Why Playing with My Toddler Feels Like a Dark Confession: Am I the Only One?

London, UK – Playing make-believe and engaging in roleplay games with my toddler has always been a challenge for me. It’s a confession that I find difficult to make, fearing judgment and the label of being a “terrible mother.” However, I can’t help but wonder if other parents share the same sentiment.

Of course, my love for my son is unwavering. The moment I became a parent, I experienced an indescribable sense of fulfillment. But when it comes to activities like playing with Duplo blocks, train sets, or tea parties, I find myself dreading them. I can’t be the only one, can I?

It’s not that I underestimate the importance of play in childhood development. I’ve come across studies emphasizing the benefits of repetitive play and its role in brain development. For instance, research conducted by Cardiff University demonstrated how playing with dolls alone can enhance empathy and social information processing skills.

So why do I struggle to enjoy playing with my toddler? One word: boredom. I can’t help but find these activities tiresome, and I suspect I’m not alone in feeling this way. However, it’s essential to distinguish between how we feel and how we act. Rest assured, I do engage in play with my son, even though I don’t derive the same pleasure from it as he does.

Moreover, I’ve noticed that my partner is far more enthusiastic about playing with our son. This discrepancy got me thinking—maybe there’s a biological explanation behind it. The release of oxytocin, known as the “cuddle hormone,” may hold the key. While I still experience a rush of oxytocin when my son hugs me or gives me a kiss, I don’t feel it during playtime.

Research has shown that oxytocin levels vary depending on which parent a child interacts with. Studies focusing on fathers have suggested that physical touch, particularly playful touch, leads to higher oxytocin levels. It seems my partner’s enjoyment of roughhousing and exuberant play can be attributed to this hormone surge.

To quell my worries about being the only one who feels this way, I approached some close friends and discovered that they shared my sentiments. Yet, we all grapple with a sense of taboo around admitting our lack of enthusiasm for child’s play. Society, particularly mothers, often face undeserved shame and pressure to constantly engage in and enjoy these activities.

It’s time to shift the focus away from this stigma and embrace the aspects of parenting that bring us joy. Personally, I find solace in reading to my son, a sentiment echoed recently by author Michael Morpurgo. It allows me to embrace my dramatic side and provides immense benefits to children’s development.

In the end, it’s important to recognize and celebrate the diversity of parenting experiences. Whether it’s going on outdoor adventures or simply accompanying our children to the shops, finding activities that bring both parent and child joy is the key to fostering a strong bond.