Dear public relations representative for an unnamed organization,
I would like to write about your proposal that parents should commit to “engage in imaginative play with their children for at least an hour every day.” But I’m pretty sure that what I’d like to write about it isn’t what you have in mind.
First off, that way madness lies. An hourlong imaginary tea party, daily? Sixty daily minutes of pretending to be Thomas puffing around the track? There are parents who thrive on these things, certainly. Then there are parents for whom such a commitment would only lead them to be eventually committed.
Secondly, children don’t need to engage in imaginative play with adults for an hour daily. They need to engage in imaginative play with themselves, and with each other, and not in some prescribed hourly dose. My version of what should happen when we play “family” is far less imaginative than that of my children (which is, frankly, disturbing). They need their own rich imaginative lives, not mine.
But my real issue with this, a real proposal from a real, well-meaning organization concerned that children spend less time in play now than they once did, is that these campaigns — all the things parents “should” do with their children — add up, and what they add up to is a load of guilt.
The kind of guilt that leaves parents wondering how on earth they can be both breadwinners and caregivers. Really, after a full day of work, dinner and possible homework help, and before the bedtime routine, a full hour of “imaginative play” daily?
Yes, I’m a curmudgeon. Yes, a better woman than I might get up early to put in this time, or split time with her partner so that one is doing the imaginative lifting while the other does the dinner prep, or just not take the whole thing so literally and use it as a spur for imaginative prompts throughout the day, or something like that. Fine.
The time demand is the least of my problems with this and the dozens of other ways our time with our children is massaged and managed and pushed into strange structures unfamiliar to our parents and grandparents…
Read More: K.J. Dell’Antonia, parenting.blogs.nytimes.com