I was a Girl Guide growing up in Dubai and our motto was “be prepared”. It’s something I’ve employed in many areas of my life and needless to say, one I’ve invested in during my parenting journey. I’m always prepared with snacks and distractions to occupy our times standing in line at grocery stores and no-reservation restaurants. We think of games to pass the time in immigration lines at airports and we definitely fill road trips and flight times with cartoons and movies. As soon as the kids were born I made it my mission to be ready to distract them and make time pass by quickly because I remember telling my parents I was bored on a near daily basis. I didn’t want my kids to be bored because I was afraid that if they were bored they’d throw a tantrum and we all know that tantrums are frowned upon in North America. To keep the stink eyes at bay, my purse is always filled with snacks, treats and toys.
So what am I teaching my kids? That distractions will help pass the time? I rely on my phone to help pass the time at doctors appointments and subway rides. Nothing wrong with that, so there’s nothing wrong in providing tools to help the kids pass their idle time. Right? While they were infants and toddlers, it was my job to ensure that they’re able to keep busy and entertained. Now that they’re growing up, I find myself taking a step back and allowing them to figure things out on their own. I want them to be self-sufficient (within reason) and capable of entertaining themselves without our supervision.
While we’re out I ensure that I’m still prepared but at home, it’s a whole other ball game. At home things are very different.
I’m sure our kids aren’t unique. Here are some every day sentiments that 4 year old Baby Boy and 6 year old Monkey express.
- I want to watch my cartoon NOW
- I’m hungry. I want something NOW
- It’s taking too long for my YouTube to load (5 second ads are apparently 5 seconds too long)
- No. NOW! (Half the time I don’t even know what they are asking for )
Everything is NOW.
I will admit that I am one of those parents who are glued to their phones or doing some task or another. Most of my work is done online and if I’m not working I’m usually down some rabbit hole on Instagram, replying to a friend on WhatsApp or trying to multi-task dinner prep and clean up at the same time. Of course I stop to play and give my full attention at times, but those times are usually short lived during the week days. What this means is that from a very young age my kids have come to learn that they will have to wait for me to tend to their needs. It doesn’t stop them complaining but it does mean that they’re aware that they will have to wait “one second” that goes on far longer than any second they’ve seen tick on their iPad timer.
Last week Little Monkey was on the potty and needed me to refill some wipes. I was on the couch flicking through my phone and sure enough she yells for me to come help. I reply “yea, coming! Give me one second”. Few minutes pass and she follows up with “I’m still waiting”. I reply “yes I’m coming” and Baby Boy quickly chirps in “she’s not even coming. She’s just slowly moving off the couch only now”. I burst out laughing. I should feel guilty about making them wait. But I don’t.
You want to know why? It’s because I have come to realize that my kids are pretty good when I tell them they have to wait for things (there will be a bit of whining occasionally). My kids are amazing when it comes to entertaining themselves when we have friends over or when we visit our kid-free friends. My kids love their ipads but they don’t need it on our short 2 hour drives or when we’ve taken away their privileges for some reason or another. In fact, they love puzzles and can pretend play for hours at a time with their tiny LOL Dolls and Shopkinz. While I know I can’t take the credit for all these things, I’m fairly confident that my laziness has contributed to their patience thresholds.
Intentionally ignoring them might seem like a harsh parenting strategy but I don’t feel guilty about it because I see the benefits. If I were to rush to their needs immediately I will be teaching them that the world revolves around them and that other people’s time is of no value in comparison to theirs. Yes, there are other ways to teach these lessons and I employ a fair bit of delayed gratification and self control but waiting for my attention is the one I seem to fall back on the most. Again, it’s because of my own wants and needs but I’m also harnessing an important life skill.
I usually thank them when they’ve been extra patient with me and tell them that I really appreciate them waiting for me even though I took a long time. This seems to bring a smile on Little Monkey’s face but usually receives an eye roll and “yea it’s okay” from Baby Boy. Each child has their own way of coping with the waiting but at least there was no whining or tantrum throwing. While my kids are definitely a huge part of my universe, I don’t act like they require my undying attention 24-7. They are showered with love and attention for the most part but I’ve come to the realization that making them wait isn’t a bad thing. I have a lot of things I’m responsible for and they are slowly learning that. They realize that I have to submit work on time, they understand that my friends sometimes need to talk to me immediately and that I have my own hobbies (okay.. okay, my hobby is Instagram) which are all just as important as whatever it is that they require my attention for. I’m not saying I ignore my kids in times of emergencies or dangerous situations, but they definitely hear me making them wait for all those other little things they need me to do (like plop the heads on their LOL dolls, help search for a lost item or break up an argument between the two of them).
The topic of instant gratification comes up a fair bit when we talk about the younger generation we’re rearing. I grew up in an era that saw me watching pre-taped cartoons on VCRs and waiting for my favourite shows to come on TV. I also grew up in the digital age and was online in chat groups since I was 17 years old. I remember saying bye to friends in school only to go home and try to dial up for internet access so I could chat with those same friends on ICQ and Mirc. 30 years later I have everything I need when I want it. From food delivery to Netflix our kids are growing up in an on-demand era and the concept of waiting for things seem foreign. This is probably why I often hear of young kids who can’t get through a full movie, wait in line patiently or wait more than a second when they want something. This on-demand generation can easily grow up to be impatient adults who might miss out on some amazing moments and experiences due to this need to have everything the second they think about it. Intentionally ignoring my kids isn’t something I’m going to feel guilty for because it will most likely help them out in the long run!
While it boils down to my laziness and my own distraction (more than anything else), I’m slowly teaching my kids the art of waiting.