Back when my son was about four years old, there was this game he liked to play with me. Well, not a game, exactly; more like a scene he liked to act out. I was just about to describe it for you when I remembered I’ve actually already complained about it here in the past:
We’d make a house, a train and a ticket booth out of LEGO Duplo blocks. A conductor would come to the house, pick up a guy and his Dalmatian and take them to the dinosaur museum, which actually housed real dinosaurs and seemed sort of terrifying except that the dinosaurs were always fairly reassuring that they didn’t intended to eat the guy or his dog.
I, of course, played the voice of the dog. So everything I said had a “ruff-ruff” before and after it. Like, “Ruff-ruff, oh no I think that’s a giganotosaurus, ruff!”
I was going easy on you that day — I didn’t even get into how we’d get back on the train to head home, where we would discover (ruff-ruff!) that our house was on fire! We’d have to call the fire department, they’d come and put the fire out and we’d go to sleep, exhausted from our day. Ruff.
I don’t know how many times I played out this scene, but it’s been six years and I could sit down on the floor right now and act it out just to his taste, so I think it’s fair to say I played it Plenty of Times. No one else could play this with him because no one else could perform the scene (or ruff with the just the right tone of high-pitched anxiety) quite the way I could.
You know how, as kids grow up, you miss so many of the little things? Things you never thought you’d miss, like carrying them all over creation when they were perfectly capable of walking; or the way they’d stomp their feet and glare at you when they got mad; or the way they’d make a total watery mess during bath time even when you begged them not to. Well, the dinosaur museum scene? I do not miss that. That can stay where it belongs — firmly and permanently in the past. Because pretend play with little kids is the absolute goddamn worst.
And you know it. And you can say it.
I came across this post on Reddit from u/avlynn91 recently, and I was completely flabbergasted by it:
I can hate playing pretend and playing on the floor and still be an OK parent right?
I absolutely hate playing pretend and faking emotions and conversations and voices. I try to do this at least 15 minutes a day, and its genuinely the longest 15 minutes of my day.
I feel awful when I say no, but I just cannot bring myself to force it effectively and my 6 year old can tell I’m not into it.
What are you even talking about, u/avlynn91? Of course you hate it. We all hate it. Of course it’s the longest 15 minutes of your day; 15 minutes of pretend play actually takes three hours to complete — just ask physics. There are so many things you could legitimately be feeling guilty for; why are you wasting precious guilt on this?
And don’t go telling me you are one of those people who actually enjoys it; I will know you are lying, or else you are beyond help, or else you are lying.
The only person I’ve ever come close to believing truly did enjoy some pretend play with little kids is my mother, and my son even wore her down. She never had to go to the dinosaur museum; no, with her, the scene was some kind of birthday pool party that never ended. I don’t really know what took place at the party — as soon as I saw him pulling out the blue bilibo (that was what served as the swimming pool), I got the hell out of there. From the next room, I could hear the muffled sounds of his protests as she tried to shift the storyline ever so slightly.
So, sure, she liked to pretend play on her own terms, maybe switch things up a bit now and then; but a little kid doesn’t want you to pretend play with them on your terms. You are there for them and them alone. And that’s great for them! They’re learning to be creative, and they’re becoming little storytellers, and they’re finding comfort in the routine; that doesn’t mean it’s not mind-numbingly tedious for us. It’s like going to the playground. It is a thing we do when we can muster up the energy for it, but it’s not like, “Yay, I can’t wait to go stand around for an hour with some coffee and try to keep my kid from falling to their death!”
Anyway, because this is Lifehacker, let me end on a service-y note for all you totally normal and ok people out there who would rather claw your own eyes out than play “dinosaur museum plus house fire;” it comes courtesy of u/I_luv_breakfast, who commented on the Reddit post:
Only suggestion I have that works (and only sometimes) is I’ll offer to make a movie with my phone. I tell him he is directing me and has to tell me where to stand and when to start/stop filming.
Wish I’d thought of that six years ago.