Let’s start by saying, it’s not that I never play. There are times that I like to color or play make-believe (though that devolves pretty quickly into her playing and me watching). Overall, though, I am not a mom who plays.
I would rather my kids trash my house finding ways to squish their curiosity than expect me to be their constant playmate. Sometimes, this can take more effort than it would to plan and execute activities, especially when it comes to cleaning up. For their sake and mine, it’s better that there are fewer parameters around play. Here’s why:
Boredom spurs creativity
It pains me a bit to say this, but I usually have to ignore my kid for a bit until she finds a way to spend her time. The results, though, are usually pretty fantastic. I’ve found her trying on all of the clothes in her drawer, pretending to teach her stuffed animals, or creating a tea party in the bathtub (complete with water, of course.) These ideas are organic. A stream of thought led her there that I would have otherwise disrupted.
More opportunities to problem solve
When I am there to direct play or fetch the markers, my kid takes less initiative. Allowing her space gives her an opportunity to use critical thinking skills. Are the ropes the best way to get to the top of the slide? How can I reach the construction paper on a high shelf? Maybe I can change the record on the record player all by myself. I am not above saying that she often has better solutions than me.
I trade dependence for autonomy
Each time I try to do something for my daughter that she can do or try because it is more convenient for me, I am sending the message that she may not be capable. She may pour an obscene amount of paint onto a paper plate once, but with an explanation of “too much” and “let’s try to go slow next time,” I’m empowering her to try again instead of creating dependence on me to do it. Oftentimes, we unknowingly create anxiety when our first reaction is to intervene. Giving space allows for “try agains.”
I need a break(s)
This one speaks for itself. All parents need breaks. I personally need a lot of breaks. Between the laundry, wiping bottoms, making meals, and tidying, I can become a hologram of a person. Moms need boundaries, too. I give myself full permission to let my kids know I need a moment. I cannot play. I love you, but I need to sit. Autonomy is key, here. My toddler is getting to the age where she is becoming her own. The outcome is that I am slowly getting some of my own time and space back.
In our home, we rarely, if ever, say no to mud. She has made countless meals with me, even near a hot stove. I don’t freak out when she pulls all of the covers off of her bed or fills a tiny cup with water on the kitchen floor. Play is the work of children, who may, in fact, have more things figured out than adults. And, it’s saved a bit of my sanity as well.