Friday is our weekly grocery shopping day in our household. It is also my day off to spend time with my 3 year old son. Grocery shopping + 3 year old generally causes heightened levels of anxiety beginning from the moment we head off in the car (currently toilet training so pre-empting any possible ‘situations’ prior to departure) right through until the unload of groceries at the end of the trip. Today was a particularly successful event. Partly because my 3 year old was in a delightful mood and determined to ‘help’ through every part of the visit. Also, in part, because I now feel like I have begun to get a handle on what works when heading into a supermarket with a potential natural disaster securely fastened in the front of the trolley.
Our visit today though made me really consider the temptation that must be too great for many parents now, in taking the easy option when out with their toddlers. I observed a few weeks ago how parents entertained their toddlers while waiting for their 5 and 6 year old daughters’ gym class to finish. I must admit, again, I shudder at the thought of having an hour confined with my 3 year old on a mezanine floor overlooking 6 year olds engaged in forwards rolls and handstands. But, with a little bit of reflection, the moment can be turned into quite an adventure. My son and I observed, discussed, predicted, laughed, cringed and played together, all the while me keeping one eye on my daughter – waving occasionally to acknowledge I had seen her and her gymnastic abilities. What was potentially a situation whereby I could have had a 3 year old out of control after 30 minutes due to sheer boredom, I instead had a wonderful time with my son improving his observational skills, oral language, and self-management skills…..as well as simply having good fun. This was certainly not the easiest of options!
Parents at the same gym class, with similar age children in tow chose instead to supply one with an iPad and another with an iPhone. For the hour I watched as these children expertly navigated their way around the i-devices engaged in various activities, never once letting their eyes distract from the screens. While children were glued to the device, the parents sat and watched their other child below in silence. Gone were the moments of interaction, modelling, coaching, bonding and fun. Child interacted with device, parent had peace and quite – the easiest of options.
I thought of a similar situation again today as I was unpacking my weekly groceries while my 3 year old flew around the house with his new toy from the shopping trip. A supermarket chain here is now providing online shopping – ordering all your groceries online with either the option of picking it up yourself, or having it delivered to your door. This has so many appealing factors, on so many levels. Especially to a mother of young children. No longer would I need to plan my shopping around nap times, toilet stop times, times before naps (when the potential for tantrums are statistically far higher), school pick up/drop off times, Friday afternoons and dinner times ……….the food would simply arrive at the door and I would have the luxury of unpacking. In fact, I may even save more money as I would not be pressured by little voices asking ‘can we get that Mum….puleeeeez’. So much easier.
But the thought also occurred to me that while it is the easier option, what about the learning opportunities my children would miss in having the food magically arrive. No longer would I be able to meander through the fruit and vege section showing my children the array of different produce that they were yet to try. No longer would I be able to introduce the children to new language around food, or the counting out of items into the trolley. No longer would I need to answer endless questions about ‘what’s this’ and ‘where does this come from’. Where would they learn to be considerate of others as they moved through the aisles – either in volume of voice, or in where they are walking? When would they learn it was not ok to touch everything on the shelves, or open the pick-n-mix lolly bag before it was paid for? Where else would they learn that sometimes, just sometimes, we have to be somewhere that is not going to be the most highlighting entertainment segment of the week? That some times there are things we just simply have to do. There are some times when we just have to sit and wait. There are some times when we have to do what others tell us to do. And for the parent that is in charge of this visit to the supermarket – this is by far the harder option. To get through a shopping experience while entertaining young children, being available and responsive to them, modelling, correcting, reminding and rewarding, is an utterly exhausting experience.
But…….as parents, are we wanting the easy option now? Or the harder option later when we have children who have not been put in situations where they have been able to practice, make mistakes, practice again, refine and master the very basic skills such as those needed to manage themselves around a supermarket. As parents, we are always working to grow our children. So for me, I’ll collapse into bed at night, having taken the much harder option!