Many years ago my husband was trying to solve a computer problem at work and arrived at a screen that said, “Add water.” Obviously, someone had programmed a measure of levity in an otherwise frustratingly-technical endeavor. When something seems insurmountable to me now, I sometimes think of the advice, “Add water.”
The hazards of parenting are a point in case. The New York Times published an article this week about “snowshovel” parenting. The article and the comments described children and teenagers who were raised without facing much risk, failure, or challenges. Their parents shoveled aside all difficulties. Examples included parents doing a child’s homework, serving only food that their child would eat (all food without sauces), and sending their kid off to college or life without the basic skills of cooking or doing laundry. They would have served their child better by “Adding water.”
I think of this parenting element on two levels. One is literal. My young daughter got to help water plants with hoses or buckets. She had her own capped pitcher located in the refrigerator door, so as a three-year old she could get a glass of water and pour it herself. My grandson is being raised in the same manner. At age six he asked me to measure two cups of water yesterday and he poured them into a pan to make his noodles. Earlier he helped shovel snow off a gravel pile and pushed a wheelbarrow through slush to fill potholes in my road. Water is fascinating to children in all its forms and provides early opportunities to foster independence and a good work ethic. The little boy playing in a fountain in the photo above was at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He experimented over and over with stopping the spiggot of water. His attention was long and focused. His pants were soaking wet. He and his parents were unconcerned. When he was done playing, they dried him with a towel and changed his pants. Water is an excellent teaching prop.
The second reason to “add water” to one’s parenting skills is that of attitude, of using humor. Parenting is difficult. It is like playing a game of chess and trying to think ahead for hazards two or three moves in the future. Indulge a child once and they might expect the same treatment constantly. (But you allowed me to play video games all afternoon only yesterday.) A child or teenager whining, dithering, or procrastinating can frustrate any parent. The trick is sometimes to “Add water.”
The great chess player succeeds partly by playing often and partly by studying. Parenting certainly gives one the frequency of practice and the initiative to find solutions. But sometimes, you need the levity of “Add water.” I am not thinking of the darker kinds of humor – sarcasm or put-downs. Kids just need the gift of humor. A light joke to allow them the grace to return to their work or do what you are asking with a better attitude. Or you, as the adult, needs humor to prevent yourself from taking on the feelings of your child. They get to experience the disappointment of their own mistakes and learn to make adjustments. You can certainly commiserate, but they get the opportunity to practice self-calming and acquire the determination to begin again after feeling discouraged.
“Add water.” Good light-hearted parenting advice.