By Kate Hayes
My family recently saw Toy Story 3 at the movie theater. Every time I watch one of the Toy Story movies and see child cartoon characters like “Andy” playing so happily and independently with their toys, one main thought keeps coming back to my mind: ”Why don’t my kids do that?”
I’m curious: Do any kids really play by themselves in real life? Or is it just mine that need me to entertain them 24-7?
When we are at home, my five-year-old daughter, Anna, is almost always “bored.” Go play with the 50 Barbie dolls in your bedroom, I suggest. Or in your amazing playroom filled with a kitchen set and grocery store and baby dolls galore. (I would have given anything to have a playroom like that when I was her age). “But there’s no one to play with me,” she pouts. What about your brother?, I ask. “Kellen doesn’t count,” she disputes. “He never does anything I tell him to do. (Dramatic sigh.) Will you come up there and play house with me? You can be the mommy, and I’ll be the daughter!” Ummm…see, we’re already living that fantasy in real life. But okay. How about I’ll be the mommy, and you can be the daughter, and I’ll tell you to go play in the playroom while I get some cleaning done downstairs? And then I’ll make you some lunch, because that’s what I would do if I was really your mom.
That little ploy never works.
It’s the same thing with my two-year-old son (although, to his credit, Kellen does play by himself more often than Anna does). Usually, though, he just wants me to sit on the floor and watch him play. I can’t actually touch his toys and play with him, or he freaks out. He just wants me to sit. And be completely non-productive. Sigh.
The thing is…it’s not that I don’t WANT to play with my kids. I DO! I just don’t want to play with them ALL DAY LONG. And if their pleading ruled the day, that’s what I would do.
So I struggle with guilt. I feel guilty if I don’t play with them every time they ask me to (especially since my daughter has learned to say things like, “I feel like you don’t want to spend any time with me at all!”) OR…I play, and then feel guilty and frustrated at my inability to get anything else accomplished around the house…or even to find time to write when it’s not the wee hours of the morning.
I don’t remember MY parents playing with my siblings and me all day long. In fact, I don’t remember my mom playing “pretend” games with us ever. I remember them reading to us, and playing puzzles and board games in the evenings…constructive learning activities that always had a specific beginning and end time. But the rest of the time, we played by ourselves. We read. We roller-skated. We climbed trees. We used our imaginations.
I worry that I have ruined my kids’ ability to imagine by doing too much for them. We spend a lot of time exploring exciting new places, especially since we have moved to New England. Perhaps they are so used to being entertained by travel that they just never learned how to get excited by simple activities at home?
Am I the only mom who feels this way? Is it wrong that I wish my kids could be more independent? And most importantly, do YOUR kids know how to play by themselves…and if so, how did you get them to do it?
I welcome your opinions and advice!
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