My oldest has always been wildly independent. Even as an infant she would fuss if I held her too long. She was far more content rolling around on the floor. As she got older, using her imagination came easily. She’s been playing house and school since she could walk and talk. It was nothing for her to play alone for several hours each morning, babbling to herself about the world she was creating. I would take advantage of the hours by writing, reading, or catching up on housework.
That all changed when my youngest was born this spring. Suddenly my daughter was constantly underfoot, barely content to play by herself for a full 30 minutes. Too afraid of missing out on something, she was right by my side every time the baby cried. When I needed her to be by herself for just a minute, it would be the end of the world.
“Please play with me, Mommy!” was the newest refrain in my daughter’s vocabulary. Despite my frustration and lack of alone time, this plea convicted my heart. Even though she was fantastic at being independent, she wasn’t getting her one-on-one time with me. It was obvious that we needed a new playtime strategy.
I’ll be honest, I’m not really great at playing. I can sing silly songs and read books all day long, but actual playtime is not a strength for me.
I can stack blocks or pretend to rock a baby to sleep, but I’m looking for an excuse to be done after a few minutes. Mostly, I love to observe my daughter playing and having conversations around it. She can tell me all about the hyenas she’s chasing or the dollhouse adventures she’s having and I’m here for it. I’m just not so great at joining in.
Then we discovered a neat little TV show called Bluey. I’d heard the name before but wasn’t exactly sure what it was. Other parents raved about it, and I’d seen somewhere online that it was perfect for those in a “playtime rut.”
We started watching the short episodes and I was immediately hooked.
This kids’ TV show made playtime look achievable without a lot of frills or fuss. Each episode is only eight minutes long, freeing me from the idea that we would have to make up games for hours on end. Some of the best episodes start off with the dad playing with the girls, but then the game evolves into something they can do themselves. Playing with dad was just a springboard for more independent play.
The more we watched, the more I fell in love with playtime. I’m still not always excited about the endless play, but when I hear “play with me!” I can come up with something to give my daughter the attention she craves. We can turn cleaning up into an exciting adventure or serve up the finest plastic food in town. And I know that these simple games, which may only last a few minutes, fill her up. And that makes it all worth it.
Reframing playtime hasn’t been easy. There are still days when I’d rather send her off with another activity to do alone, or turn on the TV instead. However, if I remember how much fun my daughter and I have together, I can set aside a few minutes and muster up the energy. Usually, we end up in a fit of giggles, having the best time. I’m so glad for our playtime pivot because now my daughter is getting the time she needs and I’m learning to just have fun again.