Pinterest and I are not friends. I wouldn’t say we’re enemies either; it’s just not my thing. I’ve never been the kind of person who compiles pictures of clothing ensembles (except for when I was planning my wedding), and I already have way more tasty-looking recipes torn out of Martha Stewart Living than anyone in my household will ever cook – we certainly don’t need to add to that collection. There’s also the dubious legality of pinning copyrighted work, and my own concern with the quantity of images glorifying skinny bodies and over-healthy eating.
But I don’t mean to hate on Pinterest. It’s just one facet of the “make everything magical” culture, a culture that is fueled in part (but only in part) by social media. There’s nothing wrong with gathering ideas for inspiration, especially if you have the time and energy for that sort of thing. But it can put an awful lot of pressure on the rest of us.
In the second half of my pregnancy, a number of family and friends started asking for pictures of Little-Boy-to-be’s nursery. I had seen on Facebook many photos of friends’ nurseries, with their artfully-arranged matching furniture and baby-name-themed wall hangings. And I really wanted Little Boy to have a nice, functional room, even if it included an IKEA crib and his mother’s childhood dresser rather than a fancy new furniture set. However, this meant cleaning out a room that had endured only vague attempts at organization since we moved in. My husband and I were already busy and depressed, and my high standards for sorting all of our stuff only made those conditions worse. I don’t regret the organizing we did – it’s nice to have all my craft supplies in one place again and to be able to find the envelopes and stamps without conducting a house-wide search – but I do regret the intense anxiety that went along with it.
I was putting some of the pressure on myself, for sure. My desire for perfection often gets in the way of just getting stuff done. Other people’s photos of stylish nurseries fueled that internal pressure, and repeated “I want to see your nursery!” requests made it impossible to convince myself that it didn’t really matter.
We “finished” the essentials of the nursery about a week before Little Boy was born. The final touch was a sampling of baby books purchased the night before we went to the hospital. And do you know what? Little Boy didn’t care that his space had only existed for a few days – it was ready for him when it was needed, and that was all that mattered. (He probably still doesn’t care what it looks like, to be honest, but I do appreciate having a clean and pleasant space.)
The most recent push for a “magical moment” came from my mother-in-law, who persistently asked for pictures and video of Little Boy meeting his cousin for the first time. The cousin is two years old. Little Boy is one-quarter that. We want them to interact a bit – hence the visit – but it wasn’t like they were going to lay eyes on each other and instantly become best friends for life. Trying to force it would just stress out the adults.
A while back, I came across this post by Thea at Supermom?, who says,
When I was growing up I don’t remember my parents planning many things for us to do, or trying to make crafting fun for us. I just remember playing and having fun!
Her post in turn lead me to an older Huffington Post article titled, “I’m Done Making My Kid’s Childhood Magical.” In it, Bunmi Laditan writes,
It is not our responsibility to manufacture contrived memories on a daily basis.
They’re right. My childhood memories exist against a background of pleasant family togetherness: having dinner together, going on hikes, playing board games, and driving cross-country to Grandma’s. My parents incorporated us into their regular activities, and it was wonderful. We did fancy themed crafts at preschool; at home, my mother taught me how to cross-stitch and knit. (I still can’t believe she entrusted a five-year-old with a needle!)
Some of my most beloved childhood activities, however, sprang solely from my (and my brother’s) imagination. We created a tabletop city of Popsicle-stick people, complete with background stories and a full genealogy. We spent a week building and defending a rock fort outside my grandparents’ cabin. We dreamed up complete cultures – language, history, and all.
The real magic happens when children are left to their own devices to discover their world and create new ones. Parents are responsible for ensuring that their children’s world is one of love and trust, but also freedom. We build the backdrop for those special memories; we can’t construct the memories ourselves.
So I’m not going to stress out about planning perfect “learning activities” for my son. We will simply read together and talk together and play together instead. We won’t be inviting 50 people to a themed first birthday party, because what child remembers their first birthday anyway? And no matter how many of my husband’s friends insist that we’ll change our mind, we won’t be buying an Elf on the Shelf for Christmas.
Oh, and that special first meeting between Little Boy and his cousin? It will be remembered far longer than any staged photograph, because it went something like this:
Uncle, to Two-Year-Old Cousin: “Want to come meet your cousin?”
Two-Year-Old Cousin: “No.”