Doll Play VS. Gun Play and A Parents Worst Fears

the meaning of play

Play is the language of a child, it is the expression of inner most thoughts, feelings, and desires.  Or is it?

I was playing dolls with my daughter the other day and found myself reflecting on the meaning of her play.  We were alone in the playroom and she brought me her doll over and over again asking (without words) that I swaddle it in the small blanket like I had swaddled her when she was an infant.  She would pick it up and nearly fall over from the weight and size of her child.  She mimicked the back and forth rocking of “rock a by baby” and eventually rocked so hard that the doll fell to the ground while rolling out of the blanket.  She gathered the doll into her arms and slammed it into the tiny wooden crib, making a loud smacking sound as the head knocked against the side rail.

I found myself analyzing her play.  Does she completely lack empathy?  Is this play a sign that she will grow up to be a bad mother? What if she has no ability to care for others?  My thoughts began to race, and the “parents worst fear” meter was redlining.  As I continued to watch and observe I stopped analyzing her play and began analyzing the meaning I ascribed to her play.

I found that I was thinking like an adult.  I was observing her play and assumed that she was doing what she was doing for the same reasons an adult would be doing it.  An adult that drops a baby or slams it into a crib does so because of a lack of empathy, inability to care, and probably anger.  So, of course that must be why she was doing.

OR PROBABLY NOT!!

I began to think more about the meaning that adults ascribe to a child’s play.  Is the meaning that I interpret the same as what the child hold in their mind? I remembered back to several articles I had read about children being suspended from school because of play deemed inappropriate by school administrators.  Both instances involved young children and make shift guns.  One involved pointing a pencil at another student like a gun and the other involved chewing a pop tart into the shape of a gun.

I tend to get pretty frustrated with these situations in which play is criminalized.  It seems to me that children are being punished based on the projected fears of adults.  Do we really believe that a pencil is dangerous for other children?  I wonder if these decisions come from fears of what our children might become.   At some point we just have to laugh at these ridiculous stories but I wonder when we adults will realize that children do not think like us?  I wonder how the world would be different if adults could play like a child?  What if adults were less fearful and more adventurous like children? Oh what fun we might have!

Read Angry Art

Daddy Will You Hold Me: Containing Feelings

One of the most important aspects of holding a child involves emotions.  A child will feel held when their parent is able to contain the powerful emotions of the moment.  A child will feel dropped when the parent is either overwhelmed by or unresponsive to the child’s emotions.

I readily admit that I tend to drop my children when they are feeling powerful emotions.  At times I feel too busy, too tired, or just plain sick of dealing with the chaos.  The truth is unfortunately that in these moments I am more concerned about my own feelings than I am about my child’s.  I have become overwhelmed with what is going on in me, and do not have the capacity to deal with what is happening in my child.

I just read a nice article titled Attunement Parenting The New Attachment Parenting and was reminded that my ability to contain my child’s emotions is directly correlated to how well I am taking care of myself.  In other words my ability to handle my son’s anger is impacted by my ability to handle my own anger.  Arriving home from work frustrated from the day significantly impacts my interactions with my children.  I must do a good job of taking care of my self in order to take care of my children.

I struggle with this, I tend to give, give give, and then give out.  I wear myself to the bone, attempting to be the best parent I can be, constantly striving to meet everyone of my child’s needs, never allowing my self to be distracted from the task of engaging in their lives.  THIS IS EXHAUSTING!! It is not possible to be the perfect parent, it is not possible to meet every need, and it is not possible to engage at every moment.

I have learned that I need time to refuel.  I am a very reflective person, and when I have neglected the time I need to slow down, and think I become short tempered, impatient, and depressed.  I am thankful for the reminder that it is OK to do something that I enjoy.  I am allowed to put the headphones on and listen to my favorite album.  But where does one draw the line? How much parenting is enough? And is it possible to measure up?

How do you RE-FUEL as a parent?  Where do you draw the Line?