I’m Not Here to Make Life Magical for my Children
By Susan Goldberg
PHOTO © STEPAN POPOV/RF123
Nov 23, 2017
I once wrote a blog post about how I had told my Jewish children that Santa Claus isn’t a real person, and just a nice story that some families tell their children around the Christmas holidays.
I got some pretty negative feedback from that piece. Most notably from a few parents who accused me of siphoning off all the “magic” from my children's lives, like they lived in a gulag. The irony was one thing: um … we’re Jewish? But what struck me as particularly insidious about the backlash was this idea that parents are responsible for making their kids' lives magical. And the more magic the better.
I’m also here to support them, part of which involves stepping back and letting them try...
I’ll just say it: I’m not here to make my children's lives magical. I’m here to feed, clothe and love them, and I'm also here to provide them with some opportunities for learning, growth and fun. I’m also here to support them, part of which involves stepping back and letting them try — and sometimes fail, and hopefully try again — on their own.
But magic? Magic is not in the job description. 'Magic' isn’t on some master parenting checklist, like dentist appointments and vaccination reminders might be. Magic is not a task that you can cross off when it's complete, like toilet training.
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I believe we do a disservice to our children when we insist that their lives must be some unrelenting series of magical moments, and that the magic of childhood lies in grand, bucket list-type gestures: a pile of presents under the tree from Santa Claus, trips to Disneyland, or a new puppy with a bow around its neck.
These are all lovely things — possibly even magical — and I’m not suggesting that you cancel that trip to Orlando or that you outlaw Santa Claus. Enjoy them! Have fun!
...if life is a constant onslaught of magic, then magic by definition is no longer special
But what our kids need more than grand gestures is to learn how to find the extraordinary in the ordinary: like the bunny that hops across the trail path; the moment when you finally get your balance on your bike or kick your way across the pool; finding raspberries in the back lane; breaking that skin of ice over each puddle on an early winter walk to school; tickle fights; getting lost in a book; and popping each bubble in the bubblewrap that protected that Christmas gift in the first place.
Kids also need to understand that sometimes the ordinary is just ordinary, that life involves unmagical things like setting the table, taking out the garbage, practicing new skills and flossing. I mean, if life is a constant onslaught of magic, then magic by definition is no longer special.
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A full life also involves boredom. I'm talking about unplanned hours and afternoons where kids are responsible for creating their own entertainment. Sure, it’s a challenge to say “no” to a screen, to shrug and walk away when a kid whines, “But there’s nothing to do.”
Magic is something that happens in those unscripted moments when ordinary life unfolds
And don’t get me wrong: there are many times when my kids watch TV or play on a phone, but there are also times when I leave them to their own devices, without devices, and they spend hours getting lost in making marble runs, figuring out how to knit, and building multi-story houses with cardboard and glue guns.
Magic isn’t always, or even often, a thing you plan. Magic is something that happens in those unscripted moments when ordinary life unfolds in profound or exciting or breathtaking ways, and you have the presence of mind to pay attention to it.
Children are particularly gifted at this, which is why it’s ironic that any parent feels that they need to create magic for kids. If anything, they’re the ones adept at guiding us into extraordinary moments. (It is seriously so satisfying to break that skin of ice across the tops of puddles. I do it on my own walks, even after my child has gone into the school playground.)
Life itself is magical — I don’t need to augment it for my kids. I just have to show up, pay attention and, sometimes, get out of the way.