It’s Not Our Job to Make Childhood “Magical”

Readers — You will LOVE this essay, by Bunmi Laditan, author of The Honest Toddler: A Child’s Guide to Parenting. (What a great title!) An excerpt:

…Today, parents are being fed the idea that it benefits children to constantly be hand in hand, face to face, “What do you need my precious darling? How can I make your childhood amazing?” You can’t walk through Pinterest without tripping over 100 Indoor Summer Craft Ideas, 200 Inside Activities for Winter, 600 Things To Do With Your Kids In The Summer. 14 Million Pose Ideas For Elf on The Shelf. 12 Billion Tooth Fairy Strategies. 400 Trillion Birthday Themes.

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 5-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.

It is not our responsibility to manufacture contrived memories on a daily basis.

None of this negates the importance of time spent as a family, but there is a huge difference between focusing on being together and focusing on the construction of an “activity.” One feels forced and is based on a pre-determined goal, while the other is more natural and relaxed. The immense pressure that parents put on themselves to create ethereal experiences is tangible.

Read the whole essay here.

e. In my day, kids got sticks!

In my day, kids got sticks!

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29 Responses to It’s Not Our Job to Make Childhood “Magical”

  1. Amanda Matthews April 6, 2014 at 11:06 pm #

    Sticks are great for summer birthdays but good luck finding any under 4 feet of snow in -40 degree Fahrenheit weather. The magicalness of getting frostbite from being outside for 5 minutes wears off quickly, as does the entertainment value of those same toys. I can’t say I’ve seen any indoor SUMMER activities, maybe I’m just following the right people on pinterest. I may see how to MAKE an elf to put on a shelf (which can be done outside during the nice weather) but I’ve never seen things about how to pose it.

  2. Beth April 7, 2014 at 12:08 am #

    @Amanda Matthews

  3. Andrea April 7, 2014 at 2:41 am #

    Oh! This is music to my ears. I think I’m a good mom, but I totally phone it in on stuff like this. Also, I only occasionally make muffins. Not like these every-day muffin ladies. I will say I admire the artistry and creativity I see some moms excel at, but I don’t know how it came about that we’re all expected to pull off Willy Wonka caliber feats on a daily basis. My strengths lie more in having great in-depth conversations with my kids, listening and responding.

  4. MichaelF April 7, 2014 at 5:12 am #

    The magic I look for is when my third-grade son’s friends ring the bell at our house asking for a playdate, then they run up the street to play for an hour or so. With no adults.

  5. BL April 7, 2014 at 5:23 am #

    So what does everyone think about the first comment in the link?

    “If our parents weren’t able to push us outside everyday, what would they have done? I grew up like the author did but like was stated, we can’t allow our children to do that anymore. My parents didn’t need to keep track of where I was for hours at a time. Now we have no choice. I can’t let my kids walk around the neighborhood even if I want to because OTHER parents view it as neglectful.”

  6. SOA April 7, 2014 at 6:56 am #

    I read this article the other day. I agree and disagree. I actually did have a mother in the 80s who did Pinterest type stuff before it was “hip”. She threw me elaborate birthday parties almost every year. She also would let me have friends over and we would do crafts. Being an only child had its perks.

    So it is only fair that I would want to do the same for my kids. They at least deserve to have the same things I got as a kid. I enjoyed those things as a kid and I want to pass it on and do them for my kids.

    It is about doing what you want to do and less about keeping up with the Joneses. I don’t get peer pressured. We don’t do elf on the shelf even if every other parent we know does it because I don’t want to do it. But I do have elaborate Pinterest perfect birthday parties because that is something I actually want to do.

    So the main thing is, do what you think your family wants to do and go from there. Don’t feel you have to keep up with everyone else. Just stick to your own style and means.

    Childhood is a magical time. It is what you make of it.

  7. BL April 7, 2014 at 7:31 am #

    “Childhood is a magical time. It is what you make of it.”

    Is that “you” the parent or “you” the child?

    It certainly isn’t what you the child make of it if you’re locked indoors all day instead of being turned loose “and be home by dinner”. (Tom Sawyer’s Aunt Polly told him to be back in a WEEK or she’d tan his hide – when she could catch him.)

    It isn’t what you the parent make of it if the CPS takes your children away because they were playing in the back yard unsupervised.

  8. Joe Clark April 7, 2014 at 7:51 am #

    So this “great title” includes the exact phrase A Child’ Guide?

  9. Lauramb April 7, 2014 at 7:53 am #

    When I was a kid, I did a ton of crafty stuff in school and in Girl Scouts. Some of the stuff was really cool and useful – my mom still uses the basket I weaved in 4th grade as a napkin holder at Thanksgiving every year. Is the problem that school crafts have gone by the wayside in the push for more tests, so parents must make up the difference with crafts at home?

  10. bobca April 7, 2014 at 8:31 am #

    Magic…my son and a friend are at home…”we are bored, & there is nothing to do”…I ask them, after repeated “bored” comments…”have you ever thought of exploring down by the creek?”…they look at me dumbfounded…”we can do that?”…”of course”, I say…the amazed looks on their faces was priceless…they have been playing there, and at other “wild” locations, for 8+ years now…

  11. Caro April 7, 2014 at 8:37 am #

    I liked this blogger’s contribution to the conversation, too:

  12. lollipoplover April 7, 2014 at 8:51 am #

    My “magical” morning was yelling at my kids as they biked off to school because they let our new foster dog escape so I had to run around the neighborhood for 30 minutes in flimsy pajamas trying to find the beast who I truly believe is deaf. He was eating suet from the neighbor’s bird feeder. Can’t wait for those farts.

    Found him and also found the chalk art the gang of kids who freely roam our street did yesterday. Lots of flowers and spring drawings like Easter bunnies but also some more creative ones. Just called my neighbor (who clearly hasn’t seen her driveway yet) and made her spit out her coffee because on her driveway was a large drawing of Mike from Monsters Inc. I guess the little girl was trying to spell out his last name…but she’s only 6 so she wrote in VERY large letters “MIKE PUSSY”. The word Pussy took up abut half of the driveway. I laughed so hard the tears ran down my leg.
    Now that’s magical.

  13. Donna April 7, 2014 at 9:03 am #

    I am with SOA here and both agree and disagree.

    My mother, in the 70s, did tons of craft projects with me as a small child. I remember blowing eggs, tie-dying shirts and have seen my products that I have no recollection of making at relatives’ houses my entire life. My mother is also an artist so that is her thing. She now does lots of crafts with my daughter.

    I also remember going on lots of excursions with my mother/parents. We went places and did things together. Some were things they wanted to do and some were things that were planned specifically for my enjoyment. Some of these things are, by far, my most “magical” memories from childhood. Sorry, but playing Charlie’s Angels with the neighborhood kids doesn’t really compare with bottle feeding baby tigers while they snuggled on my lap in my magical childhood memory bank.

    So I do think parents have a role in making childhood “magical” for their children. I just don’t think it needs to follow some set pattern or involve things mind-numbing for the parents. I don’t do crafts or play make believe with my child because I hate to do those things. I do strive to find experiences that she will enjoy; many are fun for me too, but some I enjoy simply because I watch her get into them.

  14. SJH April 7, 2014 at 9:13 am #

    I don’t think the point of this article is that “crafts are only for helicopter parents” or “never seek out a special experience for your child.” I haven’t read the whole thing, but to me it seemed to only try to relieve the *pressure* on parents today and remind us that childhood will be magical whether we live up to our own (often unrealistic) expectations or not.

  15. E April 7, 2014 at 9:21 am #

    My best advice to anyone is to remove the social media that isn’t bring value INTO your life. I got rid of FB years ago because I realize it wasted time and it was more annoying than interesting. I didn’t like how I felt after reading about politics or perfect GPAs or whatever. I spent about 10 minutes with Pinterest before realizing it wasn’t for me.

    I do use twitter (mostly for news and entertainment, not keeping up with friends) and playing around with Instagram from time to time.

    I often wonder/worry about tweens/teens in this regard. If adults can write blogs posts about how social media affects them, I can only imagine what it does to kids. How many likes, how many comments, etc. I’m so glad I grew up before the internet and that my kids were (mostly) grown before social media was so pervasive.

  16. Lola April 7, 2014 at 9:25 am #

    Agree!! I may add that if we want to share their magical childhoods, we should try to see the world through their eyes, rather than force them to see it from ours or, what’s worse, try to be the centre of their worlds.

  17. BL April 7, 2014 at 9:45 am #

    “My best advice to anyone is to remove the social media that isn’t bring value INTO your life.”

    Exactly. FarceBook is no more mandatory now than platform shoes and pet rocks were mandatory in the 1970s.

  18. Donna April 7, 2014 at 10:14 am #

    I think the fallacy is in even defining childhood as “magical” or expecting “magic” from childhood. That is what bugged me most about this whole article/blog. Winter and snow was no more “magical” to me at 5 than doing crafts with my mother. I liked them both, and while I can think of many childhood experiences, both contrived and natural, that were fabulous, great, wonderful, mind-blowing, etc., I don’t think back to my childhood as some “magical” time and think that most people who do are remembering it with rose-colored glasses and forgetting the frustrations and the fact that snow gets cold and wet and winter drags on too long, even at 5.

    I contrive activities for my child because I think she will enjoy them at the time, not in an attempt to create “magic” because I think the whole idea is a fallacy. I don’t even strive to create memories. I simply strive to have her enjoy the moment that she is in right then. If she remembers it, great. If not, she still greatly enjoyed the moment when she did it.

  19. J.T. Wenting April 7, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    you got sticks? We got told to go out into the forest and find our own sticks :)

    Snow? More opportunities for playing, and for causing trouble…

    Main problem was rain, and it rains a lot. But for that we had big boxes of Lego bricks and my dad’s collection of WW2 novels.

  20. SOA April 7, 2014 at 10:37 am #

    BL: who says I don’t let my kids play outside? They play outside by themselves all the time and I don’t worry about CPS.

    Some of the magical activities I do with them are about being outside like nature walks to collect nature things and make a collage out of them when we get home for example. Or I set up a treasure hunt in the yard for them to go figure out by themselves and complete.

    I think there is a balance between parents just being like go play outside with no direction and parents occasionally setting up something special for the kids.

    But my kids have a super magical childhood that we all enjoy.

  21. SOA April 7, 2014 at 10:43 am #

    I remember my childhood as pretty awesome. I really enjoyed life until I got to about middle school and then I got bullied and bitter and life sucked after that.

    I think I was generally happy and have more good memories than bad when it comes to elementary school age. Lots of fun trips with my parents, awesome slumber parties, playing outside by myself or with other kids in the neighborhood, riding bikes, playing with my toys, crafts, dance class, playing dress up, birthday parties, etc. I loved all of it.

    That is the great thing about being a kid. Everything is new to you and exciting and most of them aren’t bitter or burned by the world yet. So even a simple activity can bring great joy. Wish I had that innocence back.

  22. Donna April 7, 2014 at 11:40 am #

    ‘Lots of fun trips with my parents, awesome slumber parties, playing outside by myself or with other kids in the neighborhood, riding bikes, playing with my toys, crafts, dance class, playing dress up, birthday parties, etc.”

    I remember all that too and loved them. I also remember endless days when none of those things were happening, my same old toys were boring and I desperately wanted my mother to play with me. Monotony gets old regardless of age.

  23. Sharon Davids April 7, 2014 at 1:21 pm #

    My 12 year old said to me recently some of her favorite memories were trips and fun memories with her parents. However, in the next breathe she said some of other great childhood memories she can’t tell me about because I wasn’t there.

    I am not jealous just happy that she can make memories without us.

  24. parallel April 7, 2014 at 5:24 pm #

    I think it depends on the motivation for ‘making memories’

    Is it done from a desire to one-up the neighbors? Because everyone else is doing it? Because the TV told you that you should? Because there’s NOTHING ELSE to do with the kids being locked inside all day?

    My mother absolutely set out to ‘create memories’ (and used just that phrasing too.) She woke us all up (six kids plus extended family living in the house) and drove us out to a field to watch the sunrise. She staged a pie fight in the backyard. When she learned my aunt had never been on a hayride, she filled the pick-up’s bed with hay and drove us around the neighborhood. She buried treasure and made a map for my brothers (my brother gleefully bit down on one of the ‘gold’ coins and proclaimed “they’re real!!” while dancing in circles.) For me, she made a story about a man that murdered his family in our house and threw a Halloween party on the anniversary of his death (complete with my father stomping around on the roof and dragging chains through the gutters, my brothers shining flashlights through the attic windows, and my mother rushing at us covered in ketchup-blood.)

    We had food-fights and a wedding party for my imaginary dragon friend. And all of it came from the simple motivation to have fun as a family. None of us ever felt forced or manipulated. We were also completely free-range, with plenty of time to roam on our own and make our own adventures.

    My childhood WAS magical, and I’m deeply thankful for it.

  25. Ann April 7, 2014 at 7:24 pm #

    I think today’s parents actually tend to go a bit overboard trying to make their kids’ childhoods magical is BECAUSE so many of us had checked-out parents back in the day. I remember wishing I had the mom involved in crafts and activities like girl scouts. Most my childhood WAS sitting around being bored, trying to think up something to do. Times with my friends were fun, of course, but I don’t know if I would call them magical. I do look back on the times my mom did the Christmas cookie and Easter egg thing with us and yes, those were really fond, magical moments.

  26. SOA April 7, 2014 at 10:23 pm #

    My mom was the “favorite” mom of all my friends. All my friends really wanted to come to my house and thought my parents were cool because my mom did stuff like set up t shirt painting for us or took us to the amusement park. My parents were the only parents who set up an entire haunted house in the garage and a haunted cemetery complete with my mom dressed up in full witch costume and my father in full zombie costume. Other parents typically did not do all that. Then on top of all that (as if that was not enough) they rented a disco ball and lights and had a dance party after the haunted house and haunted cemetery attractions were over with.

    That was the type of Halloween party I had. I never went to my friend’s parties where the parents went all out like that. Now it seems more parents do tend to try to put more effort into that kind of thing. Which is great if that is what they want to do. I just hope they don’t do it because they think they have to and don’t get real joy out of it. My parents actually had fun with it.

  27. Amanda Matthews April 8, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

    After actually reading the article (lol) I kind of feel like it contradicts itself. Crafts are about creating while the other things are about consuming. I wouldn’t fill my kids’ rooms with Pottery Barn stuff, but they ARE filled with stuff we crafted. My kids don’t dress in “trendy” clothes but they do wear quite a bit of clothing that I crafted or we dyed together. We may never go to Disneyland but my daughter will probably always remember her first convention a few months ago. Everyone complimented her cosplay (which she thought up and I crafted), she helped me sell some of my crafts, and she got to see a real live Tardis (that another attendee crafted).

    I’ve learned all of my craft skills using (what some consider) social media sites. I get patterns from social media sites, I exchange ideas on social media sites, I learn about venues for selling my crafts via social media sites.

    I DON’T use social media for seeing how much greener everyone elses’ grass is. I wasn’t even aware that some people were trying to make their kids’ childhoods “magical.”

    But if you are the type of person that insists on “keeping up” with or outdoing other parents, I’m pretty sure you’re going to do that just as much offline as you’d do on social media sites.

  28. Amanda Matthews April 8, 2014 at 1:05 pm #

    Oh wait, that wasn’t her first convention, it was actually her second; her first was when she was about 2 weeks old. So she probably won’t remember her FIRST convention despite it being just as magical, or just as unmagical :)

  29. Casey April 11, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

    Yes! I can only imagine how much less “magical” my own childhood would have been if my parents had been in my face all the time, rather than backing off and giving me the freedom to explore my world and imagination.

    That’s not to say my parents didn’t do things for me. My mother made beautiful birthday cakes-and an elaborate gown for my first high school prom. My dad started a small business in part to give teenaged me a first job that would involve more responsibility than mopping floors. But they didn’t involve themselves in my creative projects, crafts, or “activities.” Entertaining myself was my responsibility.