Breakfast is done and dishes are everywhere. I head to where I have been working from home, followed by my very short and demanding colleague. We both have assignments. Only one of us will get theirs done (hint: it's not me). Trying to concentrate and do my work is exhausting when my 'coworker' commands my undivided attention all day long.

American parents are programmed to believe that through instruction and entertainment, each moment of the day should be one of enrichment and growth for their kids. This is a lot of pressure under normal circumstances and even more so during the pandemic. But for thousands of years, cultures around the world have proven that there are benefits to kids finding activities to do on their own.


Kids expect us to interact with them all day because they've been taught this, but they really don't need a detailed schedule each day to learn. Children are little sponges and don't stop learning just because we aren't spoon-feeding them content. Their brains are developing whether we are personally stimulating them or not.

At Utah State University, anthropologist Dr. David Lancy believes that "Parents have taken on all these extra obligations because someone has convinced [them] that they are essential for optimizing a child." But kids need surprisingly little interference from adults, observes Dr. Lancy, adding, "They are born knowing how to create their own toys, design their own games and to settle their own arguments."

And being involved every minute of your kids' day doesn't leave much room for self-discovey. Dr. Lancy states, "[W]ith too much instruction, children miss out on the opportunity to learn how to learn, through self-exploration and observation." He believes this is a valuable skill that will help them adapt to challenges in school and give them an edge in life.

In other cultures, parents don't believe it's their job to constantly teach, entertain and play with their kids.

Instead, parents welcome kids into their adult world and believe that they will learn and grow—at their own pace—by watching, helping and doing what captures their attention. In our lives, this means that if a child shows interest in an activity, like gardening, the parent should hand them a shovel and have them work independently alongside them—and let them learn from their mistakes.

In a Maya village in the Yucatán, Northeastern Illinois University psychologist Dr. Suzanne Gaskins found that parents "...don't tell children what to pay attention to, how they should act, and what they should do with an object."

As a result, Dr. Gaskins believes that children become very skilled at what she calls the art of "solitary absorption," where kids learn to keep themselves busy, without parents' intervention, direction or observation.

It's okay to be bored.

When we manage every moment, teaching or entertaining our kids, they don't have the opportunity to be bored. Studies indicate when you are bored and compelled to be creative, your imagination is nurtured. When bored, kids who have time to think about being bored and discover by themselves how not to be, develop skills to reframe the experience. This stretches their imaginations, builds confidence and leads to more positive emotional, motivational and cognitive outcomes.

So, don't stress about planning every minute of your kid's day.

The trick is in the transition. It is bound to be fraught with tears and squabbles—after all, we've trained them to believe we are their camp director. But given enough space and time, their natural instinct will take over.

Here are a few tips on how to do it:

  • Go about your day doing your own things.
  • Invite your kids to join you, no matter if it is to help empty the dishwasher, or join you in your 'office' to help you get your work done.
  • Let them figure out how to do things with you.

With enough patience and less involvement from us, their minds will expand, and they will find their own fun.

Bottom line: The kids are okay. And guess what, they are actually learning—about themselves and how they fit into their world and interact with others. This quarantine can be a hidden opportunity for lessons in self-reliance, not just for us, but for our kids as well—if only we let them learn. We just need to get out of their way. Letting them figure things out is an education unto itself.

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.


The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.

As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

As mamas we want our babies to be safe, and that's what makes what happened to Glee actress Naya Rivera and her 4-year-old son Josey so heartbreaking.

On July 13, the Ventura County Sheriff's Department announced the 33-year-old mother's body was found at Lake Piru, five days after her son was found floating alone on a rented boat. According to Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub, Rivera's last action was to save her son.

"We know from speaking with her son that he and Naya swam in the lake together at some point in her journey. It was at that time that her son described being helped into the boat by Naya, who boosted him onto the deck from behind. He told investigators that he looked back and saw her disappear under the surface of the water," Ayub explained, adding that Rivera's son was wearing his life vest, but the adult life vest was left on the unanchored boat.


Ayub says exactly what caused the drowning is still speculation but investigators believe the boat started drifting and that Rivera "mustered enough energy to get her son back onto the boat but not enough to save herself."

Our hearts are breaking for Josey and his dad right now. So much is unknown about what happened on Lake Piru but one thing is crystal clear: Naya Rivera has always loved her son with all her heart.

Keep reading Show less