When You're Parenting An Only Child, Playtime Can (Sometimes) Be A Challenge
I hate playing with my kid.
There I said it.
I love my son, but playing with him is tedious. And boring. He’s an only child, and while he is good about playing by himself, there are times when he wants me to play with him. And I do, but I’d rather do just about anything else.
I’m an only child myself, so I totally understand that playing alone gets boring and lonely at times. But good Lord, it’s even harder now that I’m on the parental side of this equation. Playing with a preschooler is unpredictable. My kid will change his mind about what he wants to play very quickly, and most of the time, I simply cannot keep up. Zooming from one thing to the next, and I don’t understand the made-up rules, and this often leads to some sort of meltdown which really zaps the fun.
So while I love spending quality time with my kid, I’d prefer not to play one-on-one with him. I’d rather be “doing” something.
If you have an only kid like mine, who is wild with a ton of energy, outside playtime is a must. I love taking him to the playground, and the biggest draw of the playground is that there are usually other kids around. My son gets some interaction with people who are close to his age, and I get a break from being his sole source of entertainment. And since my kid loves to climb me like I’m a jungle gym, if we’re at the playground, he can climb an actual jungle gym and give my back a break. This is a win-win for both of us.
When there are kids at the playground, my kid lights up. “My friends are here!” he tells me, even if the kids are complete strangers. Just in case there are no other kids there, or none who want to play with him, I always tell him to throw some toys in his backpack before we leave the house. Sometimes he just wants to play by himself, and having a few trinkets on hand works like magic. As long as he’s happy, I don’t care.
The best part? Mom gets to park her ass on a bench (hopefully in the shade) and watch the kids run themselves ragged. I’m happy to go down a slide a few times, push a swing, and hold a toy while my son climbs. Most of the time though, I just want a fucking break and to check Facebook without someone calling my name every 15 seconds.
My kid is stuck at home with me all day, so I totally get that I’ve become his go-to playmate. My reluctance frustrates him, and he quickly loses patience with me. But the frustration is a two-way street because one of the biggest reasons I hate playing with him is that he’s really fucking bossy. I don’t like being told how to play by a tiny dictator. Let him boss around some other little kid who will (rightfully) put him in his place when he is acting like a jerk. It’s important for him to learn these lessons from someone other than me. Natural consequences and all that.
That is also why I love playdates. It’s important for an only child to hang out with other kids. My kid struggles with sharing, and we are working on it, but I’m not a miracle worker. It’s a hard concept to grasp when you don’t regularly have to share or play cooperatively. Being around other kids pushes him out of his comfort zone, and that’s important.
Plus, it’s nice for my son to look at a different set of walls and be exposed to a new environment and new faces for a while. And during these times, I get to socialize with another adult, which is important too. There are only so many YouTube videos I can listen to, or so many times I can play Thomas the Train, before I want to hide under the blankets.
And before everyone comes out with their pitchforks, I do suck it up and play with my kid, even if that means getting bossed around for an hour. I know firsthand that as an only child, he is forced to be more creative and inventive and that his imagination will be vivid (it already is). We don’t have to cater to our kid’s every whim and micromanage their playtime, sometimes just being present with them is enough. Sometimes that means train races, sometimes that means staying out of his way while he plays alone, and sometimes that means sitting next to him so he’s knows I’m there.
I also have a newfound appreciation for my own parents because they played with me, even if they really didn’t want to. They didn’t say they didn’t want to, but now I know, because I see things from the other side. There’s only so many times you can let a little kid cheat at Candy Land before you’ve reached the end of your rope. (Sorry, Mom and Dad!) Only-child parents suck it up and deal, even when our delightful only children are riding our last nerve.
But I also know that when I’m given the choice, we’re going to the playground, or the library, or to the McDonald’s PlayPlace down the street because I need a minute to freaking breathe.