A little context on pretend play

Before I admitted that our summer schedule was getting the best of me, I had done a series of posts on pretend play and gendered play. Now that we’re back in the groove and settled into a good school routine, I am really glad to finally add the final part of the planned series.

After discussing the importance of pretend play, I want to switch gears a little bit and emphasize the parental part of this. There is so much pressure on parents today to be the focus and driving agents in pretend play… and most other activities. Parents are encouraged to be over-involved in every aspect of their kids lives.

But, guess what!? It’s okay to ignore your kids. I’m not talking about neglect. I’m talking about telling your child that you need 15 minutes to unload the dishwasher and encourage them to play independently during that time… and accepting all the strange noises that come with that independent play. Even when Tiny was an infant, I would put her in her high chair with a couple wooden spoons and let her make noise while I made dinner or loaded the dishwasher. I could see her; she could see me. And it worked. Even now I will let her go outside and play, watching through the sliding glass door while I cook lunch or clean the kitchen. She knows she’s safe and she’s having independent, messy fun.


Studies show that kids need to see and be a part of the everyday functioning of the home. Family life is quality time. You don’t need to spend the whole day engaged in uninterrupted kid-centered time.  So let yourself off the hook and ignore your kids a few times every day.

In the grand scheme of things, this child-centered home and world of miniature toys is a relatively new concept. We like to romanticize the idea of the protected childhood, with children being completely sheltered from any adult realities, filled with child-centered and sheltered playtime. In reality, this is a very recent reality (post-WWII) that was only available to the most privileged children. For most of American history, the modal experience of childhood included a steady influence of adult realities, including socialization alongside family authority and participation in the cooperative family (in the form of chores or even outwork). With the rising impact of attachment parenting theory in the late twentieth century (this is not a criticism of attachment theory) and the growing number of mothers entering the workforce, parents – especially primary caregivers – have found increasing pressure from society to provide a constant source of entertainment and socialization for their children.

But, just maybe, you should feel like that lets you off the hook. Children in previous generations did not have the intensive attention that kids today receive… and that was probably good for them. Don’t feel guilty if you’re not playing with your kids all the time – kids already get more time than they did in previous generations. Find a GOOD balance and give yourself a break.

That context was freeing for me. I hope it was freeing for you… or at least thought-provoking. We can only do the best we can do.



I found these articles that examined playtime, work-life balance, and parent guilt to be especially helpful in adjusting the expectations I had for myself.

And, of course, remember to UNPLUG. Your kids need your full attention when you’re actually trying to give them quality time. This article on The Atlantic and my previous post on unplugging  are both great resources and reminders on that particular point.

If you missed my posts on pretend play and gendered toys, here’s your chance to catch up:

If you’re looking to help out another mom, check out this mom-blog called ‘Boy Mom Walking.’ She makes fantastic dinosaur dress-up tails. These tails are not just for boys; Tiny really loves hers (as you can see above)!

If you really want to dig into the historical context of pretend play, gendered play, and childhood ideologies, these are my three favorite books. (affiliate links included)

And here are just a few more resource links – in no particular order – about pretend play that weren’t included in previous posts.


Thanks for reading today.

All my best,




2 thoughts on “A little context on pretend play

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