“Will You Play With Me?”

Peanut turned 3 in May and for some reason, the moniker “Peanut” doesn’t seem to fit her anymore; I’m not sure why. So, for now I’ll just call her ‘M’. Bossy, demanding, moody M. To say three has been difficult so far would be an understatement. In fact, after talking to other parents, I’m pretty sure the “terrible twos” is a complete lie while the “atrocious threes” is vastly underestimated. Living with a three-year-old is like walking on eggshells at all times. We never know what’s going to set her off or why. We have to carefully watch our words and be ready to act on a second’s notice. What doesn’t faze her one second will throw her into a tailspin the next. The tantrums are out of control and occur on a daily -sometimes even hourly- basis and just when you think everything is fine, the most ridiculous thing will make her start crying uncontrollably. The opposite is also true, though: sometimes when things seem hopelessly awful, she’ll turn it around and be the funniest, goofiest, most loving kid ever. It’s like living with somebody with a split personality.

The biggest problem for me though is…well, me. This is really hard for me to admit but I don’t know how to play with my child. No, that’s not true. I often don’t want to play with my child. I don’t want to play with the dollhouse or the hedgehogs or the fabric sandwiches or the little people farm animals. I don’t want to pretend I’m a baby or a monster or a dog. I don’t want to have to build a lego tower or erect the Marbulous set (only to put in marble after marble and watch it slide down and then do it all over again) or pretend I’m in a swimming pool on our hardwood floor. You know what I do want? I want to read a book again. I want to go to the bathroom by myself again. I want to be able to go into another room without my daughter having a fit. I want to not feel dread at the words, “Mommy, will you play with me?” Most of all, I want to stop feeling like a horrible parent.

I thought that by the time M turned 3, she would be doing more independent play. She goes to a Montessori school -which puts a big emphasis on fostering independence- and they often tell me how independent she is, how she does everything by herself. Then I always wonder to myself, “who is this kid they’re talking about and what happens to her the second I pick her up from school?” Because my kid? My kid is not independent. My kid is wholly dependent on me for entertainment and company. My kid screams for me the second I dare leave her in the living room to go to the kitchen and start her dinner. When we go to the playground, instead of taking off and running towards the fun stuff like all the other kids seem to do, my kid takes my hand the second we get there and says, “what do you want to do?” as if we’re at the playground for my enjoyment and not hers. My kid doesn’t let me just be Mommy and instead insists that I “be a baby” or “be a monster…but a nice monster, not a mean monster” or “pretend you’re Gaga (her grandmother)” all. the. time. 

I want to enjoy it all. Really, I do. I have read countless articles and blog posts lately about how we need to put down our electronic devices, stop diverting our attention and just enjoy the moment because it all goes by so fast and before you know it, the kids are grown and they won’t want you anymore. I know this is true and yet it doesn’t offer any comfort. It doesn’t make me want to play dress-up princesses or never have a minute to myself. All it does is make me feel guilty. What is wrong with me as a mother? Am I missing that nurturing gene? I lose my patience and my temper far too often and then I feel even worse. I confess that M now watches more TV than I’m comfortable with because it’s the only way I can get a minute to myself.

Is this a phase? This non-stop clinginess? Or is this just her personality? She’s definitely an introvert, which has its own challenges, and she is extremely cautious but these aren’t necessarily bad traits. For some reason though, I find it exasperating many times. I want her to experience things, even scary things. I want her to take risks and get all the rewards that come along with those risks. I want her to be happy.

The guilt, though. The guilt is never-ending. Why can other mothers spend days on end with their kids, creating crafts and new games to play, while I feel like I don’t even know how to pass an hour? Why do I so desperately want another child when I can’t even seem to handle the one that I’ve got? And why am I such a failure that I can’t give her the one thing I know she wants most of all: a baby brother or sister? (She talks about it constantly. Always giving us updates on schoolmates that have siblings; telling us the stuffed frog is her brother and the doll is her sister; asking if she can be a big sister.) At least if she had a sibling, she would have somebody else to play with and wouldn’t have to rely on me and my husband to be her playmates.

I love her. I love her more than I thought it was possible to love anybody. I want to be the Mother she deserves.  I want to be able to look into her beautiful eyes when she asks, “Mommy, will you play with me?” and tell her that there’s nothing I would like more and mean it.

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4 thoughts on ““Will You Play With Me?”

  1. Oh, please don’t be so hard on yourself. There’s nothing wrong with what you’re saying or feeling. I don’t remember playing with my kids like that, it wasn’t my thing at all. She’ll get there, I promise. You’re a fabulous Mum!

  2. Both of you sound rather normal. It’s okay that you don’t want to play childish games. Why not teach her some more grown up type games? In the meantime, have you looked into the Feingold diet? (feingold.org) A lot of chemicals, sugar, soy, gluten and such can have an adverse affect on children.

  3. I’m right there with you! I really don’t like playing with my kids. I’ll play board games with them and watch them do some things and I’ll read to them whenever they want. I like to color and do occasional crafts. BUT, the non stop and completely repetitive play, I don’t do. I would go mad. I used to feel guilty for this and I’ve let go, mostly. My kids are happy playing together and/or by themselves. Getting them to play by themselves can be difficult but it’s worth it. It’s perfectly fine and normal that you need some time for yourself. It’s healthy. If your hubby was asking you to be constantly by his side every day, you’d tell him to get a grip. :) It’s never too early to teach them about privacy. So when you go to the bathroom, tell her you need privacy. This worked with my youngest. You’re a wonderful mother and the fact that M likes being with you so much and playing with you shows that. I think at school it’s understood that the teachers are not there exclusively for the child’s enjoyment. She has to be there for all the other kids so they play more independently. It’s a little harder to grasp that when M is at home with just you.

  4. You’re not alone. I often laugh at how I used to be so lonely (before the boyfriend and the kids), now what I wouldn’t give sometimes to have a day of “loneliness.” I often find that I don’t take the time for myself cause I’m always so worried and then it all boils up inside and then I just freak out on my boyfriend or kids. He came home a few weeks ago from work and I walked right past him and went to the bar we live next to cause I just couldn’t take it anymore. I try to be more patient or more understanding, but it is difficult… I saw a rotten ecard that summed it up perfectly, it was to this effect: If you would just listen the first 47 times I told you mommy wouldn’t have to lose her shit. My daughter (2.5) is constantly underfoot and in the way, I locked the door to our bedroom a few weeks ago cause I just wanted to shower alone and she fell down the stairs trying to open it (we live in a loft) and the boyfriend was home at the time, but it’s me she wants. One more quote before I go and I try to remember it especially in those rough moments:
    “Start now to be the kind of mother you always wanted to be. Don’t wait until she’s eighteen…Keep in mind that all she wants to be doing–for the greatest part of her young life–is what you’re doing.”

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