Art & Playful Parenting

As a woman marking all the right boxes (white, solidly middle class, looking younger than my 39 years of age, married with kids, Ivy League degree, no discernible penchant for transgression) I have always managed to walk the tighrope between societal and personal expectations without difficulty (not exactly a hardship for one in my position, granted). Except when it comes to mommying. My way. Not that I adhere to some strange notion of parenting or have a strict moral compass that makes my parenting style hard to relate.

With my children at a young age, I haven't felt called to take sides on the quintessential parenting differences between a helicopter mom and a snowplow one (the upgraded 2.0 version if you want) and I doubt I ever will. My gut instinct has always stirred me to treat my children (from conception) as fully independent individuals with whose care and safety I have been temporary entrusted. I don't see them as an extension of myself, I don't project my dreams on them, I have not appointed myself the planner-in-chief of their future adult lives. I have simply decided to see them as individual human beings who sprang out of me as ready as Athena sprang from the head of Zeus. And I like it just fine this way. Except...other moms are finding it very difficult to classify my parenting style and this has apparently become an issue of sorts. Am I a tiger mom? After all, I am very effective on researching best area schools for my kids, best after-school activities, best rated music teachers, best second language courses, best workshops to enroll myself so I can learn more on how to navigate the educational system. Does this make me a controlling authoritarian parent? I beg to differ. Family lore has it that I wouldn't think twice before allowing my 6 and 8 year olds to stay home on a school day if they are engrossed in a new book series and request to spend the whole day reading. Likewise if they have decided to work on that 70x70 canvas before the paint dries and the creative spark flickers away. Does this make me a permissive over-indulging jellyfish mom? Allow me to disagree. More than anything else, I intent on raising confident children and allowing them a sense of agency in planning their day is not an indulgence. Prioritizing long-term goals of living a balanced life with a sense of purpose over short-term goals of test scores and perfect attendance may set me apart from most of the other moms on the pick up line but I wouldn't have it any other way. On the other hand, I am constantly monitoring myself not to turn into the kind of well meaning elephant mom that corners her children into a well cushioned position of unearned privilege kept in place by thick layers of (seemingly selfless) motherly devotion and protection. More often than not, I find mysel taking a step back to watch what really goes on when my children are encouraged to understand their complex erupting emotions, break through their shyness and play their way through sibling rivalry. Does this mean I am a dolphin mom after all? One who has rules and expectations but also values creativity and independence? I'll take that! Especially when it comes to incorporate open end creative experiences as part of my children's upbringing. As Lawrence J. Cohen, author of PlayfulParenting (2001), The Art of Roughhousing (2011) and The Opposite of Worry (2013) points out, play is children’s way of exploring the world, communicating deep feelings, working through stressful situations, and simply blowing off steam. So is process art, a wonderful way to allow kids to engage in creating something new and meaningful to them. More so when it is done together in the spirit of "playful parenting" and succeeds in building strong, close bonds between parents and children.