Since Hazel’s birth Moses seems to have forgotten how to play and have fun on his own, which has made me sit and question how and why I expect what I do from him when really he’d prefer me to be concentrating instead on chasing his Duplo cat who is flying a Duplo plane and harassing my Duplo man who’s simply trying to build his Duplo house. I’ve started questioning my motives because I’m naturally a blamer, and I’ve lived a rather lovely but frustrating 30 years believing that almost everything that bothers/upsets/concerns me is someone else’s fault and therefore not my problem. Lovely because, well, it’s just heart-warming to know you’re practically perfect in every way, and frustrating because everyone else in the universe was so flawed and there was nothing I could do about it. *sigh*
I’ve no idea what made me rethink this philosophy, but beginning to ask myself “Whose problem is this really?” rather than assuming it’s never mine has been a huge shift for me. Where I used to think Alan was wrong about most things, I now ask myself, “Is it possible you’re annoyed by this simply because you’re a freakishly controlling control freak?” and find that the answer is almost always “YES!”. Realising the problem often lies with me is slightly less lovely, but it does mean things are now tackle-able in a way they weren’t when they were other peoples’ problems. Goodbye frustration, hello empowerment! GOOD TIMES. (It’s possible this is how most people in the world live by the time they reach adulthood, but I’m a late bloomer and it’s all very new and exciting for me right now.)
So, back to Moses not playing on his own and my “Whose problem is this really?” questions. I know that kids playing on their own is seen as a good thing to encourage – I’ve read forum discussions on this topic and been given advice along these lines and heard other children praised for their ability to make the most of their daily “room time.” I was wondering this morning, though: Why is it seen as a good thing, and why do I think it’s something I should try to encourage Moses to do?
Part of what worries me is that I’ve noticed that the things that adults generally see as good things often seem to be based on what’s least disruptive/inconvenient/annoying for adults rather than what’s actually good for kids. For example: A while ago there was a little boy (around 18 months old) in crèche for the first time. After church a couple of us mums commented to his foster mother that he was so GOOD! So QUIET! And EASY! He’d only been with their family for a week or so, and his mum looked at us sadly and explained that he was quiet and seemingly easy because he’d been neglected for so long that he obviously figured there was no point in crying or fussing; he didn’t expect to be listened to.
Another example: My friend and I were praising the sleeping habits of her three-month-old daughter recently; she’d already been “trained” to sleep through the night and my friend had had full nights of rest for weeks. Not long after that, this friend was told by a nurse that she should set an alarm to wake up her and her baby for a night feed because her baby wasn’t putting on enough weight and needed to eat more.
So is it really good for Moses to be encouraged to play on his own, or would it just be nicer for me if he did? Do I want it for his sake or for mine? After all, Moses is an extrovert; he loves company. It makes sense that he’d prefer playmates over no playmates. And if he was older – adult age – it would be odd for anyone to suggest to him that he spend less time hanging out with people and stay home and learn how to entertain himself, for crying out loud. We EXPECT extroverts to spend most of their time hanging out with people because they LIKE hanging out with people, it’s what recharges their metaphorical batteries. Right? So should I expect any different for my extrovert son just because he’s 3 rather than 23? And if extroversion isn’t a bad thing, why would I try to introvert-ise him?
It seems the problem is therefore not that Moses would prefer to play with someone rather than on his own, and that any changes I might be daydreaming about are for my sake rather than his. Unlike Moses, I am not an extrovert and would mostly choose not to hang out with people if I needed recharging. I get that happy parents = less messed up kids, and that mental health is therefore something that should rank fairly highly on the Important Things for Parents to Consider chart. Quietness and sleeping through the night and times during the day when you’re allowed to switch off for a bit aren’t bad things to want - particularly if they’re the only things standing between a parent and a breakdown, but I think it’s important to be clear in each case that they’re things the parent wants/needs, and not necessarily things the child wants/needs. And so the child is not difficult, though the parent may find her so; it’s the parent who has the problem, not the child. Am I even making sense? I can’t tell if this is coherent, or if it just seems to me like it is because I have a baby who wakes me up at night and a rambunctious toddler who won’t play for long on his own - I don’t fully trust that I know what coherence looks like these days.
I think the distinction between The Parent’s Problem versus The Child’s Problem is important so that the responsibility for change falls into the right lap and the resolution can be approached from the right direction. For example, I think I need to look at this whole Mo-doesn’t-love-playing-on-his-own situation from an “I’m finding this exhausting and therefore need to figure out how to give myself the space I need so it’s easier to give Moses the company he needs” (my issue) perspective rather than a “MY CHILD IS EXHAUSTING AND WON’T LOOK AFTER HIMSELF!” (his issue) one.
I’m making all of this up as I can’t be bothered reading parenting books this time around, so if it’s rubbish you’re totally allowed to say so. If you know of good reasons for children to learn to be able to play on their own, I’d love to hear them and/or be pointed to helpful books/studies. (Then I can turn this into Mo’s problem, and whinge about it.)