Advice

I don’t love to play pretend with my toddler. How can I enjoy it more?

Shot of a little girl playing doctor while listening to her mothers chest

Q: I know I should treasure it, but I get bored playing pretend with my 2-year-old only child. How can I enjoy it more?

A: Whoa, whoa, whoa. “Treasure it?” Hold the phone. You are supposed to “treasure” every moment of block-stacking, car-pushing and swing-pushing? I remember once thinking I was going to die of boredom while I took the clothes off and put them on the Calico Critters.

First, we are going to stop “should-ing” ourselves, immediately. A simple tip: When you use “should” (“I should treasure/enjoy”), know that you are on a path to guilt and misery. Swap out something else that feels more truthful: “I aspire to,” “I would like to,” “I choose to.” If it feels clumsy in your mouth, is it because you aren’t used to it? Or is it because it isn’t true? Maybe you don’t need to treasure or enjoy parenting any more than you already are, or maybe you realize you’ve been sad for far too long and need some support.

As for your question, “How can I enjoy it more?” Let’s break it down as simply and clearly as possible.

As much as I eye-roll when I read it, I know this advice is true: Get outside whenever physically possible. Sunlight, fresh air, exercise and nature provide most 2-year-olds with almost everything they need to be happy. Throw in some simple playground equipment and some other children, and you have the perfect environment for a 2-year-old. Playing outside works their gross and fine motor skills, perks up their imagination by allowing them to create their own toys out of sticks and more, makes them tired (meaning great naps) and leads to good eating thanks to their burned energy. Win, win, win. Find some other parents who you can tolerate, meet up and pass the time.

When in doubt, let boundaries and routines rule. Because 2-year-olds are so young and their attention spans are so short, I would break the days into manageable segments. Eat a meal (can they help you?), clean up, go outside, rest, eat, nap. Search online, and you’ll find websites that can give you numerous ideas. And although I know some may balk at this, I am a big fan of running errands with little ones. True, you may not want to do your biggest grocery shop with a cranky preschooler, but living your regular life is what is meant to happen. In fact, it isn’t developmentally needed for you to just attend to your child all day; your preschooler is watching and learning while you talk to your neighbors, the librarian and the people in the dry-cleaner’s. The frustration your little one may experience is also good for them.

Your life is not meant to revolve around your child. Our culture may not support it, but there is supposed to be a balance, a dance, between your needs and your child’s.

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Finally, let’s remember that nature didn’t design humans to raise our offspring in isolation. For most of history, people were with their extended families, and the burden of raising children would have been shared with fellow siblings, aunts and cousins. Two-year-olds haven’t mastered much language and don’t have much control over their bodies, and they’re purely emotional; this leaves you simultaneously bored, overstimulated, touched-out and physically exhausted.

Someone else is meant to help you. Family, a mother’s helper, a neighbor, a local preschool, a co-op, a nanny share: All of these types of support are there, so you can actually enjoy and treasure your children. There are many ways to be a great parent, and there are times when you’ll need more support than others. Ask yourself whether this is one of those times, and see how you feel. Remember: Guilt is an arrow pointing to another emotion. What is it telling you?

Meghan Leahy - Parenting Q&A

Meghan writes about parenting for the Washington Post. She's the mother of three daughters and the author of "Parenting Outside the Lines." She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and secondary education and a master’s degree in school counseling and is a certified parent coach. Send a question about parenting to onparenting@washpost.com.

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