Our job as parents: How being a tourist helps

22 April 2011 at 7:13 am Leave a comment

Recently, a mom on a local messageboard I’m a part of asked anonymously for suggestions of things to do with her 22-month-old daughter on weekends that were interesting for her and her husband too–i.e., not just a playground. She got some good replies, but in my opinion all of them were focused more on details than on the big picture–in my opinion, it’s our mindset that shapes how we parent, and I think that the mindset of a tourist really can be a big help.

Here’s what I mean: I think our job as parents is to be the parents who don’t make it “all about the kid”–the ones who don’t do only “kid-centered activities,” but who instead foster their kids’ tolerance of new situations and exposure to varied things. This is not to say, of course, that you should never go to a playground, but just that of course, the best family time is going to be family time–not kid-time with parents sitting there bored as heck (as the original poster described).

Truly, the most rewarding thing we do with our son is probably travel. By 22 months we’d taken him to over a dozen US cities and a few international places, but I think the tourist mentality is key more than where you actually go.

I mean, think about it: as a tourist you’re eating meals out (even if they’re cheap ones–just a sandwich by a window in a cafe or a hot dog on a park bench), you’re soaking up the new atmosphere and looking at everything new and interesting around you, and you’re trying to maximize your time, so you inevitably plan to do at least a few things that are definitely not kid-focused, and just bring your child along anyway.

Heck, we went to the Taj Mahal with our son when he was 22 months–not your #1 kid-centered destination–but we walked around with our son in a sling and listened to the guide and let our son look at the people and the inlayed ceilings and the tiles, and then get some run-around time in the courtyard while we just sat and relaxed.

Another thing about being a tourist is that your hotel room isn’t where you want to spend your time, almost by definition, so you will give up on a nap schedule and just wear baby when you’re out, and whenever s/he naps, that’s the nap. Then, during the nap, you get to have adult date-time (albeit with a baby strapped to your chest, but that’s really a very small impediment when you get used to it).

So what I’m saying is that I think travel, even a weekend away, is perfect, but if that’s not practical, then try to approach your own city as a tourist. In Boston, your first tourist Saturday could go something like this: Plan to grab a quick donut for breakfast, take the train downtown, visit a historic house in the West End, if that’s what you like, wander around the North End, hit Fanueil Hall for lunch, then check out the ICA in the afternoon. Baby naps wherever/whenever. You maximize down-time/running-around-time in the same go–you and your partner sit and chill on a bench, resting your feet from all the tourist walking, while your kid runs around and finds a stick or a leaf or whatever. You have a nice dinner out in Chinatown after the ICA, where no one minds kids being kids, and then take the train home at the end of the day.

What do you think? How important is it to expose our kids, even as toddlers, to a wide variety of situations? How important is it to make them a part of things, without reshaping the world to them?



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