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Are Bubbles and Playdates “Enough”?


Bubbles in a field

As a parent, there is nothing that I want more for my children than to give them a beautiful childhood that will prepare them physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for the joys and challenges they will face in the years ahead. Unfortunately, it is impossible to find a universal, foolproof, twelve-step plan to accomplish this goal: such a manual simply does not exist. Nevertheless, society pushes endless expectations on parents, and many (myself included) fear that they have failed their children if these expectations aren't met. For example, parents are told that children need to be constantly involved in paid, scheduled activities, even as early as the preschool years, so that they will gain skills, make friends, and discover their interests. Sadly, this ideal is not feasible for countless families. Due to extenuating circumstances, my husband and I cannot afford sports camp, swimming lessons, a children's play gym membership, and museum memberships, especially in our ridiculously high-cost-of-living area. Shoot, because of our address, we even have to pay for a library card! So, what is a mom, who wants to give her children the world, to do?

I play with them. I do chores with and near them. I teach them. I take them to all of the free activities I can. I love them fiercely, teach them how others should treat them, and show them how they should treat others. I also work to let go of my own expectations and the fear that I'm not doing enough, because really, what is "enough"?

What program can I enroll my children in that will guarantee that they won't get involved in reckless activity somewhere down the road? What week or month-long camp will sufficiently build up their confidence so that the words and actions of others will never damage their self-esteem? How can I protect them from harmful influences and self-destructive choices? The answer is, unfortunately, there there is no secret parenting formula that will guarantee that my children will be protected from any of those things. It breaks my heart. Yet somehow, it is also a comfort to know that taking my toddler to the park instead of the local toddler cross-fit gym (yes, that is an actual place) isn't going to prevent him from living a healthy lifestyle as an adult. Taking him to the library instead of kiddie camp isn't going to hinder his emotional development. Exploring the free zoo instead of paying top-dollar to feed the giraffes at the AZA-accredited zoo isn't going to make him love animals and the environment any less.

Baby in a library
Hunter enjoying playtime at the local library

Now, don't get me wrong: I love all of the aforementioned paid activities. I think that they are wonderful opportunities, and I hope that one day my kids can be involved in sports and clubs and whatever else their hearts desire. In this season, though, when they are still so young and I am still so drained in terms of both sleep and finances, I think it is okay - no, good - to take a step back and just breathe. They don't need any paid sports or activities to be happy. Honestly, when we have had a busy week, my toddler melts down if he doesn't get a chance to just sit and play with his own toys at home before bedtime. What children really need is love, opportunities to build friendships, and plenty of space and time to develop their imaginations. And there is no question that my toddler's imagination is receiving plenty of regular exercise: he surprises me daily with his wit and inventiveness. So far he has claimed to see blue puppies living in our recessed lights, orange alligators in his bedroom, and alligators in the local duck pond (even though it's geographically impossible). He has also invited me along on a hunt for clues to find the green alter-ego of our cat. None of these adventures have cost me a dime, but they are memories that he and we frequently recall with great fondness.


He doesn't mind simplicity in planned events, either. He loves going to the church nursery, playing at the park, and visiting his grandparents and cousins. The best part of his day is "saying hi" to my husband when he comes home from work, and nothing could make my son happier than going for a walk and serendipitously meeting a dog along the way. None of those things, his favorite things, cost any money at all. Now, I will concede that he does regularly ask for bubbles; thankfully, five dollars for an industrial-sized container of bubbles isn't a massive strain on our budget.

Boy playing with a bubble machine outdoors
Parker and his bubble machine

If you are also in a financial position right now where you can't afford the "biggest and best" for your kids, I hope our story is an encouragement to you. It sounds trite, but it's nevertheless true: your kids don't need to "have it all" to really have it all. Be proactive in finding all of the free activities in your area that you can, and space out those opportunities in your schedule in a way that works for you. Socialization is important for children, especially after the COVID-19 lockdowns. My toddler was born at the height of pandemic restrictions, and he was definitely much more fearful of new people and situations before I started regularly expanding his social and environmental horizons. However, socialization doesn't have to be expensive or structured: kids will invent games using literally anything they find. For example, my toddler had the time of his life pulling up the internet company's placement flags and skewering them throughout our yard. At the park, he and his friends went berserk over the bubble machine we brought.


Fellow parents, meeting your children's enrichment needs truly is this simple: find the activities that bring your children joy, and do more of that. Whether it's letting them roll around in your laundry, taking them to the playground, or going for walks in your neighborhood, provide opportunities for them to do whatever sparks their imagination. They just want time and space to play, proximity to the people they love... and bubbles. Lots of bubbles.

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