In the spring of 2017 I brought home a brand new baby girl, my second, and embraced the journey of discovering how to mother two individual children. It was a big transition for me. My days were full.
While I felt consumed with nursing, changing, and rocking my newborn, my oldest daughter began to transform before my tired eyes. She was 2.5, and seeming less like a toddler and more like a “preschooler” every day.
This brought up a whole new set of parenting challenges and motherly insecurities. How do I support the needs of a 2.5-year-old while balancing life with a newborn? Are her developmental needs being met at home with me? Am I doing enough for her?
This insecurity led me to seek out information from a questionable source—the Internet. (How many times have I frantically and fearfully turned to Google after encountering a new challenge in motherhood or life? Too many to count.) And because I am a 20-something millennial mom my search primarily took place on Instagram and Pinterest. And I was not disappointed.
I found the internet FULL of helpful ideas. Do a quick search on Pinterest for “learning activities for 3-year-olds” and you’ll see what I mean. Our days became filled with sensory bins and dot stickers and “invitations to play.” After both girls were asleep (for a moment, at least), I would plan out what I could do with my oldest daughter the next day, and often spend a good chunk of time creating and preparing activities after bedtime.
While to some this may sound like A LOT of work, I found it incredibly fulfilling. My structured, methodized, education-loving personality enjoyed this season of life. I LOVED creating (what I thought at the time was) an educational environment at home. So much so that I began to document our activities on Instagram and Pinterest. (I told you I’m a millennial mom.)
The problem was I wasn’t asking myself a pivotal question; or rather, I was asking myself the wrong question. I was asking—what are others doing?—instead of—what is BEST for my child?
This problem reared its head shortly, as I began to notice yet another change in my oldest daughter. I watched her begin to take on a very passive role in our life at home and in her own “play life.” (I think I just coined a new phrase.) She began to engage with her toys less and follow me around more. She was constantly asking when I was going to do another “a-tivity” for her. It started to feel like she didn’t know how to play or engage with ANYTHING in our home unless I initiated it with some sort of external prompt.
I thought what I was doing was going to help her developmentally, but I began to wonder if all I was really doing was just making her more dependent on me. Or, as my loving husband bluntly put it: “You’re doing too much for her. Just chill out. Let her play.” God love that man, and God knows I need him.
And so, my short-lived career as an aspiring “kid-activity” Instagram-blogger came to an end. I’m laughing at myself as I type this. And I’m also really thankful that I have the ability to learn and grow as a mother. It came to an end because, put simply, we just stopped. Stopped the sensory bins. Stopped the late night planning. Mostly, I stopped imposing my desire for structure and “productivity” onto my children.
And now? Most of the time, I simply let them be. I let them work through the troublesome feelings of boredom and push into their creative capacity to learn the way a child innately knows how. And through it all, I learned this valuable lesson: Learning, and play, that is motivated and driven from within is always more meaningful than learning or play that is imposed from without. And now I have happier kids because of it.
To listen to the most recent episode of The Intentional Childhood Podcast on Purposeful Play, click here.
By: Chelsea Lane
Chelsea is a teacher and mom of 2 girls. She is passionate about treasuring childhood. You can find her @chelsealaneblog.