The Art of Play in Parenting

Kate Westund Tovsen
Kate Westund Tovsen
Kate Westund Tovsen

Introduction by Brad

Secret to Being an Awesome Babysitter? Ask Kate Westlund Tovsen

Every now and then you hire somebody that changes you. Somebody, so awesome you never forget them. This is the case with our favorite babysitter, Kate Westund. (Who is now Kate Westlund Tovsen)   Kate had the two most important characteristics of every awesome babysitter. First of all my kids adored her. Second and equally important, my wife and I trusted and adored her.  Why?  For so many reasons.  We had struggled with other babysitters who really wanted to default to the television. Dealing with three little kids is exhausting and putting them in front of the television is the easiest way to babysit. Even when we begged the other babysitters not to use… Or at least overuse… The television they would do it anyway.

We also instructed every babysitter to be creative. Play games. Make up games. If you need to just ask the kids what they wanna do and do it with them. Use your imagination as you teach the kids to use their imagination.  To me, this seems like a pretty simple instruction, but it literally was too difficult for every babysitter.  Except for one.  Kate Westund. 

Kate did the minimum of keeping our children, safe, fed and put to bed. But she went so far beyond the minimum. She constantly used her ginormous and creative brain to create an experience. That was amazing for my children, and I think rewarding for Kate.

Imagine our delight when we found out years later Kate wrote a paper about her experience as a babysitter. You’re about to read that article. To be brutally honest, my wife, Kim, and I honestly do not remember most of what she writes about. And definitely Kim and I come off way better as parents than we remember being. But nevertheless this article was very very flattering.

Kate sent it to us recently and blew us away. I asked her if I could publish it here and she agreed. 

Two notes:  

  1.  My expertise when speaking to groups, as a motivational speaker is social and emotional support as it relates to performance and growth. I’m not positive how this concept is in play with this wonderful article from our babysitter, but I’ve got a couple of ideas. Kate really made our kids feel safe, loved, and important. She listened to their ideas and played their games.  If that is not the very definition of being a supportive adult, I have no idea what is. Plus, I think there was a certain amount of freedom we gave Kate that she fully embraced. We encouraged her do use her imagination and ideas to be an awesome babysitter. We told her at least indirectly that we trusted her. And boy did she deliver!
  2. Kate is about to have her second child! Watching Kate as a babysitter makes me absolutely positive that she is a wonderful mother to her first kiddo, and will be a rockstar for the new one too.

Kate…we are crazy proud of all the things you’ve done and become. Congratulations on Embracing Your Awesomeness

Here is Kate’s article: 

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It’s so fun, and such a blessing, to make plans and dream dreams for a future family and to have those plans and dreams finally not be in the abstract. I see and feel my changing body; a month’s long meditation on what sort of parent I want to become. 

As I wait for my body to do its thing (and for Baby’s body to do its thing) I’ve been reflecting on the families in my life that have shaped me. Having spent my adolescence working with children, it turns out I have a lot of dormant ideas about parenting nestled in the folds of my brain. Many ideas stem from my own family, of course, but also from the families I grew close to through summers of nannying. And now that my own parenthood is on the horizon, these ideas are waking up.

My favorite family to nanny, far and away, was the Montgomery family. They were three adorable towheaded children with infinite creativity and energy. They were the first family outside of my own that I loved. 

And I loved the parents as much as I loved the kids. They valued exploration and creativity above all else. This came across in their parenting style, but importantly, it seemed to be at the core of who they were as people — before they were parents. 

For instance, Dad, a comedic motivational speaker and illusionist, would hand out branded dog toy squeakers as his business cards. (I would spend summer naptimes helping him assemble promotional materials. As a 14-year-old, I didn’t have any preconceived notions about what business cards should look like, but something told me that they didn’t typically look like this.)

The kids and I read books, painted pictures, played in the backyard, ate “green spaghetti” (pesto Mom made from their garden) followed by “dessert” (banana slices dipped in Hershey syrup). We painted our nails and donned flowy dresses (yes, even the boy), and we played some made up game called “Bobby Dog” in their bunk beds that I never fully understood but for which they still give me credit. And they called me “Cake.” <3

Who Needs TV? Not the Montgomery Kids

I don’t recall ever turning on the TV. It was not one of those easy babysitting gigs that any child who’s watched other children looks forward to (getting paid to watch movies?!) But the Montgomery kids were so full of joy and so well-behaved that I truly just looked forward to playing the summers away with them.

I’ve been told that having two kids (or, in their case, three) is easier than having one, in that the kids can keep one another occupied. This, I imagine, comes in handy when you’re coming home tired from the proverbial long day of work and your top priorities are feeding your kids, making sure their homework is done, and getting them (and yourself) to bed at a reasonable time. Assuming the kids get along well enough, the “fun stuff” is taken care of by the built-in playmates. Check!

While this “playmate theory” certainly rang true with the Montgomery clan, I never caught a glimpse of the flipside: the stereotypical exasperated working parents. (Though I’m sure they existed, somewhere, sometime. Even the Montgomerys are human!) Perhaps this is because they found fulfillment and play in their individual lives, outside of parenting — Dad with his work, and Mom through her hobbies like triathlons (Is that fun? The jury is still out, for me.).

As their nanny, and as a child myself, I did not feel my role was to parent (I also didn’t have the slightest idea of what it actually meant “to parent”) but rather to entertain the kids. They had so few stimuli that engaging them was a Cake walk. Granted, this was in the early aughts. They did have a VCR player, I believe, but they certainly did not have the glowing and buzzing of personal smart devices beckoning them into the catatonic techno-comas that can be observed in children — and adults — today.

Even when it came to their toys, of which there were many thanks to hand-me-downs from their older cousins, the parents curated a smaller selection and put the bulk into “retirement.” When the kids would get bored of those toys, another rotation would come out. Genius!

Parenting Goals

On more than one occasion, The Montgomery parents remarked to my parents that they hoped their kids would turn out as good as the Westund kids — an immense compliment to me and my brother, and what I assume must be the ultimate compliment to any parent. (Having watched the Montgomery brood come into young adulthood, I can say with confidence that they did, and that they perhaps even surpassed us!)

Now I, on the precipice of starting my own family, hope more than anything that my husband and I can be as good as the Montgomery parents. I hope that the silliness and laughter that is so foundational to our relationship persists into parenthood. And I hope that we remember, even when we are exhausted at the end of the day, that playing is still more important than pushing ‘Play’ on the BluRay.

— Kate Westlund Tovsen

Biography of a Motivational Speaker

Funny keynote speaker Brad Montgomery is an award winning, Hall of Fame speaker. He got his start as a magician & comedian, but now serves convention and meeting audiences in many fields including health care, real estate / REALTORS, sales people, educators and teachers, and 100s of others.

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