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There was a day when I would play Thomas the Train, orchestrate a major Dinosaur hunt, and race cars all over the house. I would narrate detailed stories and games, bringing my boys (mostly the oldest) into extravagant, make-believe worlds. Until it had to stop.
I didn’t realize the amount of dependence/need I was promoting. I decided to stop playing with them when it hit me that I was cultivating an environment where their imagination needed my imagination, and I was tired.
I’m so happy I transitioned out of lead-player and into the narrator, but it was a bit difficult. I felt so guilty saying no, then watching Benjamin struggle to know what to do with himself and his toys. The real ticker for me was knowing how much joy he got from our playtime together. He was so happy.
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But, the reality is my job isn’t to make them happy all the time, it’s to love them and nurture their minds.
His mind needed the challenge of coming up with his own games, directing his own play, and I finally realized that. So, I shed a few tears and felt the guilt each time he asked me to play.
I started off slowly by saying “no, mommy can’t play now. It’s Benjamin’s special time to play,” or “Benjamin, you have all these wonderful race cars they want you to help them go as fast as they can,” or “see the clock? You play until the big – hand is on the 12, then we’ll do something fun.”
The list goes on of all the impromptu statements to direct him back to his own games, and he slowly got better and better. I was so hesitant to do this!
Isn’t my job to be his playmate too? Aren’t I supposed to interact with him more? Not always. We are adults, they are children, and it’s easy to blur the lines, especially with your firstborn. Jack, my second-born, caught on to independent play immediately because he was younger when I started this movement, so he knows no different (thank goodness for me!).
This really took months of getting used to, as well as going to more parks and playdates to really use other kids for entertainment. Other kids are perfect for that, and they help teach your child how to play.
Now, I can bring the boys to new places, introduce them to new toys and they run into the fantastic world of their own imagination and fantasy. They are in charge of their own fun and entertainment (for the most part, with direction and guidance from me intermittently). Not playing with them has actually been one of the best gifts I’ve given them. I still of course sit down and play catch, show them how to build roads and castles, color, tickle, hide and chase. I want to be fun and silly with them, and a part of their world, but with balance.
Now I hear things like, “yea, that’s a good idea mom!” As he runs off to get his toys and play to his heart’s content. It’s fascinating the games and ideas they can come up with on their own, and it’s just in time because I’ve got just 10 days until the due date for boy number 3!