Family life

Parenting: The magic of getting out of the way

Susan Goldberg vows to let her kids revel in their childhood without getting in the way.

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Photo: iStockphoto

Thunder Bay, Ont., writer Susan Goldberg is a transplanted Torontonian and one of two mothers to two boys. Follow along as she shares her family’s experiences.

Recently, author Bunmi Laditan rocked the Internet when she wrote an essay called “I’m Done Making My Kid’s Childhood Magical.”

Laditan, the writer behind the hilarious The Honest Toddler: A Child’s Guide to Learning, wrote that she was done creating Pinterest– and Facebook-worthy birthday parties, making elaborate crafts, dressing the kids to the nines in adorable designer outfits, and baking themed cupcakes in order to give her kids a so-called “magical” childhood.

She decided to break free of the tyranny of the “immense pressure that parents put on themselves to create ethereal experiences” when it suddenly hit her that parents do not make childhood magical. Abuse and gross neglect can mar it, of course, but for the average child, the magic is something inherent to the age. Seeing the world through innocent eyes is magical. Experiencing winter and playing in the snow as a five-year-old is magical. Getting lost in your toys on the floor of your family room is magical. Collecting rocks and keeping them in your pockets is magical. Walking with a branch is magical.

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For the record, I don’t invest a great deal of time creating Pinterest-worthy anything for my kids. I just can’t. Once, long ago, I sort of thought I might be the kind of parent who would go to great lengths to stage elaborate parties or create fantastic Halloween costumes. But the reality of doing those things exhausts me. A couple of years ago, I finally resorted to outsourcing birthday parties. My kids dress themselves, in wardrobes comprised mostly of hand-me-downs and Value Village finds. Painting with children raises my blood pressure to unacceptable levels. I do like to bake, and I will bake with my kids, but, well… let’s just say that I prefer baking when small people aren’t jostling my elbows and scattering flour like confetti over the kitchen floor and angling to lick batter off the Cuisinart blade.

But Laditan’s essay was a nice affirmation of a powerful truth that I often forget: it’s OK if I don’t go out of my way to create magical moments for my children. They do it for themselves all the time, anyway. I’m thinking of my regular walks to school with Isaac, who climbs on each snowbank, drags fallen tree branches with him, runs ahead to each frozen puddle in order to crack the ice on its surface. If I want to facilitate the magic, the best I can do is try to stifle my impulses to hurry him along. I can bite my tongue instead of reminding him of the time, focus on his enchantment rather the fact that we’ll be a couple of minutes late.

I’m thinking of the way Rowan gets lost in novels, or creates mini soccer fields out of Pokémon figures or toy cars and acts out complete games. How Isaac finds joy in paperclips and tiny bottles. How the kids made a makeshift Rainbow Loom bracelet stand last weekend and cajoled more than $40 out of unsuspecting and sweet neighbours who delighted in their very kid-ness. I’m thinking of the times when I bit my tongue rather than try to come up with a solution when I hear “I’m bored” — 9 times out of 10, if I keep my mouth shut, they figure out what to do next: playing “The Smashing Game” in the basement (you don’t want to know), origami, potions, hide-and-seek.

So I’m grateful to Laditan not so much for finally letting me off the Pinterest hook, but for reminding me that the world is already magical for my children, and that my job is to get out of the way long enough to let them revel in it.