Actually, it’s not my job to entertain my toddler and I refuse to feel guilty

toddler playing in puddle

You know those mothers who happily engage in extended periods of imaginary play with their toddlers, immersing themselves in the role of a certain character?

Or the mothers who lay out elaborate craft activities for their little ones?

Yeah, I am not one of those mothers.

Surely, I’m not the only one who dislikes playing with my kids?

I know I am not alone when I say honestly and frankly that playing with my children is probably one of the most mind-numbingly boring and tedious things I could think of to do. In fact I think I would probably rather watch paint dry.

Actually, it’s my belief that finding my toddler things to do or ways to spend her time doesn’t come into my responsibilities as her mother.

It’s harder for parents of onlies 

I think it’s even harder when you only have one child, too. I mean, you’re their only playmate so the default for the child is to look to you for means of entertainment. I remember, back in the good old days when my eldest daughter was a toddler. We’d have been playing Duplo for fifteen minutes and already I’d be straining my head, desperately searching around through my periphery to find something, anything else to do. Honestly, dusting looked appealing.

Craft time? No thank you

And don’t even get me started on toddler craft projects. I’m pretty sure they take more time to source items for, set up and organise than they do for the toddler to actually participate in. There have been a few occasions where I have relented with my three-year-old and gone to the shops and found supplies for her, painstakingly prepared something for her to do – only for her to make a few feeble attempts and then throw it all on the floor and walk away, happily playing with an empty cardboard box.

Honestly, why did I bother?

It’s a lot of pressure for a parent to hack when they are the standard, expected, only possible source of entertainment. And I’m not sure it’s healthy for a parent to have to do something if they really don’t like doing it. Aren’t relationships a two way street? I think this applies to being a parent, too. If it doesn’t feel good it’s okay to stop and reevaluate, I say. We wouldn’t encourage our children to participate in forced relationships so I think this applies to our own relationships with our children, too.

I have given up on the guilt

With that in mind, I decided a while ago that I was no longer going to beat myself up for feeling this way. For feeling like I was letting my child down somehow just because I didn’t want to participate in her games or spend my days trying to find ways for her to spend her time. I’m not doing her any wrongs by encouraging her to find her own things to do – if anything I am encouraging her independence and creative problem-solving skills.

Sure, sometimes there are tantrums

Now that my youngest daughter is three, I have wholly and fully released the notion of it being up to me to be her source of entertainment. And yes, sometimes there are days filled with whining from her and tantrums as she navigates her world and uncovers her options. It’s tricky learning how to do things, and this applies to learning independence, too.

We do parallel play 

One game-changer in this scenario for us has been parallel play; meaning that she will play with something of her own beside me as I’m doing something else. Some days this looks like me working on the computer at the table beside her, as she paints. Or maybe she will play on the deck with the hose while I read a book in the hammock nearby. There have been many afternoons spent in the kitchen together; her unloading the pots and pans making “food” while I prep meals. The other day she spent an entire hour tearing and sticking down wash-tape on an empty container she found from somewhere. Hey, whatever works.

I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy spending time my three-year-old. But when we spend time together, it’s mutually beneficial. It isn’t forced.

And you will never, not ever, find me playing imaginary games with her.

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