It's Okay if You Hate Pretend Play With Your Kids

A Reddit thread reminds us we're not alone in wanting to skip time in our kid's world of make-believe. Here are a few reasons why we shouldn't feel guilty about it.

Silhouettes of child and adult telling stories in a homemade fort
Photo: Getty

"I love playing pretend school, stuffed animal zoo, police chase, dolly daycare (fill in the blank) with my kids every day, all the time," said no parent ever. Because, shockingly, sometimes we have things to do other than roar like a dino for seven hours straight. Also, is it just me or do the children in your life also criticize how you play?

We'll Never Get It Right

It seems I'm never quite doing it right when it comes to imagining how a My Little Pony restaurant might function. Go figure! Thankfully some Reddit parents are right there with us who have had enough of pretending the floor is lava. Well, we're here not only to thank these courageous caregivers for their honesty, but also to share a message many parents need to hear: Independent play offers many benefits to children, so stop beating yourself up if you find yourself longing to exit the sofa bus.

First, all hail a Reddit parent who bravely kicked off the thread by confessing, "I will color. I will build. I will read every book twenty times. I just can't do pretend play. My mind wanders within 3 seconds and I get so bored and unimaginative."

The original poster then questioned other users on the platform, "Should I be trying harder?"

Kids Are Bossy

Thankfully, dozens of other Redditors immediately empathized with this sentiment, with one person sharing, "For me, it's not so much the play pretend, but the multilayered details that I just can't keep straight. 'Pretend that you're a kitty and I'm your mom and this block is your food and I want the food but you're hungry and don't want to give it to me and this is your crown because you're the queen and and and…' I love how creative she is but it's exhausting."

Another pretend-weary parent added, "OMG this is exactly like my son. He would explain for 5 minutes what the backstory is, what I have to say, what he would say and what I would do."

"Omg yes," agreed someone else, going on to recount what often happens at my house: "And then you get yelled at for not doing it right because all of a sudden the rules have changed."

Meanwhile, this parent may be everyone's hero for saying, "I've started telling [my son] I don't want to play with him when he bosses me around. If he wants to control everything, he can use a stuffed animal instead of a person."

Although many posters admitted to being so over the bossiness that seems to go hand-in-hand with a child' imagination, others voiced what so many of us feel when we become disengaged from fairy hair salon or T-Rex swim lessons. "The mom guilt can be tough," said one Redditor, while someone else commented, "My husband and I both feel so guilty about struggling with pretend play."

Independent Play Is Good for Kids

But are we really in the wrong when a tea party with a toddler leaves us near tears (of boredom)?

No, because experts say that a kiddo playing alone is not the end of the world, and it's beneficial for their development. "Sometimes it's good for children to play alone or independently because they can be more creative when they are playing by themselves," child development expert Ferdousi Khanom told UNICEF. Other advantages of independent play are, naturally, a child building an early sense of independence, as well as sharpening their problem-solving skills.

Nancy Olsen-Harbich, the Program Director and a Human Development Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County's Family Health and Wellness Program, shared in a blog post that solitary play also helps kids learn to take initiative and build their self-esteem, because, hey, now they know they don't need a caregiver to pull off an impressive kitchen chair train.

Bottom line: Pretend play is a challenge for many caregivers. If you're pretty sure your imagination died along with your ability to stay up past 9 p.m., don't chalk that feeling up to being the worst parent ever. Instead, know you are far from alone (mom over here who just totally screwed up my son's reenactment of The Little Mermaid because I couldn't get the mermaid tail on right).

And, the next time you'd rather run out the door than pretend to "be the mommy velociraptor," remind yourself it's okay to say no and that play you're not involved in offers countless benefits for children.

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