::: disclaimer: I am no parenting expert and I recognize + celebrate all types of parenting. this is just how we've done things in our home, and seen great success. :::
My kids are by no means golden children. If you've been around my home, or I've been to yours, particularly near 4pm, you know this first hand. Toddlers act like toddlers (typical two's anyone?), and yes, my hands are often "full" :)
But this is a fairly common sight in my home too:
Which would surprise you if you knew my kids (like I said, especially around the witching hour of 4pm!). They're a hand full, but they're also excellent at independent play. I'm often asked how I got them to do so, and my answer is probably going to disappoint you. I didn't intentionally do anything. But a lot happened that I think contributed...
When Lily was only 5 months old, I got pregnant with Oli. So basically from when she was 5 months old, I have been limited - in one way or another - in how I can get down and play with her.
From 5-8 months I was dealing with intense fatigue and nausea, not on the floor playing airplane.
And when Lily was 12-15 months, I was on bed rest with extreme back pain, not having tea parties. And after that, well, I had a newborn.
I've dealt with some guilt for those months where I wasn't able to be there for Lily as much as I'd have liked. But looking back at those unavoidable circumstances, I think it's developed Lily into the independent girl she is, and I'm thankful. She and I still have an amazing bond and I'm probably her most consistent playmate, but I'm not her only source of entertainment, and I rarely ever was.
She loves reading with me, and that was one thing I continued doing when I was either on the couch with nausea or on bed rest, but she also reads alone all.the.time. With her speech delay it's pretty hilarious. But she just babbles her way through every page of every book, and really, she prefers magazines :)
One great thing is that I'm seeing similar practices with Oli in the area of independent play.
Partly again from necessity - the tables have turned and now his sister is the demanding one (typical two's!) and also on purpose. While it wasn't intentional with Lily, we're doing the same thing with Oli because we've seen that not being available at her beckoned call nor being the constant source of entertainment really helped Lily grow in independence.
So, if you want my advice on how I get my kids to be such great indy players, I don't have a surefire answer. Every child is different and some parenting styles won't jive well with my suggestion. But I believe it has to do with how Lily and Oli were treated as babies. Not on purpose at first, but the serendipitous events lead us this way and we're glad they did.
But you don't have to get pregnant immediately to have these results. Jen Wilkin, who teaches a terrific online parenting class, calls it "Intentional Laziness". You don't have to be there for your babies or toddlers or kids every.single.second. In your absence, they are growing and learning and developing!
Please don't think I'm suggesting you ignore them all the time - that would be abuse - but consider each time and try to cut back on being their personal servant. Engage your children, but also consider how it could build their character more to let them learn how to do it themselves instead of you helping nonstop.
As I type this, Lily is sorting through clean laundry and having a blast. She's walking from pile to pile and babbling to herself as she goes. Sure, she might also enjoy us doing something together, and when this is posted and I finish the dishes I intend to have a tickle fest and do some reading with her. But right now, I'm taking some mom time, and she's no worse for it. In fact, she may even be better off :)