Thursday, November 20, 2014

I Don't Like Playing With My Kids

I haven't worked this all out in my mind yet to figure out what it all means, but I have an admission to make.  A lot of the time, I....really don't like...playing with my kids.


I feel guilty about this.  My whole life, when I pictured myself as a mother, I imagined running around with my kids, taking them to parks, joining them in games playing with toys, and simply having lots of fun with them.  And I do have my moments where I like to be silly with them and dance and sing and play pretend and give tickles and have fun. 

But the majority of the time?  I'd seriously rather stand in the kitchen washing dishes and gazing at the kids out the back window than have to go outside with them and play. 

I like watching them, snuggling them, or talking with them.  But I don't like to be their entertainment.  I tell Sly, "Mommy's job is to take care of the family and the house.  Your job is just to play.  So go play!"  But they want me to play with them all the time.  And I have to force myself.

I dread Sly asking me to play Candyland with him.  I feel like I'd rather do anything else.  Playing four-year-old-level board games is done completely as an act of love and for no other reason.

Am I not giving them enough attention at other times?  Perhaps I'm not being "present" enough when we are spending time together?  Or maybe it's just that I've never been good with young children?  I can't figure out if there is a problem with me not wanting to play with them, or if it is just a manifestation of my particular temperament.

I love my kids, I love being around my kids.  But it's so much nicer when Tom's wrestling with them on the floor, and I'm just sitting in the room near them, maybe sewing or paging through a magazine...enjoying the sounds and sights of my happy children. 

I feel drawn to the image of the typical mother of a couple generations ago who would feed the kids breakfast, give them a kiss, and send them out the door to go run around the neighborhood with other kids all day.  Mother as the holder-down-of-the-fort.  The mother hen who the little chicks come running back to at the end of the day.

This was all driven home for me recently because Tom was on a business trip and I had to take care of everyone on my own for several days.  Day times were fine, because we have our general schedule and I'm used to being home with the kids during that time.  But evening would hit - which is usually when Tom plays with them for a couple hours before bed - and I found myself thinking desperately, "what do I doooooo with them?!" 

I know that kids learn and relate to people largely through play.  And I absolutely want a good relationship with my kids.  So for now, I guess I just need to grin and bare it some days.  When they're older, hopefully we can strengthen that relationship based on other interests and ways of relating.

Thoughts?  Advice?  


  1. Ummm, I absolutely relate. Honestly, I really try to avoid playing with Claire and Maggie. My goal is for them to play independently or with each other. I like to read books with them and I somewhat enjoy doing simple art projects with them, but that's pretty much it. I feel guilty about it too...

  2. (Agreed. Candyland = sheer torture.)
    Thanks for writing this, Christine! I don't like playing with my kids either. The VERY rare times that I do, i'ts a sacrificial act :) I felt guilty about this for about one second. I just don't relate to my kids through play. The things my kids and I do that are "our" special things are nature walks, craft projects, reading books, puzzles, and cultural-ish things (concerts, operas, museums, etc...) If I played with them too, I'd never get a break ;) The best part of all of this, though, is that my husband LOVES to play with the kids and so we are a perfect parental team for our kids. My kids get lots of games of chase, football, wrestling, and Candyland in with him. I stopped going to playgrounds with them, because I want my husband to sit and chat with me while the kids romp around but he would rather run around and play with them :) Ok - I'm starting to ramble. I guess my point is, we enrich our children's lives with our strengths and talents, and if it's not through "play" it's not like we're ignoring them. We are giving them the best part of us, which just happens to be something else :)

    1. unrelated, but I wanted to apologize for not replying to a comment of yours at my place to a while now. It was regarding Tomie DePaola and I just got to it this morning. sorry :(

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. I don't know if that link I tried works. Here's the address...

      sorry to be wreaking havoc on your comment stats this morning ;)

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I had a couple of thoughts. First, I am not one who enjoys, nor am terribly good at, playing with my daughter either. I can tolerate something fairly structured like Candyland, but anything that requires the least bit of "off the cuff" creativity, such as make-believe, and I just bomb at it-- big time! Add to this that my daughter loves to do the same bit over and over (and over and over) again, and I just about go nuts from the repetitive boredom! My husband is far more tolerant and talented at it than I! And I know the guilt and self-doubt this triggers very well indeed!

    My second thought, though, is that perhaps we have no reason to feel guilty or doubt ourselves. Perhaps we were never meant to be a child's principal entertainer and playmate. This notion that in order to be a good parent we must entertain our kids, and create elaborate games/foods/moments for them that make every moment of their childhood magical and amazing, is very new. Historically this is not the norm, as you pointed out. And I have to wonder if "mom as entertainer/playmate/magical elf" is the best model for our kids. I worry about how such an adult driven/structured/supervised approach affects kids' abilities to interact independently-- to form friendships, resolve disputes, and so on. Last year I took my daughter to my best friend's son's sixth birthday party. It was held at this indoor playground that was simply filled with the most amazing equipment I had ever seen. All his school friends were there, along with their parents. And as the party progressed, I couldn't help but notice that most of these five and six year old kids, mostly boys, spent as much time, if not more time, playing with their mom/dad as they did with their friends! And so I worry about the effect this model of parenting has on our kids.

    Tl;dr: No need to feel guilty about not loving spending every moment entertaining/playing with our kids--we're their parents, not their playmates!

  5. I don't think you're alone in this... I vaguely remember back in my high school days when I used to babysit, thinking it would be nice to be the mom because you wouldn't have to play with the kids the whole time like they expect you to when you're the babysitter :-) And I think I enjoy playing with kids more than many (although I admit to "cheating" at Candyland to get any one of us to the end faster).

    Also, its not your job to be the entertainment! I mean, its good to play with them and have fun, and you should sometimes (as you obviously know) but its not your job. I would think this would all get easier and easier as the kids get older, too, because they'll be able to play more independently, and they'll have each other. Probably in 10 years Sly will be like "do I have to play another game of Candyland with ___?"

  6. I like what other commenters have said, but I think too that you may find as they get older that you enjoy spending time with/interacting with/playing with them more. I remember people used to be shocked when I said that I truly enjoyed teaching teenagers, but did not enjoy at all teaching elementary school students. That was my job and not my life, so there are differences, but I think some people are just suited to different age groups.

    As far as my parenting experience, I know that my husband didn't understand how enthralled I was with the newborn phase, but once they started doing stuff, he loved spending time with them. But my interest actually starts waning around then, until they hit 3 or 4 and can talk more about what they think about and feel. I love hanging out with my 3 year old and his buddy that I babysit who's only a month younger. But I have a hard time with his 6 year old brother that I watch after school. There are also other dynamics at play there (not my kid, for example), so I don't know if I'll still have that problem with my own kids when they get to be that age. Guess we'll have to see!

  7. I second your thoughts, Christine! :)

  8. It gets easier when they get a little older. They start playing with each other better. I can totally relate, and when my daughter asks me if I can "play store" or something, I just freeze in a cold dread. Since there are so many of them now to entertain each other (and teenagers to organize basement games and wrestling matches), it is pretty rare that I am cornered into playing. HOWEVER, since it has gotten a lot less frequent as they've gotten older and more siblings around everywhere they look, I try to not say "no", if I'm not really doing anything else. I can't play if I'm busy with chores, but if they catch me playing Candy Crush on my phone, ha ha, I really don't have an excuse and I will get up and go play because obviously, I couldn't live with myself if I didn't.

    One tip that I have, is that sometimes if I find myself with a few free moments and a little energy in my step, I like to surprise one of them by asking them to play with me. (this is rare, like once every few months, rare) I'll say, "Peter, could you please play catch with me in the basement?" and the look of sheer delight and awe is worth everything in the world. It's easier to be pro-active sometimes when I do have the energy, and then I don't feel as guilty when I have to say "no, Mommy is folding laundry".

  9. I almost never play with my kids. And, I don't feel one iota of guilt about it either. Occasionally I play a board game with the older ones (that I do enjoy), but never pretend games or cars or trucks or whatever. I read stories, I talk to them, I teach them, I cuddle them, I hug them, but I almost never play with them. The point of play is that it's fun, it's enjoyable. If it's not fun and enjoyable for me, then it's not play. I think the most important thing is that you spend time with your kids..but that doesn't have to be coudl be reading stories or cooking or just talking.

  10. I completely relate and as far as I’m concerned, since I gave birth to their siblings, I have already provided them with the best entertainment available. :)

  11. Well, I'm the same. I bake with them and take them on walks and we read. We've had a couple Family Game Nights but aside from that I don't do board games or hide and seek. Soon enough Stella will be able to really do these things with him and he will likely stop asking you.

  12. Yes times a million.
    My friend was telling me that one of her friends was over (she is a developmental psychologist) and my friend said she hated playing with her kids. The Psychologist laughed and said that she SHOULD hate it. As adults we are so very developmentally beyond playing trains or Candyland that we should hate it.
    So there you go. Someone who knows says you are right in hating it.

  13. My mother never played with me when I was a child. And I was an only child, so no live-in playmates. She thought housework was more important. Of course many children's games are boring, but they're only young once.

  14. Yeah, totally with you on this one. I think there's a lot to be said for investing time in playing with them and TEACHING them how to play independently. So I might set up a tea party for the girls and pour the "tea" and cook things in their play kitchen and then get up and leave once they're playing with each other. Or I'll show the older kids something they can make with legos and then leave them to their own devices - it really does get more fun as they get older, but also less necessary because they can entertain themselves and play with each other. You're not a full-time Gymboree teacher - it's not your job to entertain!