I always considered myself a big kid in an adult body. Sure, I can now reach things on higher shelves and I have more responsibilities but I still felt like a kid in the toy aisles at Target and I really get into video games. In my twenties, I was still buying toys here and there and felt like I saved a little piece of myself from fully growing up. I may not have been as extreme as Peter Pan, but I loved that could still tap into my inner child. I was always told that I had a way with kids too. I played with younger cousins and my nieces and nephews in a way that other adults didn’t seem to. So, naturally when I became a parent, I expected to dive right in to this whole parenting thing along with my inner child. I thought it would give me a leg up. However, things didn’t pan out like I thought. Playtime with my kid felt like a chore.
My life became a blur of sleepless nights, dishes, laundry, and mixed matched libidos with my partner. It felt isolating and harder than I ever could have imagined. I longed for the day when my inner child would tap in and make this whole experience easier. When my child was a baby, I found myself trying to keep them busy with toys that would play music and light up. While my child played (which would last only minutes sometimes) I would be busy cleaning, checking my emails, and trying to catch up. I thought to myself, maybe when they’re older I can whip out the kid in me and this whole thing would be easier and fun. And then that day finally came.
I felt nostalgic at the register as the cashier scanned each item while my child licked their fingers clean after snacking on Pirate Booty popcorn. When my kid was about three, we dived head first into the classics–play dough, blocks, dolls, cars. But instead of losing myself in play, it felt strange. As I watched my kid mix different play dough colors together creating brown mush, I wanted to do anything but play. But, I wanted to be that parent that let loose during playtime and was fully present. And so, we played for hours. Only, well it wasn’t exactly hours. When I looked at the time, only thirty minutes had passed by yet it felt like hours. What was happening? Did my inner child tap out? Instead of playtime with my child feeling like a fun bonding moment, it felt like torture. I felt guilty. I felt ashamed. How could I not enjoy playing with my own child? As we threw a ball back and forth for forty minutes while Baby Shark played in the background, I longed to take a nap, or get ahead on the dishes, or perhaps eat in peace. I felt like a failure. How could I not enjoy being a kid again? It took a long time for me to navigate through these emotions that I did not expect. I would have rather done chores than play. All of a sudden, completing tasks and chores felt more exhilarating than playtime.
I shared a meme about it on social media, because you know that’s how we express ourselves nowadays. And I was overwhelmed by how many parents felt the same way. It’s not that we don’t know how important play is for children or that we don’t want to spend time with them, it’s just hard to view playtime as fun when you’re exhausted and have an ever-growing to-do list. When my child is exhausted, they knock out anywhere, anytime. Kids are a ball of energy and when that energy runs low, they recharge. As an adult, I don’t always have that option. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t feeling this way because my inner child had died or because I was a horrible parent but because I was stretched thin, like most parents. Things that were once considered a punishment like going to bed early, was now a treat. And things that were once fun now felt like a chore.
So, I give myself a little grace on the days playtime feels like a chore. I switch up playtime based on what I can handle but I still make it a priority. Some days we lay in bed and pretend the bed is a pirate ship. And on the days I was able to reserve a little energy, we kick a ball back and forth, play tag, and build forts. It’s called balance.
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