There have been plenty of parenting moments in the last 5.5 years since I became a mom where I have thought, “Hmmm that’s not how I thought that would go.” In the beginning, you are just feeling it all out. I mean how can you expect to know what you are doing even though you bought all those “what to expect” books but never actually read them. But you figure it out. The feeding, the sleeping, the potty training…you just muddle your way through it and somehow you have walking, talking, little humans who have their own personalities and interests. There are many things I feel like I am a pro at (they don’t call me the Sleep Enforcer for nothin’), and others that I take day by day. But there is one thing that is baffling me. My children’s ability to play independently/with each other. The problem is THEY DON’T.
I am not the kind of parent that spends every waking minute crafting amazing ideas and adventures for my children. I didn’t grow up that way and I have shit to do. I mean who is going to vacuum my floors if I am busy racing Hot Wheels? Surely my children can race each other and I don’t have to be a part of it, right? Wrong. I seriously don’t know why my kids cannot seem to “just play”. I remember being 4 or 5 and playing FOR HOURS in our basement BY MYSELF. I had older siblings who were in school full time and there I was…playing dolls in my room alone while my mom did whatever she did (clean, watch Another World, I really don’t know). Point is I want my kids to be able to use their imagination and go play in the basement without me having to a) be there b) entertain them c) prevent them from killing each other.
Before you chime in on what kind of parent you think I am, I am loving and kind. I do hang out with my kids and take them places, but I also work full time outside of the home and I have to cook and clean and buy shit. It’s the way the world works. I don’t have the time or the energy to make a Batman lair out of Lego every single day. I take my kids to the park, on walks, to the grocery store. But I also need to be able to get things done in my house while they are in it. I don’t want to have to take a vacation day from work just to be able to wash my windows.
My kids (age 5 and 3 for reference) seemingly cannot play on their own for any longer than 2 minutes. I will have them set up in the basement with all the Hot Wheels track and cars they could ever want and I go to escape upstairs to make dinner and two minutes later, they are both begging me for a snack and to “be with me”. Charming I know. I know that five years from now, when their independence will be greater and they won’t literally be nipping at my heels, I will probably miss the constant attention. But this truly isn’t what this is about. This is about not having a friggin’ clue about how to get my kids to play without my involvement. “Go outside and play” literally means nothing to them. And they have a playhouse and toys in our backyard that I never had. As I often tell them, “You know what mommy had to play with when I was your age? A rock.”
I thought play was natural. Children would invent and create and explore all on their own and the parent was there to yell, “Lunch is ready” and all would be good. Maybe it’s because I was the youngest in my family, and a girl, that I was able to play so well on my own. My boys have each other, but can’t get along for more than five minutes. Or maybe this is just a stage. Or maybe I need more patience. Either way, I don’t know why it is so hard for them to play without ME. It would probably help too if my boys were at the same stage and could play the same things. My 5yo likes books, puzzles, superheroes, and Lego. My 3yo? Throwing things down the stairs and jumping on top of them. For now, I’ll continue to encourage independent play and try and model using your imagination (like when I pretend to be the Real Housewife of Saskatchewan and I have a never-ending supply of money to order clothes online). If my kids’ biggest problem in life is that they had a mother who always told them to “go outside and play” then I feel like I have done my job as a parent. And I’ll be able to enjoy watching them play through my super shiny windows.