.
The kids sulked past me and I winked conspiratorially at them.
"Geesh, what a Grinch, amirite?"
I didn't let my husband carve the roast beast that night, and what I learned was this:
Sometimes I need to just let my kids play. I need to let them laugh and roughhouse, and maybe even get hurt. I need to stop solving all their problems and dictating what they do. I need to let them figure it out for themselves.
The proved to me that they are capable of doing that.
At least for 6 minutes.