28 Days of Play

Play and the Generation Gap

What I remember about my mother is this: she was there. She was there for band-aids and kisses and snacks. She would help us build tents in the backyard where we would hoard stacks of books, and she would pull down the trunk of old baby clothes from a high shelf so I could dress my dolls. She would unstick zippers and tie scarves in my hair and search for a beaded necklace to add to my dress-up ensemble. She made sure to foster an environment where play was encouraged, and when I needed her, she was there, but I don’t remember ever playing Barbie or baby doll with her.

I’m honored to be featured at You Plus 2 Parenting as part of Rachel Cedar’s 28 Days of Play series, and you can read the rest of this essay here. I’d love to hear your thoughts over there and keep the dialogue going on why it is we sometimes struggle with engaging in play with our children.

28 Days of Play


It’s nothing personal, Barbie, I just don’t want to hang out with you

You know when someone asks you for a favor and it catches you off guard and you mentally start ticking off the million things you need to get done and it’s really the last thing you want to do so you stutter through an excuse, only to be ridden with guilt after the fact? This is kind of like that.

I hate playing Barbie

Here’s the thing: I suck at playing Barbie.

When Mia was about 3 ½ years old, she liked to play this game where she was Cinderella and I was the evil stepmother. She made me give her orders, and she wanted me to be ruthless about it. I had a hard time getting into character at first. I couldn’t be mean to this cherub of a girl and instead of barking orders I would grab her up and kiss her face off, which annoyed her because Cinderella’s stepmother would never do that. But Mia was very serious about this game and soon I was barking at her to make her bed and fold clean towels and dust the nightstands. And she did. That was a fantastic game. That was a game I could get behind. I miss that game.

The other day when Mia asked me to play with her, I said, “Hey, remember that game we used to play?” and filled her in. She looked at me like I had grown a third eye.

“That does NOT sound fun. Let’s play Barbie!”

And then my eyes glazed over and I started doing this twitching thing, which was completely involuntary.

It’s not that I have anything against Barbie. I don’t dwell on her superficiality or the gender stereotypes she embodies or her unrealistic body image. There are a ton of debates out there on whether Barbie is a positive or negative influence on girls. This isn’t intended to be one of them, but I will say that all those aspects for which feminists admonished Barbie are so heavily filtered into our society now, does the Barbie argument really hold up? Furthermore, is it not up to us as moms to talk to our girls about body image and stereotypes? But I digress.

As I was saying, I’ve been roped into playing Barbie lately and I can count maybe one other thing I dislike as much as playing Barbie and that is…well no, actually, I can’t think of anything.

I would rather let Mia run through the house trailing open tubes of glitter than play with Barbie.

I would rather let her play in the sprinkler and then traipse mud all through the house than play with Barbie.

I would rather play “Mommy, watch this. Look at me, Mommy. Mommy, are you watching?” while Mia juggles a balloon/tries to stand on her head/dribbles a ball/practices the splits for hours on end than play with Barbie.

I would love to color or paint or do puzzles or bake something or read piles of books or build a tent. And so her requests to play Barbie are usually met with hesitation, excuses, and/or manipulation into playing something else, and then I feel guilty because since she’s been on this Barbie kick she’s engaged in more imaginative play than I’ve witnessed in a while.

So as I’m finishing this up, guess who just mozied on in here to ask if I can play Barbie?

“You promised, Mommy.”

This is true. I did. I promised yesterday when I was stammering through my excuses that I would play Barbie today.

“Let’s pretend that they’re going camping only the Mommy has to work so only the sisters go camping and they find this magical castle with princesses…”

Ugh, the twitching.