The past few months I’ve found myself reaching my tolerance threshold for imaginative play with my four-and-a-half-year-old son. Some days I positively dread the moment when he will inevitably take my hand and pull me into his playroom to play with his cars and Thomas the Tank Engine trains, because I know there will come that moment when he will thrust a toy in my hand, grin, and trill, “Make it talk, mommy!” In the past, I have role-played with enormous enthusiasm, talking in accents (my little guy doesn’t seem to notice they all end up sounding like Boris from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show), making up elaborate plot lines, and racing the cars/engines along the floor at breakneck speed, 40-year-old knees be damned!
This is what has lead to my downfall–I was good. Too good. So my boy, understandably, has come to expect that level of performance every day. But increasingly I find I just don’t have it in me. And I feel terrible about it. So many people have told me how much I’ll miss these days when he is older and no longer wants to spend all day with mommy. But I find even that melancholy threat can’t always motivate me.
But you know what I’ve discovered? It’s ok to put some limits on the kind of play, and the amount of play, between parent an child. Lately, I’ve simply told my little guy (in an upbeat voice–that’s crucial): “You know, we’ve been playing cars all morning. In about 5 minutes, I want to [start some laundry, do the dishes, play something else].” Now, this proclamation isn’t always met with an agreeable response, but if I am loving, yet firm, we move on to something else with minimal tears and disappointment.
I’ve also realized that setting limits like this is crucial for his development: He needs to learn to adapt, and to occupy himself for periods of time on his own; otherwise he will be unable to take initiative in all kinds of situations later on, like working independently at school and navigating friendships and peer groups.
At least, that’s what I tell myself when I feel guilty. And I believe it. Mostly.