Why I Don’t Play With My Kids

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It sounds terrible doesn’t it.  “I don’t play with my kids”.  What a horrible, checked out, selfish mother.  She must not love her kids.  Her kids must not be bonded to her.  But I think I’m not alone and I think that there are many mothers out there forced to play Dora for the millionth time while the dirty dishes are piling up or they just want to read the last chapter of that book and they’re sooooo bored.

Yes, I don’t play with my kids.  First, I should clarify what I do do with my kids beyond caring for their needs.  I read to my kids, I take them for walks and to the park and splash pad.  I help them put together their marble run.  I teach them (of course, since I homeschool), I set up and help them with crafts, I snuggle in my bed with them in the morning and giggle, I roughhouse, I sing to them, I cuddle them, I bake with them, I tell them about when they were little, I comfort them, I push them in the swing, when they were babies I played peekaboo and patty cake and occasionally I play a board game with them.  I do many things with my kids and much of my day revolves around them, but I don’t play with them.

So what do I mean what I say “I don’t play with them”?  I don’t sit down and play Barbies. I don’t act out Frozen.  I don’t play tag at the park.  I don’t play in the sand with them.  I don’t line up cars with them.  I don’t play with the barn with them or the dollhouse.  I don’t pretend to fight monsters with them.  I don’t play restaurant.  I do activities with them but I don’t play like a child with them.  And I believe my children are better for it and I’m happier for it.  My children play independently for hours, since they were babies.  They come up with great imaginative games and I have freedom to do housework and do my own thing, yet we have a wonderful close relationship.

Why don’t I play with my kids?  There are a number of reasons.

1) Frankly, it’s boring.  I love hanging with my kids but it’s insanely boring to play Barbies or to drive cars around or pretend to have a tea party over and over and over.
2) I have things to do.  There’s always housework and laundry and cooking and preparing school materials and things I like to do such as crochet.  There’s paperwork and things to research and well, life is busy.
3) My kids don’t need me to entertain them.  They have learned to entertain themselves and can play for hours and hours without me.  This gives me time to do the things in number 2.
4) I don’t like to inject my adult perception of the world into my kids’ play.  Their minds are so pure and innocent.  I find I just can’t play on the same level as them and feel my adult experiences influence things too much when I try to play.  I’d rather leave them to their own child minded, pure, imaginative play.
5) My kids don’t want me to play with them.  If they catch me watching them play they get embarrassed.  They want to play without any judgement, good or bad, from adults.
6) Play time isn’t teaching time.  There are times for teaching, but pure play should be fully child led and full of exploration, not me trying to show them something or teach them something, taking away the chance for them to discover it themselves.
7) My children play longer, with more concentration and focus, without me.  When I’m involved I often have to interrupt the play to make dinner or deal with something or because I’m bored.  Without me they are free to play for long periods without interruptions.

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I do like to listen to my children play, their play makes me smile and often laugh, but I try not to let them catch me watching.  And I have the advantage of having my kids 18 months apart so they have a ready playmate.  Daycare also brings in new friends to play with.  I’ve worked hard on creating an environment that promotes play.  Open ended, battery free, quality toys, an organized playroom, toys that engage, limiting the toys so it’s not overwhelming, a safe outdoor place to play.  Play is very important to me.  So important that I feel my children’s play is better without me in it, only there when needed and creating the opportunity and environment for it.  I’m like the stage hand, in the background of their performance.

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3 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Play With My Kids

  1. I love this post but this is the first time visiting your site. Do you have any recommendations (either earlier blog posts, other websites, or books) of articles which talk more about how to create an environment where this is the standard? In particular I am looking for resources to share with my husband who finds it exhausting to engage our 19 mo all the time (he is her primary caregiver at the moment). I’d like to encourage him to adopt this model and learn how he can empower our daughter to play independently. Thanks!

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