I Feel Guilty Every Time I Force My Daughter To Play By Herself

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On any given day, as my daughter and I drive home from daycare, she has one request for the evening. “Mom, we play in my room when we get home?” She never cares what we have for dinner. She rarely wants to go somewhere special. If my daughter got her way, our evenings would be spent cross-legged on the floor, putting together puzzles, dressing Barbies and re-enacting Toy Story. She wants the door shut, so that both my husband and our puppies can’t come in and distract me. For hours on end, my daughter would be happiest with my full and undivided attention on whatever game she can come up with.

This sounds blissful in theory. But some parents don’t enjoy certain types of play. Certain times, like at the playground, I fully believe that kids should get a chance to interact with other children and play without their parents. Then, there are those other times, the guilty times, when you just can’t spend hours playing with your kids. It’s the times when you really need to make dinner or sweep the floor. Its the hour that you need to finish up some work or pay the bills. And Heaven forbid, it’s the time when you’re so exhausted that you can’t sit up straight, let alone remember the fictional names of every Barbie your child owns.

All of these times, I have to tell my daughter, “Sorry darlin, Momma can’t play right now.” She walks away with a sad little pout or just follows me around the house like a wounded puppy. She’ll try to join in whatever I’m doing. She’ll offer to help me clean or she’ll type random letters on the keyboard, which might turn out better than whatever I’m trying to write. She almost never walks into her room to play by herself. Whether its a developmental stage she hasn’t hit yet or its a habit that I haven’t helped her cultivate, my daughter does not enjoy playing by herself.

Playing alone is important, especially for a single child. Kids needs to learn to comfortable in their own company. Throughout her life, no matter how many play-dates I schedule, my daughter will have to learn to entertain herself. My only question is how soon do I need to start acclimating her to this type of play?

Currently, I’m trying to set her up with systems and games that encourage solo play. I’m helping her get games out and set up before I go back to work. I try to talk to her about what she’s going to play before she goes in her room. And sometimes, on the worst of those other times, I simply say, “Dear, you’re going to have to play by yourself today.” Even if she gets whiney and sad, she normally goes into her room and forgets me for a half hour or so.

Hopefully, as my daughter gets older, she’ll become more comfortable by herself. But until then, I’ll continue to feel guilty every time she clings to my leg as I try to fold laundry because she just wants my attention. Children can’t be the center of attention, all of the time. They have to learn that. But its not a fun lesson for anyone involved.

(Photo: Thinkstock)