From the Museum of Science's Lightening Display

I just read an article in the NY Times about decision fatigue.  It turns out that we make worse decisions as the day goes on because our brains tire of making so many decisions. The more decisions you make in a day, the more tired and less effective your brain is.

But parenting is all about decisions, yes?  Some days it seems like there are thousands of decisions to be made, from the mundane (“Do I make him breathe on me, or do I trust him that he used toothpaste while brushing his teeth?) to the weighty (“Is he ready to walk to school by himself, or is that simply too risky?”)

Today, we went to the Museum of Science in Boston.  I thought about making a short list of decisions I made in a four-hour period while at the museum, but realized that I would exceed my self-imposed seven-hundred-words-per-post limit within the first twenty minutes.  I made decisions about everything from discipline, to which exhibit to see first, to how long to let Ezra grab his crotch before insisting that he use the bathroom.

But the biggest decision I face at this particular museum is how much to let them enjoy themselves and how much to force them to spend at least a minute reflecting on what’s going on.  Here are a few of those decisions I faced today:

  1. How long do I let them stand here and watch this Rube Goldberg machine?  The museum has an amazing maze-like contraption with falling balls, and the boys have never once said that they were ready to leave it, no matter how long we sit there.  Every time we go to the museum they stand with their faces pressed against the glass, watching the balls make their way up and around and down again, for as long as I can take it before moving us along to another exhibit.  Is this a good use of our time?  Our money? Will they be disappointed if we spend the entire time watching pool balls?
  2. Is it okay that there are huge chunks of the museum we have never seen because all the boys want to do is watch the balls, run up and down the musical staircase, and play in the indoor playground?  Why am I a member here?  If all we are going to do is stare at balls and run around, wouldn’t we be better off heading to the park on the most beautiful day in memory?
  3. When we are at the indoor playground, should I just let them play on the see saw, or should I make a point about calculating the moment?  Should I have them do the experiment suggested by the museum – where we figure out who has to sit where on the see saw for things to balance, or do I just let them play?
  4. Should I encourage Zach to face his fear of the lightening show or should I help him honor his limits by honoring them myself?  The lightening display can be overwhelming.  It’s loud and bright and has taken down many a more well put together sensory package than Zach.  But I also think he’s embarrassed that everyone else goes in and he doesn’t go.  And I’m pretty sure that if he sat on my lap and let me cover his ears, he could handle it and would feel proud.  Should I help him push through?

Zach is not the only one who gets fried at the museum.  All of the decisions undoubtedly give me decision fatigue. I don’t need the Times to tell me that parenting is hard on the brain.  One trip to the museum is all the reminder I need.

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  • Fascinating article. I hadn't heard this term before, but there was a really interesting article a while back on the paralysis you can feel in the face of too many decisions:
    I think these are all what could be termed "high class problems" :).

    • tedelschick

      I don't know, Madeleine. I think the article said that people living in poverty can also suffer from this. In some ways, lack of money limits options, which limits the number of decisions to make. On the other hand, there is a whole new set of decisions to be made when you lack resources, decisions that can be really stressful. Do I pay the electric or the phone bill? Should I let them stay home alone while I work or should I find a cheap babysitter? I think that modern culture has fatigue enough to go around, whatever your economic situation.

  • Lisa

    I think that being a member of the museum gives you the luxury of going there to do what you want to do rather than feeling that you need to see everything. I think that spending long periods at one exhibit is a positive. When they are looking at the kinetic sculpture they are making predictions, visually tracking, and sustaining attention. Right? Ask Millie.

    It is so sweet to imagine that they will remember watching those balls for hours on end.

    • tedelschick

      You are probably right. But what about how bored I get after 25 minutes?