Monday, 25 July 2022

Parenting advice 1: independence and autonomy

The title is quite ironic, since I have never been much into advice. There are zero parenting books in my house. I suppose I have a parenting philosophy, which I could explain in a few sentences on a good day. I have questions about life, to which I seek answers, or just better questions.  But I don’t have A Method That Works, especially not when it comes to the forces of nature that are my daughters.

However, people have often commented on our daughters’ independence, and I might have something helpful to say about that. From the time they were small toddlers, they were both good at playing on their own (and after Dani’s birth, with each other). As a caveat, I cannot say for sure that anything I did or didn’t do helped with this independence. It may be genetics and have little to do with my actions. But we may have at least encouraged it, so that is what this blog is about.

Pictured below: Lego is a popular toy in our house, so this is a common scene:

Recently I had a conversation with one of the girls’ friends. It went something like this:

Me: “We have a big bin of Lego we like to play with!”

Him: “All the Lego is in one bin?”

Me: “Yes.”

Him: “We have one too, except the sets [to build something specific] are separate.

Me: “Yeah, we have some of those sets too, but we just put it all in together!”

Him: “All of it?!”

Me: “Yeah! Then we just use it to make whatever we want.”

Him: (Mind blown) “My dad keeps the sets in their own boxes.” (His dad, listening to this conversation, stares at me in shock.)

Disney Lego castle

Pictured above: A thick, detailed manual from Disney/Lego, with step by step instructions on how to build the castle from Beauty and the Beast, which I will never, ever do. Also, I’m certain a few pieces have been sucked into the vacuum cleaner. I don’t even know why this is manual is still in the house. I suppose, for the chance that my daughters one day decide they want to A) sort out all the castle Lego from the other Lego and B) follow step by step instructions like those below to build it. Anything, after all, is technically possible.

Just to be clear, I know there are grownups (like our friend) and possibly children (?) who are willing to put time and energy into keeping different sets of Lego separate, for whatever reason. I am not, and this is consistent with both my desire to spend my time on more interesting (to me) things and with my “parenting philosophy.” Part of this philosophy is to respect my children’s choices as much as possible, and to pay attention to when my own neuroticism might be intruding on them.

I have used Lego as an example, but in all situations, we make a point of letting the girls play the way they want to, as long as they are not hurting themselves, hurting anyone else, being anti-social, or destroying anything important.*

Another example: if we go to the playground and AJ ignores the equipment and searches the gravel for half an hour looking for “gemstones”, I’m cool with that. If Dani climbs all the way up to the slide and then turns around and climbs all the way down again, I don’t coax her to go down the slide or demand she justify her decision. (Other people might. That’s fine too. She can learn that different people have different beliefs about sliding.)

*What is acceptable risk is a whole other topic. If I feel like writing more parenting advice I might tackle that one. Hahaha! Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

Sometimes we only become aware of what we are doing by watching how others are different. And I have noticed parents who are much more involved, either calling out suggestions to their children frequently from the side, or actively playing with them (and I don’t mean something like board games where everybody has a role, but trying to involve them in the kind of play that kids typically do with each other). Again, I don’t know every family’s situation and there could be very good reasons for this approach. But my question, which every parent has to ask and answer of themselves, as it’s very personal, is this: What is the purpose of me directing my child’s play?

Personally, I see very little reason to be involved in my  daughters’ play. If I am tempted to interfere, it’s for reasons that have more to do with me than to do with them. I may notice that other children are being physically active on the playground and wonder why my daughter is sitting playing with rocks. Doesn’t she need my help to be more like the others? I may feel its my job to encourage my other daughter to go on the slide, because otherwise she can’t possibly be having fun, can she?! And while I’m ok with the mixed up Lego, I have an interest in fashion and pay a lot of attention to how clothes look and fit. So it’s sometimes harder to accept when the doll clothes get all mixed up and put on different critters. 

Pictured above: Dinosaurs wearing Elsa and Anna dresses from princess dolls. I am totally ok with this (well I’m trying).

As I thought about it, I also noticed that a lot of the toys are created by corporations. They are a specific brand. Those corporations have an interest in making me and my children aware of their brands and focused on buying more. So they also have an interest in promoting a certain kind of play (such as building Beauty and the Beast’s castle, versus a rocket ship, or playing Elsa and Anna dolls, versus whatever is going on with the dinosaurs). So by enforcing categories such as this-Lego-goes-with-this-Lego-set, and this-dress-goes-on-this-doll, I am enforcing the way corporations want my children to play and behave.

Nope, I don’t need to do that. Also, I have better things to do.

I also hypothesize that this consistent, mostly hands off approach has helped my kids to become people who are very good at amusing themselves. In addition, they show confidence in their own choices. After going up the steps of many, many slides and then back down the steps, Dani eventually did go down a slide, and loved it. She did not need me to help her to slide, and she knows it.  Both the girls are also comfortable joining other kids to play together, and they engage their imaginations and their physical energies with those of their peers.

So that’s my parenting advice, from someone who never reads the instruction book and rarely listens to advice. (I will not be giving advice on how to put together IKEA furniture, ever.) I have called this blog “Parenting Advice 1” just in case I decide to write more, but I may not.  After all I’m still trying to figure out other things, like how to teach my kids to pick all that Lego off the floor and put it back in the box.


  1. Oh, that poor kid. Imagine having to only make what is on the box, and having to put away all the pieces so carefully?! Your daughters are getting to be so much more creative! (And as I was reading it, I didn't even think about the corporations controlling stuff! That shocked me, but it is so true. lol) Yay, you!

    (I don't often comment on parenting posts for obvious reasons, but couldn't resist with this one!)

    1. Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it. It's quite the compliment that you took the time to comment. :-D I have a bit more time to think about things in summer, so sometimes I go further with my thoughts than I usually do and try to leave a record. Have a great day!