playing aloneWe're supposed to love playing with our kids, and for about an hour, I do. But after a full 60 minutes of lining ponies up across the living room floor for no reason other than I was ordered to, and perching said ponies on top of toy cars to zoom them under the couch, it's time to get myself out of there.

I walk away and leave her to her own devices. Whether she wants me to or not, I put her in the driver's seat. I ignore my kid, and I firmly believe it's the only way to raise them. Kids who have the opportunity to say "I'm bored," I'm finding, are usually pretty boring themselves.

Scientists at the University of Glasgow would agree. They're working on a study on the impact of structured play on the future abilities of university students, and they've found the students whose parents micromanaged them as children are less confident as young adults. They're used to their parents' hovering, so they're willing to let others take charge.

But as a mom who has always worked at least part-time from home, I've depended largely on my daughter's independence to juggle the lifestyle that's kept food on her table. It wasn't simply that I didn't want to play with her. I couldn't. That we decided she was going to be an only child only strengthened my resolve: she had to learn to entertain herself early on because there would be no regular playmate in the house to keep her occupied.

It's easier said than done, Mom and Dad, I know that. Times have changed. Living on a lonely back road in the '80s, I would be gone for hours, and my parents had no idea where I was or what I was up to. I not only entertained myself, I kept out of their hair.

Today's parents are wary of letting their kids go off by themselves; many times we can't. I don't have the same sort of neighborhood that my parents did to let my child roam. There are less adventures to be had, and she's up close and personal all day long. Where my parents didn't have to play with me because I was gone, our kids are in our face begging to be played with.

I try to look at it with that glass half full perspective: she doesn't have quite the range of options I had, so she has to think harder to come up with fun. That's teaching problem solving. She doesn't get to explore a neighborhood, but that means the toys we buy actually get played with. That's putting our money to good use.

I used to feel guilty ignoring my child and telling her "go play." A good mom, I supposed, would be down on the floor for hours braiding pony hair and replacing batteries in noisy toys. But she's never in danger, she's got plenty of love, and the scientists just gave me a big vote of confidence. I'm willing to take the risk that she'll be a bossy adult if it means I never hear the words "I'm booooored."

Do you play with your kids?

 

Image by Jeanne Sager