1 – There will be screaming. Sometimes that screaming is out of sheer fun and enjoyment. Sometimes that screaming is out of pain. Sometimes that screaming is out of anger or hurt feelings. Whether they are getting along or they are not getting along, there will be screaming.
2 – More time will be spent deciding what they are going to play than will be spent actually playing. It never fails. I’ll shoo my 3 children off and tell them to go play together while I make dinner. I’ll warn them that they have about 45 minutes. I’ll hear them negotiating, brainstorming, creating rules, arguing about rules, bossing each other about, creating. Then I’ll hear them start to play only to discover that the 11 year old still found a loophole in the 507 rules they’d decided upon. Which, results in the screaming (see #1), and then a repeat of the negotiating, brainstorming, etc. By the time I call them up for dinner, they will have spent more time deciding what they were going to play than they did actually playing it.
3 – Most of the time I’ll have to coerce one or the other of them to actually play. Don’t get me wrong, my kiddos truly love each other and generally enjoy each other’s company. But, one of them is extremely introverted, one of them is extremely extroverted, and the other is a magical mix of being extroverted with some socially autistic traits. To find a time when they all are capable and desiring to be with each other is like finding a needle in the proverbial haystack. And most of the time I simply let them figure it out. But, sometimes, I need to model and demonstrate and coerce them into knowing what being in relationship with another human being means and looks like. So, the combination of differently wired kids, with different temperaments, and the desire to create connections and family, means that most of the time I’m coercing one or the other of them to actually play.
4 – It’s best if I stay out of the way. Referring back to #1, in my more foolish and helicopter-y days, anytime I heard a scream which wasn’t clearly joy-filled, I’d come running. Given the loud nature of my daughter, that meant I was intervening all the time. Or, referring back to #2, in my more foolish and control-freakish days, I’d feel like I needed to sort the rules out for them, so I was intervening all the time. My intervening rarely helps. In fact, it actually teaches them that I don’t trust them to figure it out themselves. My intervening steals away their creativity and autonomy. And so, now I wait until I hear Cub shout, “Chimp, go get mom! Tell her KBear’s in the red!” Unless I hear those words, “go get mom,” I’ve learned it’s best to just stay out of the way.
5 – It’s best to leave them wanting more. KBear can only handle so much stimulation. And often she holds things together really effectively, until she just can’t anymore. So, on the outside, it looks like she goes from 0 to 60, happy to hulk, in about 5.2 seconds. I used to fall for this façade. Before they started to play I’d have a time limit in my head (usually 30-60 minutes). And I’d be ready to call them out of their play when I’d hear how well they were cooperating. Naively, I’d think that meant they could play happily for longer. Inevitably, 2 minutes after my initial time limit, KBear would meltdown. And I’d internally chastise myself. Now I know, it’s best to cut their time off, even if they’re having fun. I’d rather have them united in their common enemy of the unfairness of mom, than fighting with each other or melting down. The whines of “But, mo-om, we just got started” are music to my heart. It’s best to leave them wanting more.
6 – It’s OK if some of their collaborative playtime is in front of a screen. Parenting in this age is tricky, because we’re generally the first generation that has to figure out what to do with the balance of electronic play and hands-on play. We’re inundated with messages that kids shouldn’t be in front of screens. And there’s truth to that. They need to actually play with their bodies and minds. But, they’ve also known how to use a tablet since they were a toddler. And there’s a lot of connecting and socializing that occurs through technology. Guilt and shame are rarely helpful. Yes, my kids are expected to play off-screen. But, it isn’t helpful for me to feel mommy-guilt when they’re playing on-screen, either. Especially when they are joyfully collaborating while in front of the screen. It’s OK if some of their playtime is in front of a screen. And some days, it’s even OK if all of their playtime is in front of a screen.
7 – It’s fun to join them and it’s fun not to join them, too. Some days I’m ready to play along and follow their lead. Some days I need mom-time. Both are ok and whatever I want to do, is ok. After all, playtime is supposed to be fun, first and foremost, right? And sometimes fun looks like giggling and rough-housing with them, and sometimes fun looks like a cup of coffee and sitting quietly on the porch, far away from the screaming.