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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Do I Play With My Kids Enough?


By Katie M

I will never forget the words one mom said to me when my first born was just six months old. She told me she was “too busy to play with her kids.” At the time she was a stay-at-home mom and her children were in elementary school full-time. She did not have any work or volunteer obligations. I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure she also had a hired maid, a husband who helped with dinner preparations and a laundry list of babysitters she used non-stop. All that, but she was still too busy, she said.

As a new mom, those words hit me like a ton of bricks. I remember being so angry and thinking (and later wished I had said), “Why did you even bother to have children?” Who knows – maybe she was exaggerating or didn’t realize what she was saying. Regardless, those words from her still haunt me. And after six years of being a mom, I am still trying to put those words into perspective.

So now my children are ages six and three. I have one in elementary school full-time, and one in preschool several days a week. I think I’m pretty busy. Besides this little thing called Triad Smarty Pants, I also work on occasional freelance jobs. I clean my house, do the laundry, prepare dinner most nights of the week, manage the grocery runs, care for my kids, blah, blah, blah.

I know, I know. You all do this too – plus a lot more! I’m not saying my situation is unique at all. We are all busy moms – whether we work or not. I get that. But despite the 8 to 13 waking hours I have with my children every day, I still worry I am not playing with them enough.

Being a mom and a wife is my first job (everything else comes second). And so lots of times that means I need to empty the dishwasher instead of color or paint. Or, vacuum the house instead of play in the yard. Or, change the laundry or start dinner – instead of play another round of I Spy.

I know it’s important to stay on top of all those things around the house, but I also know it’s equally important to live in the moment and not sweat the other stuff. The house will get clean, we’ll find something to eat for dinner (even if it’s just grilled cheese sandwiches), and chances are good we have a few clean outfits left at the back of our closets.

Added to this mommy guilt is the constant plea from my kids, “Play with me, play with me, play with me.” It makes me feel as if I never do, even though I know that’s not true.

Yet as much as I want to spend more hours playing, I also get easily burnt out. So, on the opposite spectrum, I have a confession to make. In the words of Rachel's four-year-old daughter, “I would rather stick pins in my eyeballs” then dress up Barbie for hours on end or search for earthworms and spiders. I’m all about getting down and dirty with the kids, but I’m also all for fostering independent play. I mean, really - there is a reason we bought this house with a dedicated playroom and fenced-in backyard, right? :)

So when I’ve had enough of play and pretend, I go back to the same daily chores of cleaning, laundry and cooking while they continue to play (or not)…and then the predictable pleas of “play with me” continue...along with the unending cycle of mommy guilt..and it goes on, and on, and on...

As I go back and forth on this topic – and strive every day to NOT be the mom who says “I’m too busy to play with my kids” – I wonder if you all share this same struggle? Do you worry you aren’t playing with your kids enough? And as much as you want to play more, do you admit you get easily burnt out too? Where is the happy balance for you?

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I struggle with this all the time. Sometimes I just don't want to play baby or star wars anymore. When my kids are really pushing for my attention and I can not take anymore pretend play, I pull out the puzzles or offer to read some books. But there are also plenty of times when I just have to say no so I can get chores done.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing about the very thing that weighs on my shoulders everyday. I am constantly worrying if I play with my kids enough. It is so hard to balance everyday life - the cleaning, cooking, laundry, errands, and simply life with Barbies, playing train, playdough, and dress up. It is a constant juggling game.

Anonymous said...

I am glad I'm not alone! I feel this guilt every day.

Anonymous said...

I worry about this often. However, one thing that I wonder about is this: Did our mothers play with us? I can't remember my mom playing Barbies ever! Sure, she read to us and played games, got out the Playdoh and happily rolled it out with us, but I'm pretty sure she picked and chose what she preferred. No harm in that!

Anonymous said...

This is hard for me, as a single mom of two who has them 24/7 -- there's just not enough of me or my time to go around...and I really 'want' to play too (insert whiny voice). It's going to turn me into one of those crazy grandmothers down the road who is practically retro-kid by the time I get to have free time.

Gina Pruette said...

Thanks for such a thoughtful post on a parenting subject that's bound to touch all of us from time to time. I'm inclined to think that part of "living in the moment" includes living without all the guilt. It's just baggage that serves no real purpose, just a distraction from far more interesting things.

Chances are we all do fine with respect to playing with our kids. There are so many ways we can get to know and shepherd our children through their early years, no well-intentioned path more correct than any other. Let's try to let go of the guilt and focus instead on all the things we're doing right!

Anonymous said...

Isn't that why we have more than one kid? My sisters and my imagination were my playmates. I don't remember ever expecting (or asking) my mother to play with me. It's not our responsibility to entertain our kids. Especially if you're a stay-at-home mom, you spend an enormous amount of time with your children. The day-to-day interactions of eating meals with your kids, giving your kids a bath, lying down in bed with them to sing a bedtime song ... that's what builds a great parent/child relationship; not playing Barbie and Legos.

Rachel H said...

I have this guilt daily as well, but I really feel like I make up for it every now and then. Even if it is just sitting on their bed and sharing thoughts about our day, or playing one game of Uno for 15 minutes. Or going for ice cream for no reason at all. Each of these little things make the kids so happy, but they learn not to depend on you for their happiness every second of the day. My mom was like Supermom and played with us a lot (and watched our choreographed endless dances), but we also learned to play on our own. It is great for kids to entertain themselves, too. If you didn't read Dr. Satterwhite's blog, he'll make you feel better about this! Here is the link! http://triadsmartypants.blogspot.com/2010/04/importance-of-playtime-for-kids.html
Kids need to play with other kids and to play alone in order to develop certain skills. Plus, I think our kids see how much we love them when we make their dinner, drive them places, tie their shoes, etc.
Great thoughts, Katie!

RLR said...

Katie - thanks for sharing your thoughts! So many of us have these same questions!
I think Anonymous #4 makes a good point. My mom worked full-time and went to school and ran the house - and I was the only child until I was ten. But I DO remember having fun with my mom. Just going to the grocery store with her was fun - skipping to the store (yes, she skipped, too!) or getting to push the cart were exciting because we were together. As a result, I focus more on the uninterrupted time I'm spending with my kids rather than what we are doing. For us, it can be cooking or going to the library or post office. Maybe a surprise stop for a treat after school. And when I do let them push the grocery cart and someone accidentally runs into my heels, I do my best to remember that my mom didn't gripe at me if I did the same thing to her. She just walked beside the cart instead.

Lisa Witherspoon said...

I agree with all of it! I am a stay at home mom to my three girls and it is a constant balancing act - trying to get chores/errands done, volunteering, and spending time with them. When I do have time to focus on playing with them, they NEVER seem to agree on an activity, which means I also struggle with giving each of them equal attention. I do try to weave "fun" into the mundane activities - splashing with them for a few minutes during bath time, singing together while we are in the car, etc. Hopefully, that counts!! Thanks for sharing these thoughts - it is obviously something most moms seem to struggle with and it always helps to be reminded that we are not alone!

Anonymous said...

My mom did not play much. I remember her watching soaps while I went outside and found something to do. My dad traveled for work. But when I remember them playing with me, it was a special time. When we were snowed in and played Yahtzee for hours on end, or when my dad taught me how to play chess and Scrabble and cards. I think quality matters more than quantity. I also grew up with never a dull moment because I know how to entertain myself. I hope my kids learn the same thing.

Katie M said...

Thanks for all your thoughtful comments today, and for making me feel like I'm an OK mom, after all :)

Anonymous said...

I'm a working mom. Full time 9-5, M-F kind of job. Mom keeps my 2 yr old and everyone says how "lucky" I am that she can do that. But, here's my confession, I feel so guilty that she spends so much more time with her than I do. As soon as I walk in the door, I hear the sweetest, most heart breaking words, "Mommy play too?" and she repeats that 100 times a night. Thankfully, my husband helps a lot with chores, which allows me a few precious minutes a day to "play too"! I cherrish every single second. When I don't feel like pretending tea-party yet again, I remind myself that she won't be begging for my company in a few years and I will MISS these times!

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