A couple of evenings ago, Zippy went next door to play with the neighbor girls while I was working in the backyard (busy chopping up the enormous branches that resulted from having fruit trees pruned – fun!). It was unseasonably warm and a beautiful evening out. I listened to the kids playing, occasionally glancing over my shoulder to make sure Zippy hadn’t taken a flying leap off of the neighbors’ trampoline. They migrated to the swing set and I could hear them acting out an elaborate story about pirates. They eventually hopped the fence to our yard, where they sat in the “fort,” hatching all sorts of plans, I’m sure.
I loved the peace of working in the yard, listening to Zippy play with his friends, relishing the fact he is old enough now (4) to have neighborhood play dates. But, deep down, I also felt a pang of guilt. Because – dare I admit – I felt a bit relieved that he was playing with his friends and this meant, for the moment, I was off-duty as his playmate. I thought to myself, “Gee, it would be great if he could do this everyday!”
I imagine that most of us, when we fantasize about parenthood, think about snuggling babies, reading bedtime stories, and family vacations. I know I didn’t think about the endless hours of re-enacting scenes from “Wild Kratts,” pretending I’m one of the 101 Dalmations, or turning a beanbag into a ship. Maybe I imagined brief snippets of such activities, but definitely not hours upon hours, day after day, while also trying to entertain a one-year-old and maintain a house. I love, love, love Zippy’s wonderful imagination. It is one of my many favorite things about him! But, given the choice, I would much prefer doing puzzles, reading books, art projects, playing board games, even building with Legos. The problem, though, is that Zippy will choose play-acting over these “table activities” 99.9% of the time. And therein lies the dilemma.
In mulling this over, I was reminded of Carl Rogers’ theory of real self vs. ideal self. Simply put, Dr. Rogers (a renowned psychologist and the founder of client-centered therapy) proposed that suffering results when our real selves don’t match our ideal selves, when who we really are doesn’t match who we believe we should be or the image we have of ourselves in our mind. Seems to apply here – part of my image of a great mom includes enjoying time with my children, playing with them, responding to their emotional and social needs…and I want to see myself as a great mom. So I should enjoy those hours of play-acting, right? The reality is that there are some things my kids want – even need – me to do that I just don’t enjoy all that much. The consequence is good ol’ mommy guilt. (Much like the guilt I felt when I looked forward to my babies napping.)
And so, while driving home from work one evening, I thought about it some more. (Yep, I tend to analyze things – a little too much, I have been told on more than one occasion.) We all do things for our loved ones that we don’t enjoy so much ourselves. Example: I recently attended a party with my husband that was not on my list of top 10 (make that top 25) ways to spend a Saturday date-night. It just isn’t realistic to expect I am going to love doing everything my kids love doing. And that is okay. I still do play make-believe with Zippy – perhaps not for as long as he’d like, but I do it. It’s okay to encourage him to play on his own sometimes – learning to entertain himself is an important life skill. And there are lots of things I love doing with and for him – helping him write stories, taking him to the library, going on walks, feeding the ducks, singing songs, making him meals, tucking him in at night, snuggling…you get the idea. So maybe it’s okay that I feel some relief that he is getting old enough to have other playmates, ones who can take over some of the roles in his elaborate re-enactments. When he is ready for a game of Old Maid, I’ll deal.