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Jewish World Review July 23, 2002 / 14 Menachem-Av, 5762

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Hand it to Mom | "I am not the entertainment committee" is something my kids have heard me say. More than once.

Especially during the "dog days" of summer, which would be, well, now.

Summer at our house means a week of day camp for the older two kids, and some time at the beach for all of us. But essentially this is our situation: a terrific local pool, lots of neighborhood children, a freezer full of Popsicles, a sprinkler and a local movie theater for rainy days.

There are the usual assortment of toys and books and games and - I fully admit - TV in limited doses.

In spite of all that, at various times my children will dare to announce, "I'm bored." This is where it comes in handy having four kids in a span of seven years. When recently I sent them all down to the basement to play, including the 1-year-old, they didn't surface for well over an hour. It turned out they were doing "baby's amazing stunt tricks."

Everybody had a lot of fun - including the baby. (Don't worry - I'd quietly checked to make sure she was quite safe.) This is also where it also comes in handy being willing to remind the little ones that I'm not a cruise director on land. Again and again I hear beleaguered parents lament they can't get any time to themselves when their children are home. But I just don't think it has to be that way.

I'm a big believer in little kids having a lot of time on their hands, but it seems to help to have a mom and dad (and let's face it, it's usually Mom) who can be hands-on, "hands in-between" and most definitely hands-off.

"Hands-on" in the sense that they know I care about and am aware of what they are doing, even when I'm not directly involved in their activities. And in the sense that they have to accomplish real, assigned tasks every day. Not just the chores of making their beds, emptying the dishwasher and so on, but things for the older ones, like a certain amount of reading on their own, piano and other skills practice.

For my part, "hands-on" also means lots of reading to the kids and looking for opportunities for a game of "Candy Land," a visit to the miniature-golf range or local park, or occasional day trip to the water or amusement park.

Many days, we all head out to the pool, though there I'm not the water entertainment committee either. I typically expect the older two to find friends to play with. That's where "hands in-between" starts to come in. That's when they don't know quite what to do with themselves, so I give them ideas and make them choose one - to do on their own or with other children. Build a structure with Lego's, draw a picture of Grandpa, "write" a book, create a treasure hunt, play checkers, look for rocks, play charades - but "do something" without me.

Then there's "hands-off" mothering, which is how my kids spend much of their time. That's when I say to the older three: "You kids make your own fun. Figure out a way to play together nicely, without interrupting me, for fill-in-the-number-of-hours, and make it work. And I'd better not hear anybody fussing." When appropriate, and with some checking from me, the 1-year-old, whom they've learned to carefully look after, loves to play with them for a time, too.

I might confine them to a geographic area, such as "basement/back yard." This is when they really get creative, which every child needs a chance to do. Everything from amazing forts, to feats of skill on the play set, to complicated space travel have resulted from such "leave-me-out-of-it" play.

My husband and I are somewhat famous in our circles for something we call "the grown-up zone," which we typically invoke for an hour or more when he comes home from work. It means wherever we are - the deck, the living room, the kitchen - the children cannot be. I know parents who can't imagine being uninterrupted for such visiting time with their honey every day. I can't imagine being without it. When it comes to kids, the "grown-up zone" is the ultimate hands-off experience.

That's not just good for Mom and Dad - it's wonderful for kids. In fact, maybe summertime is the best time for parents to do something terrific for their children - teach them to be their own, best, entertainment committee.

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JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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