“Mommy, can you play with me?” It’s like kids have a radar and they know exactly when you need to accomplish something. That’s when they strike and ask you to play. When my oldest was a toddler, I dropped what I was doing every time he asked and subjected myself to playing cars, trucks, trains…whatever he wanted. I. Wanted. To. Poke. My. Eyeballs. Out. Seriously, I love my kids, but I wasn’t great at pretend play when I was a kid, so doing it as a grown-up is rough. I hate it. Maybe that makes me a terrible mom. But if it does, at least I’m an honest one, I guess!
After my oldest got a bit older and started asking me to play things like Ninjago or Transformers or whatever these characters were that I knew nothing about, I couldn’t even pretend anymore. Luckily, by then, our second son was old enough that they could sort of play together. It was more like the oldest was telling the next one what to do and how to play, but they were mostly happy…for a little while. And it was then that I realized it was okay to say “no thanks” when they asked me to play. Not only were they learning independence, they were actually becoming more creative without me stifling their play with my non-creative self! I wasn’t hearing “I’m bored” by my oldest as much anymore. AND I was getting things done during the day, which made me way less stressed and better rested. That meant I was a more patient and understanding mom. It was like all of a sudden, things were falling into place!
I thought back to when I was little and realized my mom and dad rarely played with me. My friends’ parents didn’t sit and play with them all day. That’s not how it worked! Don’t get me wrong, I had wonderful parents that gave me plenty of love and attention. But they did NOT sit and entertain me all day! If I asked them to play a board game or something like that, they often would. However, it was one game and then they went back to whatever it was that they were working on. No endless rounds of CandyLand like I felt like I had to do when I was just starting this mom gig. For some reason, nowadays, moms are made to feel super guilty for not sitting down and entertaining their kids from sun-up to sun-down. You’re made to feel like that’s the way to teach and enrich them and if you don’t, they will be behind. It’s like you’re supposed to leave every single thing you have to do in a day until after bedtime and your kids should have your undivided attention. Guess what. I tried that. It’s awful! I was so tired when my oldest kids were little because I’d be bored to tears playing all day, then they’d go to bed, I’d do a million tasks and then crash before waking up and doing it all again the next day. I don’t think that’s actually supposed to be how this parenting things works, you guys.
As a teacher, I see problems with students who have no attention at home. They don’t have supervision and they sit on screens all day. I’ve blogged about that and got “Amens” from most of the teachers I know. BUT, the kids that are entertained by parents all the livelong day come with their own set of problems! These kids don’t know how to engage with teachers that aren’t sitting right in front of them talking directly to them…you often have to call their name to get their attention before speaking to the class. They don’t know how to initiate play. They often don’t have the same set of play skills that the other kids do (because theirs is more like an adult pretending to be a kid…that’s all they’ve seen). They don’t keep themselves engaged in a task because they’re used to somebody pulling them through it. They don’t know how to wait for attention, help, etc. because they’ve always had attention on-demand. They don’t know how to be bored and live through it! There are SO many skills that kids learn when they have to entertain themselves. Independence depends on it. And let me tell you, kids NEED independence when starting school!
Now before a whole bunch of people jump all over me, I am not saying you should ignore your kids. I’m not saying you should never play with them. What I am saying though, is they need to have a balance. Obviously, they will learn though play with you, so it is a wonderful time to model skills, slip in some practice with colors, shapes, counting, etc. It’s a great bonding experience (even if you’re bored to tears!) and shows them that you care about them and are interested in what they are learning. It can give you great insight as to their strengths and weaknesses. Yes, you need to play with them. But not every time they ask and not all day long. If you are working on a task and they ask, it’s okay to say “no” or “not right now”. It’s okay for them to not be able to play what they wanted. It’s okay for them to not get their way! It’s actually really very healthy. When you do play with them, set some limits for yourself. Play one or two rounds of the game, build with Legos with them for 20 minutes…but set a limit. Then go work on your to-do list. It’s good for kids to see that you have household jobs to do, that you want to sit down and read a book, that you have work to do at home. This is your reality and someday will be their reality, too. Most of all, it’s good for them to see that the world does not revolve around them. Even though they may be your entire world, once they step foot outside of your door, they’re just one piece in whatever world they are a part of (school, daycare, sports teams, etc.). It’s a hard reality to face when the world has always revolved around them. From experience, I know it is a hard reality to get them to accept without them (and their parents) thinking you’re completely against them. When bedtime comes, you’ll be less stressed and have time, patience and energy to give them. You’ll have time to be more than a stressed out mom after bedtime is over. Seriously, everybody wins!!