Productivity and Playtime

January 17th, 2016

Last weekend, I found myself weeding my garden. I realize it was probably an exercise in futility to be beautifying my vegetable beds in the middle of January, but it was one of those oddly warm days just before the temperature plunged and my whole family was romping around in the backyard. The kids were chasing the dog and each other and were somehow still co-existing peacefully. I knew that the best way to keep the moment going was to disappear into the background. Hence the weeding.

I’ve learned that maternal productivity is the best way to foster independent play amongst my children. Basically, if I appear busy, my kids will play on their own rather than constantly looking to me for entertainment.

Much of the time, my offspring are like loving barnacles. They attach themselves to me and affectionately suck the life out of me with requests to play games, make snacks, watch tricks, read stories, and give piggy back rides. Preferably all at the same time. I love doing all of those things, but I also love it when they play on their own and I can watch and admire from the sidelines. I think it’s good for my kids to learn to entertain themselves.

It’s tricky to do, however, because if my children see me watching them play, they immediately drag me into the game. Cinderella suddenly needs a wicked stepmother. The coloring book that was engrossing moments before instantly becomes boring. And the Lego creation magically becomes far too difficult to work on alone. Mommy’s involvement becomes utterly imperative.

I’ve learned that the best way to facilitate independent play is to look busy. If I’m bustling around the house doing laundry, putting away toys, or sorting shoes, my kids play together happily. I can peek in on their games without automatically being sucked into them. It has to be “work,” though. The moment I sit down with a book, they pounce.

This realization has prompted me to be more productive during my kids’ waking hours. And it’s a good thing, too, because I am decidedly unproductive when they’re asleep. By the time I get all three of them tucked into bed most nights, I have no more energy for Accomplishing Things. About all I can manage is to collapse on the couch with my husband and wave my hand vaguely at the TV – a gesture he correctly interprets as a request to turn on Netflix.

So the household tasks are relegated to Saturday afternoons and evenings after dinner (or, ahem, ignored all together!). The other day, while my kids were creating their own board game, I sorted and organized all the plastic containers in our cupboard. I discovered 53 bases and 47 lids before my curiosity got the better of me and I had to go join the game. Now that’s what I call productive.

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