Play and learning have always been of big interest to me. My mother is a teacher, and I worked with kids of all ages all through high school and college, so when it came time for me to become a mom, I really took the idea of being my child’s first teacher head on. Before Baby Carrot even made it home from the hospital, our bookshelves were full, our toy box was loaded with blocks and learning toys, and I was ready to talk to her nonstop as she grew up, as all the advice recommends, to make sure that she was hearing lots of words. And then my inner introvert knocked and laughed at all these plans.
One of my first struggles between figuring out how to be the engaged parent I wanted to be and my inner introvert was when Baby Carrot started doing tummy time and hanging out on a play mat. She hated tummy time, so I would talk to her for a few minutes until she got upset, then flip her over and describe the play mat and what she was seeing. All that took about 2 minutes, then I ran out of things to say, and I felt like I was failing at mom because I really just wanted to look at my emails or read a blog while she played. I felt like I was leaving her alone, and depriving her of that valuable learning, and the introvert inside was screaming for a little decompression, making it even worse. Introverts generally have a hard time with lots of “on” time and with a baby of any age, you’re always “on.” Lack of sleep aside, the most exhausting thing for me, especially in the early days, became the constant interaction with another human being, even if that human being didn’t do much beyond eat and sleep.
What helped a lot was coming across articles, blog posts and studies on independent play. After reading about the value of leaving Baby Carrot to explore on her own, even if that meant she just lay there in those early days, and talking to some friends who had older kids and did the same, helped me feel less guilty. And after I did some digging about what unstructured and independent play meant, I did still spend as much time as I could talking to my daughter, but when I ran out of steam, I let her be and gave myself permission (and felt OK with) to do my own thing – which usually involved reading parenting blogs and learning about something else baby related.
As Baby Carrot now enters the toddler years, interaction is more important than ever, but so is letting her explore independently, so I’ve been aiming to follow a few general rules for how she and we play: