What Parents Should Learn from “The Sound of Music Live!”

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Over the weekend I had a chance to watch NBC’s The Sound of Music Live! with my kids (we had recorded it on Thursday night). I’ve seen the movie and stage production multiple times in the past, but this was my first time watching this story as a parent. It’s funny how certain things come off differently once you have kids.

As the seven Von Trapp children marched in time into the foyer to meet their new governess, summoned by a whistle call, I had a perverse sense of respect for the order that Captain Von Trapp maintained in his household. Especially given how my husband and I had spent our evening—vacuuming up sprinkles from three rooms of the house after a cookie-decorating activity had gone awry (don’t ask) and reloading the dirty dishes into the dishwasher after my two-year-old figured out how to open it and unload them. (Hurray for new tricks.)

(MORE: Get Your Kids to Do Your Housework for You (and Thank You For It!))

The Captain’s militant parenting wasn’t the only time that a small part of me wanted to root for the “wrong” side in the show.

When Maria (Carrie Underwood), suggested to the eldest child, 16-year-old Liesel, that she could be her friend rather than her governess, I couldn’t help but cringe. Being BFFs with your kids hasn’t exactly proved out to be the best parenting strategy—though maybe the same doesn’t apply to “governesses.”

And how could any parent not empathize with the Captain while Maria continuously undermined his wishes and authority?

All that being said, however, in the end I have to side with Maria’s approach to raising kids. Maria fills the Von Trapp household with life once again, brings back joy, and helps the family members connect with each other healing relationships. And she does all this not just through music but through play.

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I’m not going to attempt to review NBC’s version of this classic story—I’ll leave that to the hoard of snarky tweeters and bloggers who’ve had a field day with it—but for my part, I can only appreciate an artistic effort, flawed or not, that brings a classic story and the lessons it teaches us to a national audience.

 

What can we learn from Maria?

 

1. Make time for play

When Maria arrives at the Von Trapp household, their lives have consisted of order and strict schedules. They spend their day in class and their afternoons marching for exercise. This boot-camp style of parenting sounds absurd, but is perhaps not unlike what can happen to kids today, their lives consumed by school and activities. Recently a mom friend of mine was complaining about how her elementary school-aged son had hockey practice 16 out of 30 evenings in the month of November. It’s easy to get too busy with school, homework, and extra curricular activities, and forget that kids need time for unstructured play, to “climb trees and roll on the grass” as Maria puts it.

(MORE: Why Kids Play Less Now Than 40 Years Ago (and why you should care))

 

2. Make rules that encourage play

Maria sews play clothes for the children out of old curtains because they’re not allowed to get dirty in their uniforms they wear every day.  She teaches them to sing anytime and anywhere, which I think in this show can also be a metaphor for playing. It’s tempting to be like Captain Von Trapp and expect kids to not make a mess or play in the mud and splash in puddles. In fact, I recently wrote about a blogger who suggested avoiding Christmas gifts for kids that were messy or full of small pieces. But I think a better approach is to make rules that encourage play rather than stifling it: You can make a mess, but you have to clean it up afterwards.

(MORE: An Open Letter to the School That Banned Cartwheels)

 

3. Don’t stop playing

Maria is the only adult in the show that still plays. At the beginning of the show she struggles to live up to the expectations of the convent where she is learning to live as a nun. No one else seems to have the same problem. When she moves to the Von Trapp household, she finds household help who also respond to whistle calls and live with military-like discipline. With our Puritan foundations and rigorous work-ethic in this country, in many ways we’re not unlike the adults in this show. It’s easy to forget how to play as adults when our lives are full with demanding work schedules, kids’ activities, and other commitments. We’re lucky at the end of the day to be able to crash in front of the TV for an hour before it’s time to go to bed and start the whole thing over again. But play still has valuable benefits for adults. Founder of the National Institute for Play and author of the book Play, Dr. Stuart Brown proposes in this TEDTalk  that we’re designed to play through our whole lifetime and that it can make us smarter at any age.

I hope that parents who watched this production last Thursday night can move past the criticisms and comparisons of how well the cast and NBC pulled off this show. Instead, take it as an opportunity to remember some valuable lessons that still hold true today.

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