Why is it so hard for me to let my kids enjoy life at their own pace?

“Whaddya doing Max?” a father shouted at his son. “We came here to go on the water slides! We’re going on the water slides! C’mon!”

The little boy, who was more interested in climbing on the rock wall, reluctantly followed his father.

I watched them get in line.

From the top of the stairs the view was expansive; the sky blue, the sun hot, the water in the slides the perfect temperature. I couldn’t imagine a more enjoyable activity for a Friday afternoon in June.

But the man’s impatient words were disconcertingly familiar.

They reminded me of my father-in-law.

They reminded me of myself.

When we lived in Massachusetts every year a fair would come to the Amherst Commons. It was sleezy and thrilling, with tattooed attendants and rickety rides.

One year James’s dad was visiting the same weekend as the fair.

He strode onto the Commons and bought a packet of tickets.

My girls, ages two and three, clambered onto the carousel. They held onto their horses with white knuckled grips, their mouths open in wide-eyed delight.

After the ride the girls lingered to watch contestants try to make it to the top of the climbing wall on the side of a truck.

“C’mon,” my father-in-law motioned, putting his hands on their backs and herding them away. Then he walked in front of them.

“Hurry up,” he called impatiently over his shoulder. “We’ve got to go on the next ride!”

Hurry up?

To the next ride?

Better go as quickly as you to the electric choo choo train! Come on kids! Why are you dawdling?!

James has unhappy memories of being rushed as a child. So do I. When we talked about it later it was easy for James and me to both to feel indignant: When you take your kids somewhere to have kid fun, why badger them to hurry up?

But what’s harder to admit is that I’m guilty too.

I find myself hurrying my kids for no reason, getting impatient when we’re not in a hurry, wanting them to be at the park so they can swing on the swings instead of sitting on a park bench near the playground because that’s what they want to do.

Hurry becomes a habit.

So does scolding.

Even when there’s nothing to be late for, even when no one’s done anything wrong.

Why do we take our children out to do something “fun” and then try to control what they do and make them do it faster?

What harm is there in climbing the rock wall before going on the water slides or lingering at the fair?

It’s so hard for me to turn off the automatic pilot. To stop hurrying. To stop stressing. To slow down. To let my children jump off the stoop 35 times when we really came to go to the museum or let them stop and run their fingers in the sidewalk cracks when we’re supposed to be on our way to the park.

When my oldest daughter was two she received a large, nicely wrapped gift.

“Rainbows!” she cried fascinated by the colorful ribbons taped to the wrapping paper, so absorbed in them that she was uninterested the present inside.

Instead of letting her enjoy what she was interested in the most, I opened the box of hand painted wooden alphabet blocks and tried to draw her attention away from the ribbons (which she loved them so much she brought to bed with her).

I wish that man hadn’t yelled at his son at the water slides.

I wish my father-in-law could have let the girls linger wherever they wanted to at that fair.

And I wish I could go back in time and have Hesperus open that present again. If I could, I would let her enjoy her present in her own way, on her own time.

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  1. I think we all have back-in-time moments. Today because I got sucked into email, I left the house late and missed the first 5 minutes of the magic show that my kid had at the end of a week long science camp. Unfortunately, her trick was first and I missed it. Her eyes were red when I showed up. The teachers let her do her trick at the end so I could see it, but I still wish I had a do-over.

    I think these moments are inevitable in life. And I think we as parents are harder on ourselves than the kids are on us. I felt horrible about the magic show all day long. In the end I ended up being a better mom because of the guilt–giving my kid a lot more attention than usual. Right after the magic show I told her that I got an F for the day, and she told me it wasn’t that bad. That it was really a C. By the end of the day she gave me an A.

    At any rate, I know I tend to rush or attempt to change her attention when I’m either grumpy or in need of a mental break. Certain activities allow a grown up to zone out more than others. Sometimes it’s just habit. Sometimes you really do need to chop chop for a good reason.
    Alisa Bowman recently posted…5 More Habits that Hurt Your MarriageMy Profile

  2. merr

    Such an honest post. I have a book by Melody Beattie called The Language of Letting Go. It’s a daily reader, and it seems to provide exactly the perfect reminder for why it’s important to let go.

  3. Yes, agree that it’s a parent thing to want to go back in time for do-overs. Then again, my kids are teenagers now, and I’m always the last one out the door whenever we go anywhere together. When they’re ready to go, they’re ready. They don’t realize I have to check the coffee pot, check the stove, do one last thing on the computer, make sure I’ve got everything I need, finish getting the bills together to drop in the mailbox, yada yada!
    Jane Boursaw recently posted…Five Cool Things: Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, The Hunger Games, Brett Ratner, Planet of the Apes, Longshot MagMy Profile

  4. Natalie

    I get irrationally irritated when my daughter uses the “wrong” thing to play pretend with. She often wants to wrap Dolly up in a grown-up sized afghan when she has perfectly good Dolly blankets! I have to remind myself that it really doesn’t matter one bit if she does this. It’s funny, because in other ways I’m pretty laid back about letting her enjoy something her own way.

  5. I agree with you about this, but I also think that part of being the parent is keeping things on track. So if you have only 2 hours to spend at the fair or whatever and you know your child is going to love the water slide, you do want to nudge them to move along so that they will be able to get to that experience which you as the adult know will be the highlight of their day.

    I find myself having to be the timekeeper, especially on vacations. Yes, just noodling around the beach and tide pools is fun and I make time for that, but if we have a swim with the dolphins scheduled that my kids are going to go bonkers over, I’m going to make sure they get there to enjoy that.

  6. I like this article and agree that we do too much rushing rushing rushing as families. On the other side of the coin, I would also like to add that I do expect my children to LISTEN to me and do what I tell them to do right away. I give them lots of choices and freedom in their day but when I say it’s time to leave from the house, park, parking lot, or whatever, I expect them to do it right away and if they don’t then we always do some sort of consequence. For their safety and the sanity of our family life, we need them to listen and act on what we tell them. We don’t have lots of problems with listening now but it took some training in the earliest years for them to know what was expected of them. When we are relaxing or doing recreational activities, I love letting them meander, and discover (my husband and I are artists and that’s a big part of who we are). I just wanted to add that while it’s so important we give children the freedom to explore the world and be open to the beauty they see from their perspective, I think at the same time there should be an underlying respect for the authority of the adult in charge, and ability to follow instructions. It’s all a part of learning how to explore our own needs while staying respectful and mindful of the needs of others. These things in the end make the world happier for everyone. It’s always a delicate balance to be a parent! That’s for sure! 🙂 🙂 Sarah Jane

  7. Sheryl

    I know just how you feel. And now that time gphas passed and I’m a lot more relaxed, it is the other way around; MY kids constantly rush me!

  8. susan buscaglia

    Once every summer, as a small child, my family went to Crystal Beach Amusement Park in Ontario, Canada ( Or, maybe, regiment park). So specific was the order of events, that I recall them vividly, today. With fondness and angst.
    First the train that circled the park, to the merry-go-round, the “Giant” roller coaster, french fries in a cone with white cider vinegar, the Ferris wheel, Hot Rod Turnpike, ice cream cones (still have never found ice cream that good), The Wild Mouse, etc.etc. ending always with a Majic Carpet Ride and one of their famous homemade suckers.
    This article brought back my anxiety over whether I would get this all in and the worry on the ride-of-the-moment over getting to the next. Thus, not enjoying that one.
    This also reminded me how I very tradtionally passed this on to my son. I believe I scooted him around in much the same order and immediacy. Because this was the way it was done?
    Sometimes , less is more. Would we not be better savoring a few (out of specific order) rides instead of getting them all in, come hell or high water? While it’s true kids need to be guided, they also need to be allowed to have their own experience at their innocent pace.
    To this day, I struggle with letting life unfold as it may. The good news is that you are realizing this, now, while you still have time. Thanks to Max’s dad. Great signal from the universe!

  9. Catarina

    Yes it is quite.. I was going to write funny, but in reality it is rather sad, how we adults/parents/caretakers almost always seem to think we know best what children will enjoy. Talking to toddlers and preschoolers is a humbing experience in getting to know their true likes and dislikes – and most of the time it really is the steps up to the Smithsonian that look and maybe feel magical – as opposed to the exhibitions inside that we want to show the children. It really does say more about our own needs than our childrens..

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