Yesterday I found out I was a twin. I also found out I HATE salmon sandwiches; they make me cry for hours. Oh, and did you know, I was actually born a boy?
These kinds of discoveries are pretty common around here. I have a three year old whose passion in life right now is pretend play. Especially the kind where she is the mama and I am the child, role-playing our day to day interactions (she has twin boys in her preschool class, and they often make an appearance in our drama).
Honestly… I don’t like to pretend play. I want to like to pretend play since my daughter really loves it. And I know it is crucial to her development as she synthesizes all her young experiences of the world.
But ugh. I’m not very good at getting in to it. One of the biggest obstacles to me is the fact that I can’t just pick up my own role to play. I am being dictated to line by line who I should be, what I should think, and what I should say. My three year old and I have something highly in common: we both like to be in control. And during pretend play, it’s her turn to take the reigns.
I get frustrated being bossed around all afternoon (hmm… gives me better perspective about her own feelings toward me sometimes…a topic for another post maybe?). I get frustrated, and we start to butt heads. I start doing things out of pre-arranged character, and get chided by my three-year-old boss. She gets frustrated. The fun is lost.
I’ve been mulling this around in my heart. I want to learn to be present and learn to play wholeheartedly… but I also want my daughter to learn that there are boundaries in our interactions with others. We can’t just bulldoze them in to doing what we want. It’s a give and take.
But what boundaries are appropriate? Am I right to want some of my own way, or should I be totally compliant to her every wish? How do I balance my own desire to be in control with the desire to also bless my daughter and to allow her to process her world through pretend play, with me as her playmate?
And the pretend play? It is just a reflection of what is happening in real life between me and my daughter, only in reverse. How do I convey these healthy boundaries to my daughter as we work through our differences as they play out over bedtime drama, or dinnertime battles, or get-your-coat-on-NOW-we-will-be-late! moments. We both have hearts, and sometimes we’re so busy keeping control, we don’t treat each other very kindly.
These are the things that I began prayerfully considering and mulling over my head.
Then one afternoon we went to the park. With an infant still in arms, it is a particular challenge to play with my daughter at the park. We’ve had several struggles over who should be doing what when, and I knew exactly what was coming. I anticipated the type of play my daughter would want to do, the roles she would have us play, and the challenges they often bring up for both of us.
Anticipating all this, in advance I told my daughter exactly what my boundaries were. I told her I would be pushing her brother in the swing for a little while, and would be happy to play along with her pretend, but couldn’t just waltz all over the playground anytime she told me to. I told her exactly what I expected, and helped give her an honest expectation of what would happen as we played.
And it was the best afternoon we’ve ever had at the park. She respected my boundaries, and incorporated what I was doing into her pretend play with me. I felt more relaxed and had fun getting in to my role with her. And my son got to enjoy the swing (which he loves). The fun wasn’t lost!
Somewhere in this encounter, there was an answer to my heart’s question about boundaries with my daughter.
Soon a picture settled in my spirit, as it often does.
My heart: a comfy cozy little cottage-home in a beautiful garden. And my daughter, this sometimes-bulldozer, barreling toward my comfy cottage heart with deadly speed.
Out of nowhere, I slam down a fence post. A boundary. The child heart slams full-speed into my out-of-thin-air fence post. The child-heart is hurt. The mama-boundary is smashed. We’re both bruised.
And rapidly, the garden is filled with posts. And suddenly instead of a cozy space, it’s a war zone. And instead of inviting child-heart inward, I’m busy keeping child-heart out.
This is not what I want.
I press delete.
Now instead, I carefully construct my fence ahead of time around my garden, around my cottage-heart. Around the child-heart within my cozy space. She sees the posts; they are clearly marked. And suddenly she’s not bulldozing around; the child-heart is transformed into a sweet butterfly, flitting around the mama-heart, full of imagination and play and ideas and desires.
There is peace. There is fun. There is laughter. There is wholeness.
It’s a process of learning. Learning each other’s hearts so we can effectively communicate our boundaries. It’s tough heart-work, and it’s not always perfect or pretty. But when we get it right? There is life.