Lin-Manuel Miranda says the best way to encourage creativity is to leave kids alone
Parenting has changed a lot since we were kids. We’re a lot more involved in children’s lives now, the expectations are higher, and somehow we’ve adopted the idea that our kids need constant entertainment and attention from us in order to thrive. The desire to spend time with our kids isn’t a bad thing, but Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius behind the hit musical Hamilton, wants parents to understand there’s also benefits to leaving them alone.
In a recent interview with GQ, Miranda talked about the upbringing that led him to become one of the theater world’s most imaginative stars. “My parents worked. A lot,” he explained. “And they were very diligent about the important stuff… But in the hours between getting home from school and going to bed, my sister and I were left to our own devices.”
That time, he explains, gave him a lot of freedom to be creative, to explore, to imagine. As Miranda puts it, “Time alone is the gift of self-entertainment—and that is the font of creativity. Because there is nothing better to spur creativity than a blank page or an empty bedroom. I have fond memories of pretending ninjas were going to come into every room of the house and thinking to myself,What is the best move to defend myself? How will I ‘Home Alone’ these ninjas? I was learning to create incredible flights of fancy.”
So often these days, it seems like we’re trying to engineer creativity with our kids. We buy art supplies for a pre-determined craft we saw on Pinterest and hold our kids’ hands through the whole thing. We DIY an intricately detailed fireman costume and then act shocked when they’re not interested in playing with it because we’ve done all the imagining for them. We plan their days to the minute, chiding ourselves for every moment spent watching television or being “lazy.”
The problem is, all of that activity and emphasis on constant entertainment can actually be counterproductive. “Unless you learn how to be in your head, you’ll never learn how to create,” cautions Miranda. “Teach your kid to make their own way. To follow their interests, make their own path. I wrote my first Broadway musical, In the Heights, because I wanted a future in theater and I didn’t see a place for myself. So I wrote one.”
As kids, most of us had the benefit of space and time away from our parents. I remember playing alone in my room for hours at a time, or running around outside until the sun went down. Now, I’m a mom and I somehow convince myself to feel guilty if my kids have to spend an hour doing their own thing so I can get some work done. I’m not proud of that, but it comes with the territory of being a parent these days, and Miranda’s words are a good reminder that it’s okay to back off.
Not every kid is destined for Broadway stardom or even interested in that particular brand of creative expression, but every kid is capable of great feats of imagination, exploration, and creativity — if only we leave them alone long enough to figure things out.