Why it’s so important to play along with your kids, even when they’re boring you to tears
Sometimes, you just have to take a deep breath and put your own needs aside.
There’s one thing they never tell you about parenting. Okay, that’s a lie. There are many things they don’t tell you about parenting.
But the one that really struck me, that I’ve never seen on Instagram, on a blog, or in a magazine, is just how spectacularly boring small kids can be.
And as much as I think my kids are cute, hilarious, and clever, I also find myself chanting a mantra to stay in the moment: “This is important.”
I repeat it in a sing-song voice, to the drumming of my fingertips on the table, through the endless variations of Restaurant, Doctor, or Mommies-Daddies.
This. Is. Important.
Building block towers that get knocked over. Doing a jungle puzzle for the 34th time. Drawing pictures of the garden.
This is more important than my phone. This is more important than shooting out an email. This is more important than replying to a message.
It doesn’t always feel that way. And with three little children, mommy’s attention is a valuable commodity.
Just yesterday I was making and decorating paper dolls with my feisty four-year-old, when I heard one of the twins crying outside.
I could hear our nanny soothing her, so I calmly got up to get a pencil. Four thought I was leaving to help with her sobbing sister.
She grabbed my jersey with an urgency I didn’t expect. “Don’t go!” she said, “Stay wif me!”
It struck me like a beam of sunlight, cutting through the fog of the to-do list in my brain. This is important to her.
She doesn’t actually want to watch hours of Paw Patrol. She doesn’t want me to leave her alone to help with her sisters.
She wants my undivided attention. She wants me to play and engage with her wholeheartedly.
Another favourite game I sometimes find hard — and it’s inevitable because I have three girls — is Frozen.
Four puts on her gauzy blue Elsa dress and transforms into a magical tyrant, ruling the kitchen.
She stamps her little feet to make pretend-ice everywhere. “You fwozen!” she shouts, her hands outstretched and her nose wrinkled.
In the presence of my own tiny, irate, very bossy Elsa, I take deep breaths to calm myself. It embarrasses me how much I want to sit on the couch and just exist.
Feeling guilty, I stumble on an episode of Good Inside, a popular podcast by the so-called gentle parenting expert, Dr Becky Kennedy.
On It’s Okay if you don’t like to Play, Dr Becky delves into how painful pretend play can be.
I related to the mom who shared the frustration of committing to play, and being dictated to by her strong-willed toddler. “Not like THAT, mommy!”
I know what it feels like, mom. It feels so…undignified!
Meekly following orders — how to stack the blocks, act sick, or eat an invisible hamburger — makes me feel stripped of any self-respect I had left after the unshowered baby-breastfeeding years.
Dr Becky’s advice, which I haven’t taken, was to talk through the feelings and work on a compromise with the child.
But I’m a coward. So next time, I’m going to remember that little hand tightening on my hoodie and remind myself, “This is important…to her.”
Just as she is important to me…and asleep by 7pm.