I've worked out a great compromise with him. Like all good Flybabies, I love my timer. I don't have the officially sanctioned FlyLady timer, but I have Old Reliable.
Old Reliable is our kitchen timer/thermometer that we've had since we got married 7 years ago. I use this sucker for everything. The little screen is supposed to stand upright, but it got knocked off the fridge a few too many times and now it will only lay flat. It still works, it's noisy and the alarm stops automatically after a minute, so that's why I love it.
Anyway, how I tame my toddler with my timer:
- I set the timer for 15-20 minutes. I know he can play by himself for this long without complaining.
- I explain that Mommy has to do laundry/vacuum/work on the computer/make phone calls/etc. until the timer beeps. After that, Mommy can play!
- When the timer beeps, I keep my promise. I sit down and play with him. He has my full attention unless there's a phone call, someone at the door, or the dog has to go out.
If he's absorbed in what he's doing and doesn't want my attention when the timer goes off, I leave him alone. My big overall goal for him (and any subsequent kids we have) is to be as self-sufficient as possible. This includes keeping himself entertained. He's also learning that I'm not just here to serve him, but that I have other responsibilities. Of course, if he needs a new diaper or he has a little injury, I stop and help him. I hope to teach him that "needs" are addressed quickly, but "wants" sometimes have to wait.
If I have a lot of cleaning to do (like on Mondays) or a massive to-do list, I tell him I'm setting the timer for 40 minutes of playtime, and then I have to get back to work. Once the timer beeps, I get up and reset the timer for 20 minutes, then work while he plays.
When I do this, I am a lot more efficient around the house. I clean as quickly as I can for 20 minutes, then I get to have fun. If I do this 6 times, I've spent 2 hours out of my day cleaning! I would've never thought that possible with a 2-year-old, but when you break it into smaller chunks, it's easy. It's also easier to focus on him during playtime, since I know I'll get to my next round of tasks when the timer goes off. I can really let go and enjoy pushing Hot Wheels around on the living room rug and "eating" whatever he comes up with in his play kitchen.
I'm a lot happier when I use my timer. My home doesn't look (as much) like FEMA needs to make a visit and my little boy has fun, stress-free playtime with me. Win-win for both of us.