The Playground: Do Parents Have To Play?

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Before I had children, I assumed that parents took their children to playground so they could relax. The kids got to play, and hopefully burn off some energy, and the parents got to sit around on park benches with books or Blackberries. Now, I wonder why my park has benches at all.

At first, I played with my daughter because she was so small. To see her tottering around the equipment, I wanted to make sure she didn’t hurt herself or get in any one’s way. I was still pretty positive that once she got older, trips to the park would be blissful. She’d make new little friends and run around giggling and happy. I’d smile from the bench with my notebook and iced tea. It was the type of afternoon I could only dream about.

But as my daughter has gotten older, she’s gotten used to her mother following her around the park, pushing her on swings and catching her on slides. She wants me to climb the rock wall with her and help her across the monkey bars. She can’t play with the other children. They’re all too busy demanding their parents attention.

As adults, we all jog around the playground looking embarrassed and trying to keep up with our bundles of energy. We bring kites and kickballs, which our children want us to set up and play with them. We sneak back to the benches quietly, only to jump back up as our children cry our name.

“Play with me, Momma!” “Catch me, Momma!” “Watch this, Momma!”

This is not the playground of my dreams! I keep wishing that all of the parents would just revolt. I wish we would all chain ourselves to those useless benches in protest! We will not play! We will not chase! We will sit here quietly, reading our books, making our grocery lists and maybe playing a little Angry Birds!

Look, I love playing with my daughter. I do it all the time. We play Barbies and Polly Pockets. We pretend we’re princesses, pirates and puppies. We dress up. We dance. We have tea. My daughter and I play a lot. That’s why the playground is supposed to be so freeing. I thought playgrounds were supposed to give children a chance to play without their parents. It’s a chance to explore all on their own, in a safe but exciting environment. They get to meet other kids and learn to socialize.

I never thought of myself as a helicopter parent. I’m pretty laid-back. But I feel like one as a chase my daughter around the playground, still in my heels from work because I forgot to bring spare shoes. It’s not concern that keeps me on my feet at the park. It’s my daughter’s desire to have her mother’s constant attention. And to be honest, I’m not sure how to cure her of that. I don’t know how you teach a child to entertain themselves or go on adventures without you. Maybe that the scariest part of this new playground nightmare I find myself in.