The Curse of the Imaginative Child

The internet is full of articles like “How to nurture creativity in your children” and “Seven easy ways to grow your kids’ imaginations.”  To these articles, I say Whoa, whoa, whoa!  Let’s not be hasty, people.

Are you sure you actually want “creative” children?  Before you go applying this advice willy-nilly, have you thought through what it might be like to actually live with “imaginative” people? Allow me to offer my family as a cautionary tale.  In one photo.IMG_6179

This is my poor, beleagured husband on a normal Tuesday afternoon attempting to lead a productive adult life.  This is what “creativity” begets in a home.  (Do not be deceived by the broom and dustpan present in the photo.  I guarantee you that they were not being used for their traditional purposes, but rather had been drafted into being a giant’s microphone or a percussion instrument.)

If you succeed in “nurturing creativity” and “growing imagination,” you may end up like me – daily burying your face in the cat and considering taking up chain smoking.  To live with imaginative children is to court insanity on a daily basis.   Oh sure, you may get invited to exciting places like the

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But even on a good day, all your floors will look like this:

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If you like order, if you enjoy cleanliness, if you require a picked-up home –do not, under any circumstances, try to nurture creativity in your children.  You may end up with creative kids, but you will also certainly end up with Kleenex bits littering your floors, tape pieces stuck to dozens of surfaces, furniture out of place and overturned, small pieces of scrap paper decorating every door, items that belong in the basement ending up on the second floor, utensils that belong in the kitchen ending up in the backyard, and “craft” detritus marring the peacefulness of every room in your home.  Including the bathroom.

Let me share a couple more telling images.  Here is the “star ship” I found in my daughters’ room yesterday. IMG_0634IMG_0637

Briefly examine these pictures.  First, note the matte that has been drafted into service for a task other than framing a picture.  Spend a moment taking in the sheer quantity of painters tape that has been gleefully used.

Honey, where are all my pens?  They are guns on the star ship, obviously.  What about the box of Kleenex I brought up here for the children to use when they had colds?  It has been emptied of tissues so that it could become an escape pod.  Are there any tissues left?  No, sorry, the last one is being used as curtain for Princess Leia’s room.  Do you know where those board books I got out to work with the girls on their reading are?  Yeah, they are being used as walls for the cabin on the spaceship.

You think you want imaginative children?  Then say good-bye to a “place for everything and everything in its place.”   It does not matter how many perfectly labeled bins, baskets, or shelves you buy; your kids will move them around, empty them, and use them for something else, like a bathtub for their stuffed dogs. And everything that was dumped out will get re-purposed.  So, for instance, the teddy bear will end up wearing a cape of post-it notes, and the pony’s mane will be decorated with thirty paper clips and a dozen hair bows and the books will be laid out to make paths from one “house” to another because Mom, I have an idea!

You can also forget about useful furniture arrangements.  Heck, forget about using your furniture at all.  One of the things most often heard at our house is a parent yelling from one room to another, “Why am I hearing furniture being moved??”  It does not matter if we have just reminded our kids that the guests are arriving in 10 minutes;  the piano bench will become a reindeer and the chairs will be lined up to form the rest of Santa’s sled team.  The coffee table will be turned over and placed just so to make Santa’s sleigh.  All the closet and bedroom doors in the hall will be opened to make a maze-like home for Mrs. Claus while she awaits Santa’s return.  The cups and plates set out for the soon-to-arrive guests will be moved to Mrs. Claus’ house because Dad, she wants to have tea!  And this is in July.

Now, you may be thinking that I am being a bit overly dramatic.  Surely there are some counter-measures a wise parent can take to maintain order in the midst of constant creative disorder, you say.  For instance,

“Can’t you just make your kids clean up their creations at the end of every day?  Do you think Monet’s mom made him clean up his studio every day while he worked on the waterlillies?  Do you think Michelangelo’s mother asked him to tidy everything up as he was creating the David?  My kids may lack the skill of Monet and Michelangelo, but their commitment to their projects surely rivals the great artists.  To ask them to dismantle everything they have worked on at the end of the day is like asking you to hit erase on a document you have spent hours writing.

“What if you tried to designate certain days or certain times of day as the creative days or hours and then asked them to do other things for the rest of the time?”  To do this is like asking my kids to breathe only on certain days.  They simply cannot turn it off.  Not on Mondays.  Not at 7 PM.  Not 10 minutes before we have to leave on a trip.  Not ever.

“Surely your kids don’t ‘create’ every minute of every day.  They must do other things sometimes.”  True, my kids do read books, color, swing on the swing-set and use the ipad from time to time.  Here’s the thing, though:  when they choose to create and when they choose to do more orderly activities is according to their whims, not mine.  When you have creative children, they create on their timeline, not yours.  The parent does not get to choose the timing of the creativity.

“Have you tried to create some boundaries around what belongs only to you and cannot be used in their projects?”  Yes.  But have you ever tried to stop a swarm of ants that has discovered a picnic blanket laden with crumbs and leftovers?  They are engrossed and quick as lightning, too busy with the joy of the project to observe proprietary boundaries.

“What if you yourself just clean up every night after they go to bed?” To create a clean, orderly space is to hand my kids a blank canvas.  Peaceful environments just further fuel their creative energies.  I took them to the children’s area of our local botanic garden recently and within five minutes of arriving, my kids started rearranging the garden furniture in order to play school.

“When the weather is good, can’t you just send them outside to play?”  Yes, and when I look out the window ten minutes later, I will find the porch cushions arranged as lily pads on a sea of hot lava, the hose forming a lifeline between two chairs, every doll in the house clipped to the clothesline, watching the lava drama and wearing cloth napkins, all my flower pots repositioned as statues around the volcano, and chicken wire from the garage forming a wall to block off the swingset from the spewing lava.

“Well, at least, you know your kids will be equipped for any job that requires innovation and creativity!”  Maybe so, but in the meantime, you’ll find me like this.

© Laura Goetsch and Thinking About Such Things, 2014.

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16 thoughts on “The Curse of the Imaginative Child

  1. Luckily, I have managed to crush most of my children’s creativity into story writing and computer programming. However, the house is still littered with ukuleles, homemade coloring books, single socks (why?), and about 100 glasses of water (half full, granted). Ron promises me that one day I will have a very tidy, if empty, nest.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rest assured, Annie, we also have a fair measure of simply slobbiness without productive result.

    And Fidalia, I have little hope of ever having a tidy nest since the tall one in the my home–you know the one–is fairly creative himself.

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  5. Sara

    I am just reading this and loved it! Our sons are like this and I can relate to every thing you said. The blank canvas of empty space, scraps of paper and tape every where, how engrossed they are in their projects that they work on for days and days. I often feel overwhelmed by the chaos and repeat “die to self, die to self” as I walk around the house finding more projects and every time my husband brings home another cardboard box for them to create with. Deep breathes…then awe because I love their creations and the way their minds work.

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  10. Sandy Quinn

    Thank you for this post! It IS exhausting! Sometimes I stare at other people’s kids who are calm and orderly. I just stare, thinking, “My life would have been so different.” Yes, to dying to self a million times a day.

    Except sometimes I just can’t. Like yesterday when my 10-year-old daughter wanted to dress up (and her brother too) like Mario and Luigi to get groceries at Meijer. Why not, Mom? Why not? Because Meijer is not Mario World. The other shoppers are not King Koopa.

    Another game my (7-year-old) son thought of to get through the monotony of grocery shopping is to pull one arm into his shirt. He walks around pretending he only has one arm, seeing what people do when they see a one-armed boy. He has gotten a lot of nice smiles. He smiles sweetly back.

    I think we should start a support group!

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