“Watch, Wait and Wonder” is a technique I learned from a maternal mental health counsellor while on my road to recovery from postnatal depression. During the therapy sessions, the counsellor would put a pile of toys in the middle of the room, instruct me to wait by the side and watch my child play. I was not to intervene unless my child approached me. As I waited, I had to overcome feelings of redundancy and uselessness. I had to come to terms with the fact that my role of waiting on the side was actually important for my child’s development, as it gave her time and opportunity to explore her world, while knowing I was there for her if she needed me.
“Central to the process is engaging the parent to be reflective about the child’s inner world of feelings, thoughts and desires, through which the parent recognizes the separate self of the (child) and gains an understanding of her own emotional responses to her child.”
As my children grow older, I have looked for ways to adapt this technique in my parenting skills beyond the infant stage. In “Watch, Wait and Wonder – Part 1”, I wrote about being an attentive parent. In Part 2 of this series, I would like to focus on the element and concept of “Wait”.
By nature, I am more cautious as a parent than my husband is. I am that parent that can be found hovering close to my little ones when they were much younger in fear of them tripping or falling. My husband on the other hand is much more relaxed. He would sit back on a bench and just let the kids run around, only stepping in to help when they needed it. One style isn’t necessarily better than the other, but I have learned from my husband that it is ok to let our children explore in a safe environment, to be there to celebrate when they discover a new skill, and to soothe them when they do fall in the process.
“Waiting” for me isn’t about being a passive parent. It is not about relegating our parental responsibility and duty to care for them. Waiting is about standing back and allowing our children the freedom to explore their world, encourage them to try new things and make new friends. Waiting is about giving them the space to be individuals, to accept that they may be different from us, and to be gracious when they make mistakes.
1. Wait & Let them Explore
“Wow, your daughter is really adventurous! My child would never dare to do that!” I have heard variations of this from friends whenever they saw Missy Number 1 rock climb, join her dad for Muay Thai classes or go on a flying fox. I’m not sharing this to brag. I know part of it boils down to the child’s temperament and personality. At the same time, quite often, the parents who showed amazement at my child’s adventurous streak are the same people who say to their kids, “Don’t go near that! It’s too high! It’s dirty! It’s too hot!”
I can’t say I am particularly adventurous myself. However, I have learned over the years to let my children try new things whenever the opportunity arises, and give them space to explore and discover what their interests may be. If we want our children to grow and develop, the key is to rein in our own irrational fears (which my husband reminds me of constantly!), wait and encourage them to explore.
In our Asian culture, many of us pack our children’s week with tuition classes and extra-curricular activities. Those of us who grew up in that environment don’t even question such a routine. On one hand, we justify it as the pursuit of academic excellence, but if we are honest with ourselves, I believe there is also a sense that we need to keep our children occupied. On the other hand, there are countless articles out there that champion the benefits of free play time in helping a child’s cognitive and social development.
Consider freeing up at least one evening a week where our children can be free to do nothing, with a few hours of no-screen time, and just be left to play the good old-fashioned way. You’ll be amazed with the creative things they come up with!
2. Wait with Acceptance & Grace
I had my first car accident when I just got my license at the age of 17. I was reversing the car into a parking lot of an alleyway. I misjudged the distance and heard a sickening scrape along the back of the car. My heart sank when I saw that I had hit a pole, and there was a big dent on the back of the car. I went home with trepidation, not knowing if my dad would reprimand me. To my astonishment, dad was really understanding and gracious. He just said that accidents do happen, and to be careful next time. He knew I was already feeling very bad about the accident and showed me grace when I was expecting a scolding.
As parents, we are not perfect. Therefore, we cannot expect our children to be perfect either. There will be times when our children make mistakes. There will be other times when they are deliberately defiant or do something to disappoint us. This is where we need to tap on God’s grace and extend that same grace and forgiveness to our children.
It is also important to create space for acceptance. Ask any parent, and they will tell you that no two children are alike even though they came from the same stock. In fact, we also have to accept that our children may not be like us. In “waiting”, we learn the art of appreciating our children for who they are.
Growing up, my parents were careful not to show favouritism to any one child. They would encourage us to excel in our studies, but when it came time to choose our university majors, they were open to our passions and areas of gifting. For me, I went the unconventional route of pursuing a BA in English Literature, which would have been a shock to my secondary school teachers, as I came from the science stream. I still remember my mom encouraging me to study English Lit if I felt that was what God was leading me to do, as she recalled my love for writing when I was younger. She even said, “Who knows, you might even start a language school one day!” – something I forgot all about and only remembered after we started our language school in Thailand 10 years later!
3. Wait & See them Grow
As parents, we sometimes feel that we need to do everything for our children. Growing up, I had no need to do house work or cook because mom’s primary concern was for us to focus on our studies (bless her heart). “No need to stand in the kitchen… go and study!” As a result, I only learned to cook when I went overseas for university.
In order to help our children grow into independent individuals, we need to give them space to learn and grow, under our guidance and love. Part of “waiting” is to let them learn how to do things for themselves.
If one of my daughters forgets her water bottle or homework, I wouldn’t hurry off to deliver it to her at school. The same goes for if they were to spill water or food on the floor at home. I’d give them a cloth and get them to wipe the spill up (with some help if needed, of course). This may sound harsh, but it is a small way for my kids to start learning about taking responsibility.
I know of parents who do up chore rosters for their children every day. I think this is a great idea. While I have not implemented a daily chore roster for my children, I do give them (especially the older girl) opportunities to iron their uniform, wash the dishes, clean the floor and cook a simple dish.
In “waiting”, my children are usually the ones to approach me with an activity they want to do, not knowing it is usually seen as a “chore”. Often, on Saturday mornings, Missy Number 2 would say, “I want to make pancakes!” I’d get her the ingredients and guide her through the steps. By doing this, I am getting my child involved in the process of cooking her own pancakes, and she discovers that she actually enjoys the process!
As parents that “wait”, we are taking a step back to really be attentive to our children. We can wait and let them explore the world around them, wait with acceptance and grace, wait and see them grow. We will begin to see our children as individuals, created by God with their own strengths and talents. They may not be like us, and they may not pursue the path we have laid out for them. But the greatest gift we can give our children is to point them in the right direction, so that they pursue the path God has laid out for them in life.
About the Author: Jess Chan is married and has two school aged daughters. Aside from being full-time “minister of home affairs” and “transport minister” to her little family, she also serves as the Field Administrator for World Outreach International, a Christian mission organisation that has a presence in 70 countries. Jess and her family moved back to Malaysia in 2017, after spending 10 years in New Zealand and 6 years in Thailand.