They say to meet your children where they are. Anyway, I think that’s what they say.
While I was playing with my kids recently, silently bemoaning my fate as I often do when they rope me into some confounding activity that I barely understand, this mantra popped into my head.
“Remember Andrew, it’s important to meet your children where they are!”
Now, there is one small issue with my life mantra that is meant to focus and calm me when life and parenting gets difficult. I’m not entirely sure what this piece of advice means, which is really too bad because it’s quite possible I made it up and attributed it to a faceless them. But for the purposes of this essay, what it means is that you should try to interact and play with your children on their terms and not yours.
Seems simple enough, right?
I often think of this old adage that I might have made up when my kids are regaling me with Minecraft minutiae or watching people play Roblox on YouTube or making me play Touch Monster (a weird and more embarrassing variation of Tag) in front of everyone at the playground.
But perhaps this old nugget of real or completely fabricated parenting wisdom is never more applicable than when I’m trying to connect a battery-powered Olaf car to a bicycle chariot with Scotch tape.
I spend a lot of time with my children. A lot of time. And as I’m sure every at-home parent can understand, it’s sometimes hard to fill the expanses of time that greet you each morning.
Now, I’m not one to put on airs except every day when I change my t-shirt before heading to preschool drop-off. I have no trouble admitting that my kids watch plenty of TV and use other electronic devices liberally. However, even though we don’t set strict screen-time limits, I do try to get them out and about and moving as much as possible.
For the sake of my sanity as much as their well-being. Many times, though, these outdoor activities don’t go exactly as planned.
Every time we go outside to play, I always get my hopes up that this time is going to be different. The kids are going to want to hit some tennis balls around or shoot some hoops or maybe even play catch.
But alas, no. They rarely want to do the super fun things I like to do. Instead, they prefer to try to hook small vehicles up to other small vehicles and get frustrated when they don’t stay connected because Scotch tape is a frighteningly ineffective towing material.
Often within minutes I regret having pulled them away from the TV. Typically, the whining starts followed shortly by the arguing. Soon enough, at least one person is crying because things aren’t going the way they expected. Yes, that person is usually me, but the kids sometimes get upset too.
It’s really a very fun time of shared family misery. Or that’s how it always used to be.
However, time and experience has made me more willing to accept that I have very little control over anything, least of all my children’s choice of leisure time activities. I still suggest activities that I would prefer to do, but instead of getting frustrated or annoyed when my well-laid plans immediately go awry, I quickly give up and try my best to immerse myself in whatever imaginative activity my children have chosen.
Which just goes to show you that giving up can sometimes be a very underrated activity.
I don’t always succeed in remaining engaged, of course, because sometimes adults just aren’t made for children’s play, but my relationship with my children is better for my trying.
And when I do start to get frustrated or disappointed, I stop and give myself a little pep talk:
“Remember what they say. You have to meet your children where they are!”
And then I put my head down and get back to work. Because I don’t want to disappoint them. And this time I know who the they is I’m referring to: my children.
Plus, I really have no time to waste trying to force my children to do things they’re not ready to do. Because somebody has to Scotch tape this Olaf car and bicycle chariot together, and that somebody is me.