I’m going to say it: Play can be boring. As a mother of four children and former pediatric occupational therapist, I've put in a lot of hours of play. So if you need to claim me as the play expert who told you that it’s ok that you find play a bit tedius at times, I've got your back.
Seriously, it's ok if you find the play of your children dull at times. Their play can be repetitive and even rigid, and that’s what it's supposed to be like. There's a reason children want to watch the same shows, eat the same foods, and enact the same scenes in their pretend play. It’s because their whole world, day in and day out, is learning and change. Play is frequently their place to make sense of this world and process what they’re learning. Play is their job.
You're an adult and adulting comes with a hefty amount of repetition each day, so it makes sense that you're not always in sync with your child’s play. Somewhere between my parents’ generation (they were SO not buying it) and mine, parents have internalized this message that good parents should enjoy every moment with their kids. And it's pretty much bordering on blasphemous if you don't savor all of those magic moments of childhood play.
Sorry Waldo, if you want me to believe it, that smile has to reach your eyes...
My daughters used to ask me to play ”Baby Girl Kitty Cats” with them. Awww...cute, right? No. This game was pure torture. I know, those with grown children will shake their heads, pity me, and tell me that I should have cherished those moments, because one day I will miss them terribly. And although that's technically still possible, I have children who are now driving and working part time jobs and I have yet to long for a round of Baby Girl Kitty Cats, so I may have dodged a bullet on that one.
“Baby Girl Kitty Cats- The Game” (which will hereby be referred to as BGKC) consisted of us eating, crawling, and drinking on all fours, and the only permissible dialogue was to say “meow meow”. ( We were allowed to change our intonation, so I could at least say “Meow meow!” with angry eyebrows if I’d been crossed or throw my head back with a jubilant ”Meow meow!” If something amused me).
I’m not particularly proud of the amount of times that the mommy cat was very ill and had to lay down in her cat bed to sleep while the kittens busied themselves preparing her medicine, but I do give myself a small amount of credit for maintaining the storyline without breaking character.
Of course there were times that playing with my children was spontaneous and full of joy, but if I'm being honest, there were also times that it felt like one more chore I had to do (with the added bonus of motherly guilt for not ejoying and soaking up ALL of the moments). In my case, I felt especially guilty because play was something I did professionally. As a pediatric occupational therapist, I used play daily with my clients. Why was it so much harder at home?
One thing I eventually realized was that my play at work engaged my brain in a different way than my play at home. With my pediatric clients, there was a puzzle, a challenge to solve. Play was a means to an end and it made it easier for me to stay focused. At home, play was the end, and whether or not that was the way I was "supposed" to feel, it was tough for me.
If you have a brain that craves novelty, interest, and change (hello ADHD) in order to kick into gear, redundant pretend play may be particularly challenging for you. It was for me. Don't beat yourself up about that. (In fact, try not to beat yourself up for any of your perceived parenting shortcomings; it’s exhausting and you're going to need that energy to play BGKC).
At the end of the day, our kids love spending time with us (that is, until adolescence), so finding things that you actually enjoy doing with your kiddos is a win-win. Whether or not you dig deep and join in a bit of BGKC is entirely up to you, but you can still be an amazingly connected parent if you decide not to. There are so many ways to be present with our kids and the quality time we spend with them will look different for each of us. And if you do decide to play some BGKC and need to feign a feline coma for a few moments of centering and self care, I’m definitely not going to judge you.
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