Friday, March 2, 2012

Bad Mommy Don't Play That

One of the things I love about my friend Claire is her complete comfort with being brutally honest. I was eking out a confession recently that (shh! don't tell anyone) "I don't really like to play with children, even my own." As I waited to be struck by lightning from the hand of a displeased God, Claire said loudly, "Ugh. I HATE playing with Veronica. I used to feel so bad about it. But then I talked to my mother-in-law and she said, 'Please. Do you really think I played with my children? I had no interest in it. And besides, I was too busy cooking and cleaning and running the house.'" Ah, the old days, when the line between the world of adults and the world of children was intact.

My husband and I used to call each other from the park we took our daughter to each and every day for years (each and every living day. for years) and say, "If I never see this God forsaken place again it will be too goddamned soon. Okay?"


"Totally."


"Okay. I gotta go. She wants me to push her on the swings."


I remember one Saturday afternoon, digging a hole in the sand with my daughter and thinking, I can't take this any more. The only thing that could possibly counterbalance this experience for me is a three hour discussion with a deeply intelligent adult about Kierkegard or the implications of the French Revolution on American Foreign Policy in the 1800s... Help me. Somebody. Help me, please.

Meanwhile, I judged myself for not enjoying digging a hole in the sand as much as she enjoyed it. Why am I not more patient, more relaxed, more playful? But then, I had this aha moment: I am not supposed to enjoy this. She is. This is fun for a three year old. She's learning. I learned all I needed to learn from this experience of digging a hole in the sand about 35 years ago. It's not a parenting issue; it's a developmental issue. I need to talk to a grownup! Help!!! Get me out of here!

The other thing my daughter loves to do that I want almost no part of is wrestling. Meanwhile, her father can wrestle with her for close to an hour before he's over it. So that's his job. I don't want to play Barbies or pretty ponies or pet shops. I don't want to "make guys talk" which is what my friend Caren's daughter Olive calls giving voices to small plastic figures. Don't make me make guys talk! I'll go crazy.

Basically, what I realized is that when it comes to playing, I have to pick my poisons and pick them well. I can't afford to do things that significantly deplete my energy and my will to live, like getting on the play structure at the park. I drew the line in the sand on that one: That's for children. Mommy doesn't play that. You play that while Mommy drinks her latte and talks grownup talk with any adult who will engage. Mommy glares at the other adults who get on the play structure. Don't they know that's for children?

And just in case you think you're going to make me feel guilty that I'm not connecting with my child enough by giving me "the look", think again. I read out loud for hours. I braid hair. I pack a mean lunch and sometimes I get creative and put love notes in her lunchbox. I make art and draw. I facilitate the making of books. I talk about feelings and snuggle in bed. I connect in a million ways. Digging a hole in the sand at the park just isn't gonna be one of them. And if you do dig holes in the sand, and that works for you, you go for it. But I hope you're cutting yourself slack somewhere else, then. Not joining the PTA, for example, or saying, "Sorry, kid. I don't make Halloween costumes from scratch. And guess what? I don't even feel bad about it."

9 comments:

  1. Thank you for putting that out there! It's been on my mind lately, too. Sometimes it seems my daughter devises "games" specifically to test my patience. "Okay, you be the teacher and I'll be the mommy and I'm dropping my baby off for his first day of kindergarten and he's really sad and you say this... blah blah blah." Kill me.

    I think there is more pressure on parents of only children to play with them. But you nailed it--we can connect with them in ways that don't make us want to blow our brains out.

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    1. Oh yes, you be this and I'll be that and... "kill me", yes, exactly. It's like, how about I'll be the mom and do all the millions of things I have to do, and you be the kid and do what I say. Hmm...

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  2. My dad recently forwarded me a great article about how French parenting difers from American parenting and one of the things I picked up was that they encourage and require their children to occupy and play by themselves... I posted the article to my FB just now after reading your blog. Check it out and let me know what you think! I wonder what my dad was trying to tell me? Keep up the great blogs, Mick. You always totally hit the mark with me! Give Elva kisses and hugs for us and make her give you some from us as well! Miss you guys... beth, viv and q

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    1. I loved the article. Thank you. And we miss you, too! Much love.

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  3. Okay, we are so on the same page with this. Everything you wrote is exactly how I feel. The other day I went for a run and passed a house where a Mom was coaxing her toddler to get in the car to go to the park. All I could think was, thank goodness I'm no longer doing the park thing. So thanks, Mick. Really great post. xo

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  4. You mean, the park thing will one day be in the past? But the bad memories linger, I see... Followed by good feelings when you pass the park and think, I never have to go there again... Something to look forward to! Thanks as always for reading. xx

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  5. Yes, thank you for this! I play with my kids (ages 7 & 3) when I feel it's appropriate to do so. I'm also just as happy to say "no" and let them play with each other or by themselves. It's about boundaries. We need to have a boundary between "mommy" and "insert first name here". It's the line between self and job. Mommy is a job, one of many that I do. I want to do all my jobs well, but I will support my inner self more than my jobs. I think my kids are better off for it too.

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    1. Deena, beautifully expressed. Thank you.

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  6. loved this. thanks, Mick.
    Wish we still had the village or tribe to distill the demands a child makes on parents, but here we are trying to fulfill every single need and want ourselves. Seems I'm constantly navigating the path of equilibrium for my daughter and myself 'can I possibly read this book yet again and not go crazy?' 'if I refuse the playground request will there be a mega-meltdown?'
    And that image is hilarious. The princess with her captive.

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