Don’t tell anybody, but I can’t play

 When I got pregnant there were a couple of things I was sure I would not do. First, I would never ever use the crying control method (known in Spain as Doctor Estivill’s method); and second, I would work part-time for a while after having the baby. My first decision was very much driven by what I had heard and read about crying control; my second was the consequence of being the only child of a working mother.

When I was born my parents had recently started their own business and had to work hard to pay their bills every month. My mum worked every day, including Saturdays, from 9:30 to 8:30, so she was never able to pick me up from school or help with my homework. I grew up a very independent and autonomous child because I had learned from an early age that I needed to be able to manage on my own.

I have very good memories of my childhood, but there were also painful moments of solitude. Most of all, I missed my mum. When E. was born I was determined not to repeat this situation.

My mother is a great woman: very active, energetic, intelligent and independent. She never went to college, but she managed to rebuild the family business from scratch when my father died. I feel a deeply grateful to her, as she was committed to working hard to pay for my studies and provide me with a good environment to grow up in. She hardly had any holiday for years, and amazingly she was also the person who provided members of my family in trouble with help and advice.

Her tough character was a bonus when my father died. She told me once: “If I had been a housewife when your father was alive, when he died I could have not managed the business. Thanks to the fact that I got involved in it, we were able to survive afterwards”. Of course she was right, but there were many things in between, many grey areas and definitely moments that were lost for both  of us

For example, I don’t have a single memory of my mother playing with me. I have memories of being with her while she was doing things around the house or going to the supermarket, but nothing like a lazy afternoon spent together baking or playing. These were the sorts of things I wanted to do with E., and that’s why I wanted to work part-time: to have a professional life, but also to be able to spend time with E.

But surprise, surprise…now that I have the time, I can’t play with him. When there’s time to play I always have an excuse. Cleaning the kitchen, calling a friend, tidying up the house… So the other day, talking to Lucila, I realised how much time she spent doing things with R. that I never do with E.

It‘s funny how what we haven’t been given is more difficult to give to others.  In my case, my mother never played with me, and although as an adult I can choose to do it, it is becoming a battle inside me.

I decided a couple of days ago that I would try to play for 30 minutes every day. So far this is the result of my decision: more or less at 4:30 pm I sit down in the living room with a big watch in front of me and start playing with E., counting down the remaining time until I can go into the kitchen to carry on cleaning or doing absolutely anything else . It sounds completely stupid, but I do hope that by keeping on doing it I can incorporate into my female family symbolic vocabulary that tells us that mothers can also play.


11 responses to “Don’t tell anybody, but I can’t play

  1. I don’t really remember playing much with my mom, either, who was more of a stereotypical (dunno how actually typical) stay-at-home mom. In all of my playing with the Critter, I’m definitely channeling the goofiness of my dad. RE: “symbolic vocabulary that tells us that mothers can also play,” I do actually feel odd sometimes, because in my (culturally conditioned) mind, goofy play is the dad’s job.

    I know, I know, you think you maybe read too much, but Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen is excellent.

  2. jumbleberryjam

    Oh goodness! I’m miserable at play. I’m sure I did it as a child (although, to be honest most of my childhood memories were of boredom, or horror as I watched my mom iron my father’s army of white button down shirts each week). Is it possible that I found it as unappealing as I do now? I’ve heard women say, “I’m not my child’s playmate. I’m his/her mother.” I use this to ease my conflicted mind sometimes. But why? Is it my cultural conditioning, or is it that I’m just a grump who doesn’t get anything out of play? Most of the time I think it’s the latter as I also know a fair number of women who really are fabulous at goofy play (and thankfully, share their time with my son). While I hope my son’s childhood memories of our time together are more enthusiastic than “boredom,” I do worry about it. I think you’re strategy, Natalia, is a good one – set the timer and fake it until you make it ;-).

  3. I think that your play muscles will get stronger with use.
    Keep at it!
    And be goofier!

  4. Don’t worry – you have lots of phases ahead of you. Some mums like baby play, some like craft, play doh, kicking the ball around, cooking together. Do you go to a playgroup or activity for mums and babies? It is something you can learn, like anything else, but you’ll probably enjoy some stages with your child more than others. And when they are babies it is hard to remember that mostly we’ll be interacting with our kids as adults! It just won’t be as intense.
    I’m sure your baby knows that you love him by the way you interact with him everyday – how you handle him, talk to him. I’d say follow the baby’s lead, talk to him, help him explore, get into the zone, and enjoy! You can’t enjoy yourself while you’re watching the clock. Soon the half hour will fly by.

    • I think I will be better when he gets older, but who knows.
      I don’t like playgroups that much , I always feel that I’m wasting my time. I know.. I’m very tight.. but I promise, I’m working on it.

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  6. I find this really hard too, and I think a forced sit-down with a timer is a great idea. Why not force it? I’m not as disciplined, but I do try to push myself into playtime and force myself to stay for longer than I want to.
    I think it’s really important, for a lot of reasons, and it’s clear how much it delights the kids. I can second reading Playful Parenting, with some really great ideas both about why it’s important to play with your kids and about different ways you can do it.
    The worst is when the kids go through their phases (which, I have to believe, eventually end ) when “play” only means “we’re dinosaurs and I’m the mommy carnivore and you have to….” I’m definitely looking forward to some more open-ended possibilities.

    • E. plays with cubes, tools, little cars… and most of the time he is throwing them away and me picking them up. Honestly, it’s very boring, but I’m trying to teach him to empty the dishwasher and the washing machine, and I must say that he loves it and it’s useful for me. But he is growing and my friends told me that they go into this phase in which they want you to play a role for them (now you’re and elephant and you do everything I tell you to do, but I guess you know what I’m taking about:-)

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