Child Development

The 3 parenting roles you don’t have to play

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Parents juggle multiple roles and responsibilities daily (sometimes hourly!). We are not just mamas – we are line-cooks, teachers, administrators, cleaners and so many other things. The global health crisis we are living through has made the multiple roles of parenting even harder. As support systems like schools and extended family have been taken away, it’s no wonder parents are suffering from burnout and exhaustion.

The truth is that we are not meant to be everything to everyone all the time. 

Here are three parenting roles we can stop playing, guilt-free:

1. The playmate role

Controversial as this might sound, we do not have to be our child’s constant playmate. Although the cry of “I’m bored!” might send chills down our spines, it is not our job to keep our children entertained. So we can breathe a sigh of relief and set aside the Pinterest-perfect activity setups. Instead, we can support their independent play by creating an environment that is inviting, safe and accessible. This has also been called a ‘yes-space’  – one where our children are free to play, without us needing to constantly step in and intervene.

We can also minimise distractions by turning off the background TV and refraining from commenting or questioning when our children are absorbed in play. By trusting that our children are the play experts and do not need to be taught how to play, we’ll be more comfortable stepping back and simply observing. Our warm presence and objective observation will allow our children to feel secure enough to play independently, without needing to rely on us for entertainment. 

2. The teacher role

The multiple lockdowns in Malaysia resulted in prolonged school closures, with many families having been adversely impacted by this. As parents, we worry about our children falling behind, with many of us having spent hours supervising online classes. For younger children, 6 and under, we can stop worrying about their lack of interest in online Zoom classes. This age group learns best through tactile exploration and free play.

Consider the 2-year old who seems to be ‘just playing’ with a spray bottle outside. Their self-directed exploration is teaching them about the physical properties of water and cause-and-effect, all while exercising their fine motor skills!

And it’s not just pre-schoolers. Even older children need significant blocks of time dedicated to free, unstructured play. By making sure they have plenty of time for play throughout the day, we can be assured that they are learning and developing new skills all the time. 

3. The sibling referee role

If you have multiple children, chances are you find yourself breaking up fights multiple times a day. While children certainly need our support and guidance in learning how to navigate conflict, it’s not our job to resolve conflicts for them.

Instead of stepping in and solving the problem (which usually involves making a call on who’s right and who’s wrong), we can support them by keeping everyone safe and not taking sides. What does this look like?  Let’s say two siblings are squabbling over who gets a turn on the toy car. We can prevent any hitting or throwing and then make a neutral observation like “It looks like you both really want to use that car.” And then we step back and trust them to work things out.

We can also support our children by talking to them about family values (such as respect and kindness) and teaching calming strategies. The goal is to equip our children to navigate and resolve sibling conflicts on their own. It will take time and patience, but every conflict is an opportunity for the children to develop problem-solving and cooperation. 

Parenting in a pandemic has tested us in unimaginable ways. By trusting our children and ourselves a little more, we can open up some much needed space for everyone in the family to grow and thrive. 


By Justina Chen

Justina is mom to a 3+ year old and co-founder of Raised with Wonder, a parent education service for parents who want to raise secure, resilient and joyful children. During her much coveted me-time, she likes to run, read non-fiction and attempt to crochet. 



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