I have been enjoying a much-needed increase in play dates – lately the little guy and I have been doing one or maybe two play dates a day. It’s great to see all the little ones playing, and one thing I have noticed is the same for every group I bring him to: I play differently with the little guy than the moms play with their little guys (and girls).
Before I go any further, if you read this blog somewhat regularly, you know I am not big on gender stereotypes. In fact, I hate them. So, understand that what I am saying in this is not a broad statement about men and women, but me compared to the women I have seen in various play groups – probably 50 or so different mom-and-child pairs. To make my point that this is not about gender stereotypes, I have 1 guy friend who also plays in a similar way with his little guy as the moms do.
So, what is the difference in how we play? The big one, and the reason I wanted to post on it today, is that I play much more interactively with the little guy. I always give him that time on his tummy, and he plays with toys and stares at people and generally has fun. But there are times when I notice he is getting a little unhappy that I might pick him up, swoop him around, and blow on his belly and rub his ribs – these are things he likes. I will cover his face and call his name, and then say, “there he is!” when he peeks his head thru. I will lie on my back and place him on my stomach and let him play there, or pick him up and fly him around. These are all things that he likes, and that we do daily when he and I are playing together. He LOVES them when it is just me, him, and his mother at home. And when there are others around and we are not at home, he likes it too (but is not squealing as much as he does at home). Many of the mothers have commented about how cuddly the little guy is, and how much he likes to interact with other people (adults, not the other babies for some reason) – this is of course his personality, but I wonder if all the touch-based interaction we (both me and him, but also his mother and him) have with him is part of it.
Meanwhile, the mothers in the play groups interact in a different way. They might talk more to their little ones, guide them while saying nice and encouraging words, and give them a toy they will like. They talk to them more from a perspective of “wow, that’s a nice toy”, instead of what I would do, where I would ask, “what is that toy you have?” (I do a lot of the former style of encouragement throughout the day, too, but you get the point.)
When the mothers in the play groups pick up their children, it is more from a nurturing or functional perspective than that of playing (it feels like for them, “picking up = only to comfort or do something”). I can see the benefits of the style I have seen from the mothers over how I play with the little guy – because the babies are learning independence and are exploring, where the little guy might turn to me for guidance more often, maybe because he is used to being so close. I should note that this might just come because the little guy is in a phase (starts at 6 months of age) where strangers are scary. Apparently those that the babies meet before 6 months are OK, but those they meet after that phase they are not as easy to warm up to.
The little guy is super social (with adults) and always has been, so social games are more interesting to him than other games or staying on the floor for an hour. Regardless, I am dying to see a mother also pick up their baby to play with them, so I do not feel like “that guy who picks up his baby to play with him instead of only setting them on the floor.” It’s bad enough I am the only guy in the many groups I have been a part of, but to also play so differently is difficult for me and makes me self-conscious about how we do play – even though the little guy laughs and seems to enjoy his time much more than any of the other babies. I will note that in the music-related play groups that usually involve bouncing around, swaying, singing, and so on, this “handling style” of play that I have means that the little guy seems to enjoy it more than the other babies, who are not used to being played to with movement from their moms.
I have a feeling as he starts crawling and moving more, he will not like to be picked up as much. But until then, I will keep on doing as I am doing – after all, if we both enjoy it and find it fun, it can only be good, right? 😉