Do what works for you; eschew
Doing that which doesn’t.
No good to toil and scrape and mend
Pursuing a reckoned lofty end,
Only to find it wasn’t.

While it’s true that a certain amount of parenting involves just staying the course and dutifully slogging through the inevitable rough patches (who really enjoys staying up nights with a sick child or wiping endless runny noses?—yet it needs to be done), I think we can often fall into the assumption that some things just have to be done because That’s the Way Things Are. We hold certain parenting truths to be self-evident because they seem to work so well, but what works for others may not always be best for us.

Figuring out what works for me in all areas is a never-ending personal quest for efficiency and improvement. I don’t have a very long parenting testimony about how I struggled to fit into some demanding mold before finally realizing my true calling, because I’m usually pretty quick to size up what isn’t working and change my strategy accordingly.

For whatever reason, I’m just not that fond of reading children’s books aloud to my children. Unless the books are very interesting and engaging (Dr. Seuss books generally fit this bill, which is why I can quote One Fish, Two Fish from memory), I find myself losing interest, and I know that my kids have an even shorter attention span than I do. How can I expect them to learn to love reading if I am clearly uninterested and disengaged?

I don’t want to communicate boredom or drudgery to my children in relation to the wonder of reading books, so I end up not reading many children’s books to them. (By the way, I’m talking about very young children and a very low reading level here, not books like Wind in the Willows, which I can enjoy reading aloud when the children are old enough to appreciate it. But I figure that if I have to read a book by someone with the middle name of “Wise,” then it’ll be the book on classical education, not the one with predictable rhymes and a rather aimless plot.)

In the reading department, my kids aren’t entirely without resources. My husband reads aloud to them with admirable patience. Doting grandparents are always happy to have children cuddle up with a book. Nowadays, I can even sometimes get an older child to read to the younger ones. I figure they’re getting enough early childhood reading exposure to spawn the necessary interest and brain development.

Meanwhile, we play games together. That’s something that’s both fun for them and for me, something creative and stimulating, something I’m good at, and something they truly enjoy. Early on the games we played were rather simple, such as peek-a-boo, tickling, or making funny sounds. (Interestingly enough, I don’t find simple, repetitive games boring in the same way I do simple, repetitive children’s books, perhaps because I find my children more fascinating than the books.)

Playing silly baby games is a good way to cultivate habits of togetherness and focused attention. It’s fun (because babies are cute) and healthy (because laughter is inevitable and contagious), but the practice really pays off when the children grow old enough to play more challenging games. Alas, my husband and I were about maxed out on most two-person games when we discovered we are both far too competitive to enjoy playing chess or Scrabble with each other. Thus Family Game Night was invented.

Our older ones quickly breezed past Twister, Chutes & Ladders, and Candyland, preferring to join us in playing more complex games such as Ticket To Ride, Dutch Blitz, and Blurt. My husband has enjoyed teaching them strategy games, which they seem to pick up remarkably well. I’m amazed at how quickly they can pick up the concepts, even for games marked “13 & up.”

Lawrence Jr., who is four, often begs for a chance to play mancala, chess, or dominoes. While he doesn’t grasp the actual strategy yet, he enjoys setting up the pieces and organizing them meticulously. It keeps him occupied, gives him a chance to practice manual dexterity, and lets him model what he sees his older siblings accomplish.

In addition to the traditional board, card, and parlor games, we have quite a selection of proprietary family favorites that I recall playing as a child at family gatherings. Perhaps I’ll detail some of those games in a future post. Meanwhile, I have to go play a round or two of Clue before bedtime.


Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Rose Focht. Design by Charity Klicka.