I was recently with a group of my trusted girlfriends when I sheepishly admitted that I don’t like playing with my kids.
Don’t get me wrong. I like my kids. A lot. I just don’t really like Thomas the Train and My Little Pony. I’d much rather write an article, tackle my to-do list or clean the toilet. (Yes, the toilet is more appealing to me than Thomas.) I often find myself shooing the little ones outside or trying to occupy them with a toy, book or TV show so I can get my work done.
I go back and forth between thinking this is OK (moms are busy, and kids can be creative and play by themselves) and thinking that I should really work on it (childhood is fleeting, and my kids really need my hands-on influence right now).
When I shared all of this with my friends and asked what I should do, they had so much good advice. They have children ranging in age from newborns to teenagers, and they are wise mothers. I knew I needed to write down their suggestions for myself — and for any other moms out there who also struggle to play.
1. Find play that both you and your kids enjoy. A friend of mine said that she doesn’t like playing Polly Pocket, but she loves trampolines, so she gets out there and bounces with her kids when the weather is nice. After hearing that advice, I started swinging on the swings when I take my kids to the park. This is something that I loved to do as a kid but I hadn’t tried it in years, and it is just as fun as I remember. I also love to read books with my kids, and we do that several times a day. I had never thought about it before, but this counts as play. Now that I’ve identified the fun things that I genuinely love to do with my kids, I try to do them more often.
2. Be playful in your day-to-day interactions. Any activity, including chores, can become play if I am upbeat instead of grumbling. A friend said that she and her little ones used to have laundry-folding parties. Her son thought it was just hilarious to put underwear on all of their heads, and they would laugh and talk. She taught the them how to fold dish towels and match socks, and it became a bonding activity for the whole family. Since having this conversation, I’ve turned on music more often while I am cleaning the kitchen and challenged my kids to dance-offs. I love to see them twirl and sway (and often fall over — we are not graceful people). I enjoy motherhood more when my mindset is playful, even in the midst of our daily to-dos.
3. Schedule play. A friend of mine who has three boys told me that she’s realized that what is important to them needs to become important to her. So even though she doesn’t particularly love playing with Legos, she has a routine time set aside each day when she will stop what she is doing and force herself to sit down next to them and build for 15 minutes. I have since done this with my 4-year-old. As soon as his sister is down for her nap, he knows that this is our “special time,” and I will play anything he wants for 15 minutes (even Thomas). Because it is in the schedule, it happens, almost every day. Sure, it’s only 15 minutes, but something is better than nothing.
4. Shape the play to teach life lessons. Another friend told me that when she and her daughter play with dolls, instead of just sitting there in a bored haze as the dollies drink tea, she acts out life lessons. She might create a scenario where two of the dolls have a disagreement, and she asks her daughter what they can do to resolve it. This role-playing makes playtime much more stimulating for Mom and much more educational for Daughter, as they teach and talk. Almost any type of play can be adjusted to teach a meaningful life lesson.
5. Remember it’s just a stage of life. My friends who have older children reassured me that I am currently in a demanding phase of motherhood. My oldest is only 4, and his little sister is too young to really play with him yet, but it won’t be this way forever. Soon they will play with each other; they will go to school and have friends to entertain them; and I might even miss their requests to play. With this in mind, it’s easier to say “yes” now.
6. Above all, just make sure your kids know that you enjoy them. A grandma was also there at the table when I admitted to my friends that I don’t like playing with my kids. She has raised eight of her own children and has 28 grandchildren now. She seemed a little bewildered by my confession, as mothers in her generation didn’t feel pressure to play like we do in our generation. She said, “I didn’t have time to play very often, and I never thought a thing about it!” She went on to say that her kids definitely knew that they were loved, just in the way that she spoke to them, hugged them and listened when they needed to talk.
“You don’t need to play with your children constantly to be a good mother,” another friend piped in. “You just need to make sure that they know that you enjoy them.”
This was perhaps my biggest take-away from the conversation with my friends. Now instead of asking myself in frustration and guilt, “Why don’t I like playing with my kids?” I ask myself different questions: Do my children know that I enjoy them? What can I do with my kids today that is fun for all of us? Can I involve them in the projects I am doing and teach them as I work? Am I grumpy when they get in my way while I’m cleaning, or do I smile and talk to them as I go? Am I able to stop what I am doing in a moment when they really need me?
After such a great discussion with mothers whom I admire, I feel much more able to live each day playfully with my children. I feel less guilt, and I have a stronger resolve to show them in every interaction — whether I am kneeling on the carpet beside them playing Thomas the Train, or they are sitting beside me jabbering while I clean the toilet — how much I genuinely love being their mom.
Question: What activities do you genuinely enjoy doing with your children, and how can you make time to do those things more often?
Challenge: This week, focus on being playful with your children during everyday interactions with them, and let us know in the comments how it affects your relationships.
This article is courtesy of Power of Moms, an online gathering place for deliberate mothers.