Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Oh Little Playmate, Come Out and Play with Me

Having recently celebrated my four-and-a-half-year parenting anniversary, I feel pretty good, most of the time, about my approach to motherhood. Gone are the days of constant second-guessing and anxiety, of thumbing through the parenting guides at every crying fit or fever.

But some things still stymie me. Lately, for example, I've been thinking about the tension between attentiveness and intrusiveness. My kids are old enough that they can entertain themselves for extended periods but young enough that they can't remain unsupervised for very long. I love that they play together so well, thus relieving me of direct-play responsibilities. I'm not the best of playmates. I will read to them for long stretches, I will paint and draw with them, and I'll play games with them. Just don't ask me to get on the floor and do trains.

But after a while I start to feel guilty about the independent play. Are they playing by themselves too much? Should I be intervening to play with them? I mean, yes, I'm right there next to them if they need me, to help settle a squabble or repair a toy, but I'm not in the thick of things. So then I'll kick into interactive mommy mode: Crafts! Walks! Outings!

(I should add here that this progression from "Oh, great, they're playing, I'll clean/work a bit/putter about/return some phone calls/blog" to "Must interact with kids before they become sociopaths" occurs daily, often several times a day -- it's not a case of several days of "me time" followed by expiation of guilt via full-play immersion. [Nah, not feeling too guilty about this. Why do you ask?])

I guess I struggle with how much of ME they actually need. I want to encourage their independence while at the same time enjoy as much of their young childhoods as I possibly can, without losing my mind. I don't want to hover, don't want to smother -- for their mental health and mine.

If you have young kids, how much independent play time do you feel comfortable with? (The number of kids probably will influence the answer, I realize -- I'm sure I'd be much more involved with direct play if I had just one child.) How involved do you get with playing?