My Son Sucks At Playing Alone, And It's Driving Me F*cking Bonkers

by Toni Hammer
Originally Published: 

Let me start by saying that it’s not entirely his fault.

My son has always had his Irish twin of a sister to play with. He’s never known what it’s like to be without someone to run around with, play pretend with, get into mischief with. So on one hand, I don’t blame him, and I understand his struggle. On the other hand, though, his sister who also has no memory of a life without her sibling goes off and plays with her dolls in her room all by herself without any prompting at all. If she can play alone, he should be able to as well, but he doesn’t, and he won’t, and I don’t know why and…

I could analyze the situation over and over again, coming up with various reasons why independent play is not his forte, but the fact remains that it is hard having a kid who never entertains himself.

Perhaps the hardest part is the sad and lonely whines of “No one will play with me.” The words cut straight to my heart, and I immediately feel guilty. I don’t want to feel guilty. I have completely legitimate reasons which render me unable to play with him: housework, real work, phone calls, making dinner, looking for my lost marbles, etc. Nevertheless, when your son whom you love and cherish seems so sad and pitiful and isn’t asking for much — just someone to play with him — it’s hard to feel anything but the crushing weight of mom guilt.

I’ve tried to find activities he enjoys that encourage independence: coloring, Play-Doh, puzzles, playing with cars or building blocks. He has a blast doing these things, but after a few minutes, he’s quick to ask, “Mom, want to play with me?” and again, “Not right now, sweetie” is not an answer he easily accepts. He doesn’t grasp the idea that sometimes I need a break to breathe, and he has no concept of the fact that playing by yourself can actually be more fun because you can do whatever the hell you want without someone else getting irritated with you. You don’t even have to take turns or share — I mean, come on!

No, all that is lost on him as he’s just a little boy who doesn’t like to be by himself, and it’s hard for him and so draining for me.

I interact with him as much as I can. I do play with him a lot. I suffer through endless stuffed-animal discussions and rolling balls back and forth. I join him in his make-believe adventures and read him stories in his blanket fort. I do all these things because I love him, and because he asks for my attention, and even though I’ve been a mom for almost five years, it’s still hard to turn down your kid’s requests for your presence even when there really are more pressing matters for you to attend to.

I want him to know he is loved and interesting and fun to be around, so I spend as much time engaged and playing with him as I can, but I also need him to learn how to be alone. To think his own thoughts. To do things by himself and find the joy in a little bit of independence. But that’s not something one can easily teach (or force on) a toddler. How do you teach someone to find fun in being all by yourself when you’re so used to having a playmate around all the time? When all you want is someone to talk to and laugh with, how do you learn to be at peace when there’s no one there to laugh with you?

I know he needs to learn to engage in more independent play. I know I can’t always drop what I’m doing to join him in a sword fight. I know his sister needs her space, and I can’t force her to play with him. But how do you get over the guilt of telling your kid you’re too busy to play with him? I haven’t found the answer yet. I haven’t found that balance. I hope I do soon though because, really, I’m not sure how much longer I can play with these blocks.

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