Two recent episodes prompted me to think about how parents can confuse doing something for children and doing something with children.
#1, #2, and I were playing UNO at the local bagel shop. A couple tables over a mother sat across from a father and young daughter. At one point, the mother said: “What do you mean? I do all sorts of things for you.” She then cataloged the many things she does for the daughter: takes her to school and playdates, makes her lunch, takes her to the mall, ….
I don’t know what prompted this response, but I’m going to go out a on limb here and say the daughter accused the mother of not playing with her or not spending enough time with her or not doing enough something with her. Whatever the charge, I think many of us can sympathize with the mother’s reply. Some version of this scene occurs regularly.
On a whim one recent afternoon #1, #2, and I made gingerbread cookies. Out of the blue yesterday, #1 hugged me and said: “Thanks for making cookies with us.”
In our harried, chaotic, over-scheduled adult worlds it is easy to equate doing for children and doing with them. Taking a child to a “playdate” is, after all, doing something together. So too is taking a child shopping at the mall. But making cookies with children is, I think, qualitatively different. Just as playing with them is, whether sliding down a slide together or kicking a ball or playing hide-and-seek or coloring or whatever.
We have all suffered accusations of not spending enough time with them. We often defend ourselves, entirely justifiably from our adult perspective, e.g., Arguing with a six-year-old. In defending ourselves, however, we lose sight of an important difference between doing things with our children and doing things for them. Our children, by contrast, make a clear distinction between doing something for them and doing something with them.
Children would rather we did things with them.