When my daughter was little, I had no idea what people actually did with their babies. Like, was I suppose to interact with her at all times? Let her be and explore by herself? After all, I was her main source of entertainment. In fact, I pretty much spent the first three years of her life sitting on the floor playing with her. I learned a lot about myself during those years, too, like the fact that I hate play time. Letting my toddler play alone is better for me... and for her.
I am not ashamed to admit that I hate playing with my kids. Building forts and block towers, and playing with Barbies and My Little Ponies, is not my idea of fun. It's especially not a good time with a toddler who has an attention span of a gnat. Pinterest projects are great in theory, but then you spend the entire time trying to get paint or clay out of their tiny adorable mouths and end up finishing the project by yourself because, yes, they're already onto the next activity. In a way it's good that toddlers lose interest quickly, though, because my tolerance for these activities is pretty low.
I spent three years following a tiny human around the house, park, or backyard. My daughter learned that she could depend on me, but she also learned to be dependent on me to entertain her. As a result, I could never catch a break. I would look forward to nap time or bed time like they were miniature vacations, and my entire days were more exhausting than enjoyable. Something had to give.
Eventually, I am happy to say, I learned that you don't have to entertain toddlers all day long. In fact, I actually think every parent is better off if they back off and teach their children to entertain themselves. So, now, while I occasionally engage in a game of peak-a-boo with my toddler or splash with him in the pool, for the most part I let him do his own thing while I watch from nearby. Here's why:
Because I Don't Like Playing
For the longest time, I was under this impression that you have to enjoy every moment of motherhood in order to be a good mom. So when I hated doing things like playing in the backyard or making sandcastles, I thought there was something wrong with me.
So, I decided to fake it. I pretended that baking cookies with a toddler or pretending we were unicorns was actually fun. Now, however, I'm not ashamed to admit that playing with my kids is just not my thing. This is why I am not a nanny, clown, or teacher. It doesn't make me a bad mom, and I am not pretending anymore.
Because It Teaches Independence
Compared to his older siblings, my youngest child has become independent way earlier. At 15 months he does things for himself and will pick up toys and play without an adult to direct him. Sometimes, at 5 and 9, my older kids still ask me to play with them. It's amazing what kids can do if you let them.
Because It's Good For Both Of Us
My life is so different now than it was when I was a first-time mom. I have to admit that I was a little scared to stay home with my youngest, probably because I thought I would have to touch or entertain a toddler all day long. I actually like being a mom more now, and now that I let my toddler just be himself.
Because My Lack Of Imagination Is A Hinderance
I recently read an article by child development expert Janet Lansbury that suggested that adults are not the best playmates for their toddlers. When you think about it, it makes sense. I see blocks and immediately want to build something I know. My toddler sees blocks, and the possibilities are endless. Same goes for musical instruments, blankets, and even cups and spoons.
My kids are way more creative when it comes to filling their world with magic than I am. It's awesome to observe them quietly while they play, rather than mess up their fun.
Because My Parents Rarely Played With Me
When I think back to my earliest memories, I don't remember my parents playing with us. Not like I played with my daughter, anyways. They didn't tell us what to do, or build block towers for us to knock down. They left us to our own imaginations, and we thrived.
Because I Need Breaks
We have got to get over the idea that being a good mom means sacrificing yourself in the process. You need breaks. You need to sit down once in a while. You need to eat something. You need to use the bathroom by yourself. And you need sleep.
Self care is necessary... sacrifice is not.
Because I'm Exhausted
As someone living with chronic pain, I can't always play like a toddler. So, honestly, I am grateful that I've figured out how to stop having to be such a hands-on parent. It turned out it was as easy as changing their — and my — expectations of play time. Who knew?
Because It Helps Me Get Stuff Done
If it wasn't for the fact that my toddler plays alone, I would never get anything done. I ask him if he wants to come with me and unload the cupboards or "fold" laundry at my side, while I go about my daily routine. Sometimes he comes, and other times he plays by himself while I get stuff done. I had no idea it could be like this.
Because Toddlers Can Entertain Themselves
It's been incredible to watch my son transform into an inquisitive, creative, fun person. He doesn't need to have a cruise director mom telling him what to do. Instead, I just sit back, watch him play, and only intervene if he truly needs my help (or asks me to answer his phone, because if a toddler hands you a phone you have to answer).
Sure, there are still messes to clean up, and I'm not saying it works perfectly all of the time, but it's way better than the alternative. Trust me.