In my home the following scene has played out multiple times:
“Mom, will you come play dolls (superheroes) with me?”
Play begins. I make my doll or superhero do something.
Soon I hear, “no, you aren’t doing it right!”
I sit and sigh a big sigh inside.
Play goes on, and five minutes suddenly feels like an hour.
Eventually, play ends. My child has lost interest because Mom is not playing “right.”
I feel guilty, and frustrated that I cannot play pretend with my child.
I have a confession: I do not like imaginative play. I do not like pretend play. There. I said it.
Now, before you judge me for this — hear me out. I do love playing with my kids, but I do not love pretend play . . . because I am not good at it.
This is an interesting complex for me. I mean, as I think about my childhood, I know I had an imagination. I know that I pretended with my dolls and stuffed animals.
When did I lose that imagination?
Somehow adulthood changed that. Maybe it’s because I process life differently than when I was a kid.
For the longest time I had some serious mom guilt about this.
Why can’t I engage in pretend with my child? When my kids ask me to do this, I think about everything else I would rather be doing. I also think about how I can make this as painless as possible for both of us.
I recently had a conversation with some mom friends about pretend play. I found out that other women felt the same way. Wow! I was not alone.
After realizing this, I started to think about it differently. Instead of thinking about how bad I am at pretend play, I instead think about the things I am good at playing and doing with my kids.
I decided to make a list. Here it is:
I don’t know if it is the elementary teacher in me or what, but I can do great voices for characters. I would sit and read all day with them if I could.
Puzzles and Board Games
I love playing games and doing puzzles. I will gladly take the chance to do these things with my kids.
My son loves LEGOs and he has a mom who loves building and encouraging him to use his critical thinking skills, and imagination, too. I will happily build with my son anytime he asks.
My older two children are into crafting right now, and I will happily craft with them, and help them use this medium to develop their imagination.
Baking and Cooking
I am great at inviting my kids into the kitchen to bake and cook with me. I enjoy cooking and baking, and love teaching and sharing this with my kids. My oldest daughter especially likes cooking with me.
When my kids ask me to engage in imaginative play, I will sometimes invite them to do an alternate activity.
I do not do this to discourage them from using their imagination, instead I do this so that all parties are happy. My kids are having fun playing with their mom, and I am not dreading it.
I am fortunate to have a silver-lining in all of this. I have a spouse who is amazing at pretend play.
He will sit with my son and come up with stories and scenarios all day long. He is definitely the parent who fosters that creative side. He is able to over-compensate for a mom who is not good at imaginative play. It is what makes us a good team.
If you, like me, are in this same camp I encourage you to think about this differently. Instead of focusing on what we don’t do well, let’s focus on what we can do well.
Let’s use the skills that we have to make a connection with our kids. When our kids are asking us to play, they are looking for a connection with us. They are looking for acceptance and validation — which I think we all are seeking in life.
If our hearts are not in it, that connection is not being made. If we are not enjoying the activity, it probably shows.
Let’s use our skills to teach our kids about what we enjoy doing. And maybe, just maybe, that will inspire them to take an interest in something we enjoy, too.
In the end, I firmly believe our kids will not grow up thinking, “my mom did not pretend with me.” Instead, they will remember: my mom loved playing with me.
So, the next time you feel guilty about pretend play, think about how you can make a connection in a different way.
Find a way to play that makes both of your hearts happy.