I’ll readily admit I’m one of the more “senior” moms at the local playground (please note, I said senior, not senior citizen). With a God-given late addition to our family, I’m a preschool mom pushing 50. Yes, it even hurts to type that.
One of the casualties of aging is a bit of gray hair. However, alongside the gray comes a good bit of perspective. I’ve learned a few lessons in my last 17 years of parenting three kids. Lessons I wish someone would have shared with me in my early days on the job.
1. The playground is big enough for everyone
Life is simple when you’re in preschool. This is largely because the very best things are available to everyone. There’s no invitation required for the playground. There’s no skill required to play hide and seek. There are no calorie considerations at the ice cream truck. Preschoolers know no dividing lines or disqualifying factors—yet.
Truth: Sometimes the greatest gift you can give another person is to simply include them. This is a bit of parenting advice I received years ago. We all need the playground reminder that we don’t have to agree with someone to include them. We don’t have to endorse their lifestyle to love them. We don’t have to change their ideals before helping them.
Just as insecurity breeds exclusivity, confidence allows us to include those who don’t look like, speak like, or think like us. Practically speaking, including, loving, and helping others looks like making space for them in the midst of our crazy schedules. It also means getting comfortable with being uncomfortable when that affords everyone a seat at the table.
We tend to overcomplicate these ideas outside of the playground microcosm. But inclusion starts by simply extending an invitation. If our families are going to stand for something, let it be the purposefulness of making a place for everyone.
2. Walking up the slide isn’t criminal
Admittedly, it’s somewhat inconsiderate to walk up the slide when one of your rule-following cohorts is at the top waiting to slide down. Nonetheless, there are hills to die on in parenting (pun intended). I can categorically say, proper slide etiquette is not one of them.
Truth: Parenting requires a delicate balance between teaching our kids important life skills, while not obsessing over the millions of things that won’t matter in ten years (like strict bedtimes, matching clothes, and perfectly clean bedrooms). It’s about learning to parent the bigger picture by acknowledging that the small things won’t tarnish our larger parenting legacy.
I laugh at some of the metaphorical slide rules I overparented through the years. Not only did it cause me unnecessary stress, I’ve realized that many successful adults have actually flourished by swimming upstream. They are determined. They are creative. And they have learned to operate in their out-of-the-box learning style and personality—even when that meant taking the less traditional route.
There’s more than one way to the top. Cheer them on as they find their unique way of getting there.
3. It’s okay to play alone
Nothing sends a shiver down our parenting spine like casually glancing up from our Instagram feed to find our child completely alone in the middle of a packed playground. It takes all we’ve got not to run right over there and socially engineer the heck out of that debacle, for fear of raising an outcast.
Truth: It takes work not to parent out of our middle school insecurities. It’s excruciating to watch our kids play alone because we know how it feels to be the odd man out. You weren’t asked to the middle school dance by the cool kid, and neither was I. We all were excluded from some sleepovers and, generally speaking, we’re fine.
Our kids will be too.
But more than just being fine, might I suggest that they will be better for it? There will be times, especially in today’s culture, when our kids need the fortitude to stand alone. There will be times when they need to walk away, look away, and have the courage to straight up stay away. It takes character and conviction to recognize when being part of the crowd is wrong and standing alone in your conviction is right. Really right.
As excruciating as it may be to watch them fly solo on the playground, or at soccer practice, or in the afternoon carpool line—we’re trusting that kids who can play alone today will be ready to stand alone tomorrow.
4. Don’t throw wood chips
No matter a child’s age, gender, or background—if you give a kid a wood chip, they will eventually throw it (remind me to write that book). It’s ironic how a groundcover designed for safety doubles as a missile to launch at unsuspecting friends.
Truth: Kids aren’t the only ones throwing wood chips. The less flattering side of parenting is the inner-sanctimonious it brings out. We all leave the hospital on the same ill-equipped parenting footing, but it’s not long before we’re out there flying our expert parenting flags.
The reality is that every parenting journey looks different. We’re raising unique children with God-given differences in personality, talents, and interests. Some are easy going, while others are fiercely spirited. My child may excel on the baseball field, while yours rocks the math club. Just as there’s no wrong in how our kids were created, there’s no one right way to parent them. Parenting is fluid and requires constant course corrections.
Wood chips are designed to provide soft landings. The parenting road is hard and also deserves soft landings. Kids will always throw wood chips, adults can choose not to.
More fruitful, less stressful
Hopefully, some of my parenting missteps will make your walk a little more fruitful and a whole lot less stressful.
Next time you take your kids to the park, sit back, relax, and learn from the universal parenting truths being taught on the playground.
Cynthia Yanof writes on a host of topics and is the brains of ChristianParenting.org. She also hosts the hit Pardon the Mess podcast. With a high schooler, middle schooler, and an adopted preschooler of her own, from sunup to sundown she’s trying her best like any other Christian mom to point her kids towards the Lord.