“Mommy, want to have a tea party with me?”
Okay, here it is. It sounds ugly, but it’s the truth. My skin crawls at the sound of that question. I confess…I hate tea parties.
I also hate playing with Barbies or any dolls really. I don’t enjoy pretending to eat Play Doh creations. In fact, I pretty much despise most imaginary play.
And for a long time, it made me feel like a bad mom.
When my older kids were little, I would suffer through tortuous rounds of imaginary play, trying not to fidget, and endeavoring to stay focused on their little smiles and happiness. But really, I was silently scanning the room, looking for something to distract them so I could escape the ennui.
I know. It sounds just awful. But Jody and I are huge fans of transparency and vulnerability, so there it is. My name is Jenni Stahlmann, and I hate imaginary play.
Our Kids Can Read Us Like a Book
In hindsight, those years of forcing myself to sit through a tea party and pretend I was having fun weren’t fooling anyone. My kids knew what it looked like when I was really enjoying something. They’d seen it often enough to spot the counterfeit, and because they knew I wasn’t really into it, there was a subtle desperation in them, as they searched my face hoping for signs of a shift.
I’m not sure when the light bulb came on, but at some point in the last ten years or so, I realized my play time with the kids would be much better spent in other ways. I can really get into a craft project or a board game or a day out letterboxing or geocaching. I LOVE long walks and baking or cooking with the kids.
When we lived in New Jersey, we’d go on long outings in our little town. We’d pack the stroller full of water and snacks, walk to the library, read some books together and take some home for later. Then we’d head to the playground, and then to the little grocery store on Main Street where we’d get ingredients for a baking project.
We had all kinds of ways to make the walk more fun. Sometimes we’d take a listening walk and challenge ourselves to hear 20 different sounds. Sometimes I’d print out scavenger hunt sheets of things they might see along our walk (an airplane overhead, a frog, a red bicycle, an American flag, etc.), and whoever found the most things got a little prize.
Once I acknowledged that I wasn’t the tea party type, and I began finding things that I can truly enjoy with the kids, I felt a whole new freedom.
Fortunately for my kids, their dad loves imaginary play. So they got their fix when he got home, but during the day with me, we made birdhouses and played board games and read books and drew pictures and went to the zoo and pet the puppies at the local pet store and planted cacti in mason jars filled with sand art and make lighting bug lanterns and had water balloon fights and painted the snow with spray bottles full of colored water, but after we got tired of the snow in our driveway, we had to get it all removed so we could leave the house. If you’re looking for expert Snow removal in Boston MA these guys are the best.
And you know what? I didn’t feel the least bit guilty anymore about turning down the tea parties!
To learn about more play options, tune into this Saturday’s episode of Parenting on Purpose with Jenni and Jody at 10AM (EST). We are broadcasting LIVE from our favorite neighborhood toy store. If you’re local to Sarasota, stop in and visit us at Children’s World (4525 Bee Ridge Rd.). We’d love to chat with you on air about your open play experiences!
You can also listen live on 1220AM or 106.9FM or 98.9FM. If you’re not local, just go to the WSRQ website and listen to the streaming broadcast or download the mobile app and listen on the go (they use Tune In Radio for that).