At a MOPS meeting last year, a mom stood up front and told the group that she didn’t like to play with her children. A collective gasp and chuckle echoed through the room. But this got me thinking: do I really enjoy playing with my kids? Do I like sitting on the floor, being told my role in a make-believe game?
The answer was sometimes, yes, but sometimes, no. I love to be with my children, romping around outside with them, or creating towns with Legos. What I don’t love is hours and hours of playing house, school, or sometimes, movie re-enactments. This wears me out! So, what’s a mom like me to do?
When You Don’t Like Playing with Your Kids…
1. Realize that you don’t have to play all the time. Culturally, we’ve received this message that we have to play with our kids ALL the time. We should ignore our house work so we can play puzzles. Put down that spatula, because it’s time to change the dolly’s diaper. This isn’t healthy or practical. When I take the pressure off of myself- the pressure of trying to be my child’s entertainment 95% of the time– playing is much more enjoyable! Children need time on their own to explore, learn, and practice creativity. Try to strike a balance between playing with your child, and letting him or her play independently.
“The part of mother or teacher in the early years (indeed, all through life) is to sow opportunities, and then to keep in the background, ready with a guiding or restraining hand only when these are badly wanted. Mothers shirk their work and put it, as they would say, into better hands than their own, because they do not recognize that wise letting alone is the chief thing asked of them, seeing that every mother has in Nature an all-sufficient handmaid, who arranges for due work and due rest of mind, muscles, and senses.” Charlotte Mason, Home Education
2. Discover what you enjoy doing. There are a lot of activities that I LOVE doing with my children. I mentioned Legos, but I also love coloring with them. I love playing in their pretend kitchen. When H suggests an activity that I don’t enjoy as much, I try to compromise with her. We play her game for 30 minutes or so, and then we move on to something I enjoy more.
3.Teach your child how to play with others. One of the reasons I don’t like playing all of H’s make-believe games is that I am constantly told what to do so my role can fit into what she has imagined. While this child-led play is crucial for her, (I wrote about that in the first post of this series), she also needs to learn how to engage with others instead of being the puppeteer. Teaching this skill can make play more enjoyable, but also gives your child social skills to use with other children.
4. Create something together. When I need a break from playing, I pull out the craft bins. Making something together feeds both of our needs for a creative outlet.
5. Teach independent play. I often hear moms say, “My child just won’t play alone!” This is a skill that has to be taught. When we started working on this, I set my timer for 10 minutes and told Miss H that she had to play alone until the timer went off. When that became easy for her, I added a little bit of time to the clock. Now, she can play for 45 minutes to an hour independently. You can help develop this in younger children by paying attention to their independent play times. When Baby E sits and plays nicely, sometimes I want to swoop in and join the fun. But if I let him continue playing on his own, the skill of independent play will be developed earlier.
6. Get outside. A change of scenery always helps! Go to the park, take a nature walk, or play with outdoor toys.
7. Try a toy rotation. Rotating toys will prevents me from having to play with the same things over and over again. This also helps my children with the habit of attention, since they don’t have so many toys in front of them at once.
8. Change your thoughts. Charlotte Mason explained that a lot of our success in life comes from our ability to direct our thoughts.
“The knowledge of this way of the will is so far the secret of a happy life, that it is well worth imparting to the children. Are you cross? Change your thoughts. Are you tired of trying? Change your thoughts. Are you craving for things you are not to have? Change your thoughts; there is a power within you, your own will, which will enable you to turn your attention from thoughts that make you unhappy and wrong, to thoughts that make you happy and right.
When I feel frustrated that I’m being begged to play AGAIN, I change my thoughts to thankfulness. I thank God for the beautiful, healthy children that he gave me. For the fact that they are sweet and little. That they love playing with their mommy. That they love me. Focusing on the blessings allows me to find the beauty in every moment- even the down on the floor, played-this-game-a-million-times moments.