“I hardly ever play with my children.”

Last night, as I lay in bed stroking my 6-year-old daughter’s hair, she rolled over and asked, “do you think you will maybe have time to play with my new plastic dolls with me tomorrow?” It wasn’t a frustrated or annoyed question, but her tone with these types of questions has recently shifted from a hopeful request to a hopeful request tinged with skepticism. After all, her skepticism is merited, the next 24 hours have now gone by and I never sat down and made up voices and scenarios for the small plastic dolls Grandma had recently sent in a box.

I have been wrestling with the fact that I am running out of time to play with my kids. And I only have three so far! Seriously, why is it so hard to squeeze in 30 minutes of doll voices for Viv or 20 minutes of metal car ramp-racing with the boys? Well, it is what you learned in Economics 101 – the opportunity cost. In those thirty minutes I could clean the lunch dishes or put away two baskets of folded laundry or squeeze in the 1st grade math lesson for the day. None of these other choices are selfish, and they are all in the interest of my kids health, education and safety. But is it really possible that I have come to the end of an era of sitting down and playing with my kids?  NO, I have refused to accept this conclusion. I continue to shove in some time every day. and my house is messier, and dinner is later and I sometimes don’t even read the daily Mass readings. But we play. But they just ask for it more. The more stories I make up while the 3-year-old poops on the potty the more he wants to sit there with me while I tell more. I am worried that I am creating unrealistic expectations, depriving them of the ability to self-entertain and really smothering myself a bit. But I have to play with them, right?

So I consulted the experts. Our homeschool group had a recent field trip to a splash park and I found myself alongside three mothers of large families who have orderly homes, homeschool to apparent perfection and have well-adjusted children. I just dropped my question in the middle of the circle — “Do your kids ask you to play with them all day long?” The three women looked at me with expressions that said, “nope” and then proceeded to explain that: that is what siblings are for, that our kids are already getting more of our time than most children because we homeschool and that it will never stop if I keep indulging their requests. One mom simply answered, “honestly, I hardly ever play with my kids.” She continued, “I read to them, I educate them, I cook with them, I clean with them, but they have to play with their siblings.”

I am kind of at a standstill. I feel dissatisfied with the advice I have received to this point, but at the same time, the demands of my home and family really do not seem conducive to the amount of time I have been devoting to play. We also have a difficult gender/age split that leaves my eldest rather solo on the types of games she would like to play. She is a good sport about building Bob the Builder houses and Brio train tracks for several hours a day, but can I really begrudge her the need to do My Little Pony hairdos and rearrange her doll house for the umpteenth time? Especially when I am the one keeping her away from the amount of peer contact that school children get.

How do you fit this in? Is it important enough for me to be losing my mind over it? How can I reorient three children who won’t even give me 30 minutes uninterrupted in the kitchen to prepare dinner? All suggestions, wisdom and critiques welcome here. I have no idea what I am doing – just that I love my kids and thank God that will carry us through no matter what.

  • http://www.megnanimity.blogspot.com MJDMOM

    Hmmm….I think you can overdo playing with your children but you can underdo it too.u00a0 There’s a happy medium.u00a0 We try to go on walks together, do activities together, play games together, tell stories etc, but I don’t usually play house or army guys.u00a0 The important question is really whether your children feel loved.u00a0 I have some who thrive on alone time with me, others on hugs, others on “doing stuff” together.u00a0 Have you ever read the book the 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman?u00a0 It talks about how different people feel loved through different things and that we most often give the type of love we respond to the best.u00a0 Maybe what you daughter is really telling you is that she is a “quality time” type of girl and she is looking for something more.u00a0 That doesn’t mean you need to play plastic dolls every day oru00a0anything.u00a0u00a0 I think siblings are important part of playing- and kids should be entertained all the time either.u00a0 BUT, that doesn’t mean as a mom I can never be fun.u00a0 I have to admit- homeschooling freaks me out from that perspective because I feel that I would actually spend less fun/free time with my children because I would always be hardpressed to get everything done.u00a0 That being said, I will be homeschooling a preschooler with two at home and two at school this year.u00a0 I have heard some child development types talk about that each child should get 1/2 hour of one on one time with each parent each week.u00a0 I never quite meet that, but it does spur me to make sure I do a little something with each one of them.u00a0 Also, as they get older they start to seek it out- I have one who gets up early just so she can chat with me while I eat breakfast and snuggle up next to me while I do my mental prayer.u00a0 She actually gets rather put out if someone else gets up early too!!


    That should read “Kids should not be entertained all the time”!

  • http://secondchancesblog.blogspot.com Second Chances

    I have the same struggle.u00a0 I have a 9 year old and a ten month old.u00a0 We experienced over 7 years of secondary infertility, so when I hear mom’s say that they don’t play with their children, I think, “what a luxury!”u00a0 I don’t mean this begrudgingly.u00a0 My son never had siblings to play with, and he is VERY interactive and social, so playing alone was torture for him.u00a0 So yes, I played with him a lot, especially as a little boy but even now with card games and reading together and board games and such.u00a0 Thankfully, we’re expecting again so my 10 month old will have a playmate close to his age.u00a0 Then I’ll be more in your predicament of how much to play with my kids.u00a0 I agree with you that the more we play with them, the harder it is to get them to NOT play with us!u00a0 It’s a balance that’s very hard to strike.

  • http://www.kareninmommyland.com Karen

    I occasionally play with my girls. u00a0My oldest needed me to be her constant playmate for the first four or five years of her life and she drove me crazy. u00a0She never learned how to play on her own. u00a0My younger daughter learned how to play by herself and only asks me once in a while to play with her. Usually when she comes to me, she wants her doll’s hair done or would like help building something. u00a0I get more requests to sit down and watch a movie with them or to play a few rounds of Mario Kart with them. u00a0nI spend a lot of my time trying to clean the house or taking care of other things of that nature. u00a0It’s nice to slow down once in a while and indulge them. u00a0In those moments when I have too much to do and I’m met with an impassioned plea to play with them or watch a movie, I try to remind myself that they’re not always going to ask me to play with them or watch a princess movie. u00a0The never ending housework will always be there. u00a0The kids, however, will grow up and leave home. u00a0

  • Harmony

    Hm, this is interesting to think about. I have just one so far (22 months) but hope to have several more despite a later-in-life start. I certainly “play” with my son now, because he needs a lot of guidance and demonstrations etc, but I have to say I’ve never envisioned playing with him at the age of 4, 6, 8… I am the middle child of 5 and was home schooled, and although I definitely spent a lot of quality time with my mom (including reading aloud, lessons, gardening, household chores, camping, walking together etc) I can’t remember her ever playing with me. I played with siblings sometimes, with neighborhood friends sometimes, by myself… This honestly seems to me like a question parents in eras past would not understand at all. Moms have work to do–they’re not kids anymore who have time to play! That’s how I think anyone from 40 years or more ago would see it, and I guess I think the same. I anticipate spending hours together every day in educational and “homestead” pursuits, but otherwise I doubt I’d have the time to “play dolls” or that I’d feel bad that I don’t. Maybe your daughter needs more play time with girlfriends?

  • Texas Mommy

    Great topic, AWOL. Didn’t you say awhile ago that you take some cues from the Laura Ingalls Wilder era? Not to suggest that the world is the same, but, as Harmony said, homesteading took up much time just to survive. The sisters had to play together with very minimal toys or help work. Yet, there was still time for stories and music and being loved in the evenings.u00a0nnI think the love languages point is also very apropos.u00a0

  • JMB

    I don’t remember playing with my children when they were little.u00a0 I hired sitters and mother’s helpers to play with the children.u00a0 My son was very social and he had a lot of play dates.u00a0 My girls had each other to play with.u00a0 Now that my children are older, I do spend one on one time with them.u00a0 We travel together, we get our nails done, we go shopping together, we walk the dogs together.u00a0 We clean together.u00a0 We read books together.u00a0 My son likes to come on errands with me and helps with the grocery shopping.u00a0 nnEvery mother and child relationship is different.u00a0 I think you have take into account your personality and what makes you tick.u00a0 Some moms love to play cards and board games with their children.u00a0 I always preferred to be outside with my children.u00a0 In the house, I was busy running the house, it was like my “office”.u00a0 But outside, that was my escape.u00a0 nn

  • http://LotsaLaundry.blogspot.com Julia at LotsaLaundry1

    There’s an alternative to the either/or: set aside a time once a week when each child gets “Mommy time”. nnThere’s a technique called floor time that’s used to help fragile kids that works fabulously with neurotypical kids as well. The idea is that you set aside 20 minutes to do whatever the child wants to do with you. Your job during that time is to be 100% focused, and to simply observe (“I see that pony has a lot of energy!”) and participate *on the child’s terms* rather than directing the play.No criticism is allowed. nnA little of this goes a long way with my kids; if I see one of them is getting cranky more often that usual I can whisper, “Whaddaya think of the idea of sneaking some Mommy Time this afternoon? I’d like that!” I usually ask them to thinking ahead about what they want to do with me, and when the time comes we set the timer and alert siblings that this is special, non-interruptible time.nnThis provides occasional, intense Mom focus. (With a fragile child, this is a daily event.) It’s not a substitute for having a playmat, but is a kind of middle ground.

  • Moira

    Maybe it is worth considering putting your daughter in school, or enrolling her in some sort of activities where she’ll get to regularly interact with other kids, especially girls her own age. Or plan regular playdates for her with other girls her age.nnI’m not trying to be critical when I suggest considering enrolling her in regular (vs. home) school. I home school my own 4 kids, and my youngest is the only girl. She is 4 now, and I am seriously considering enrolling her in kindergarten next school year. She needs a lot of social interaction as well as structure, and I just don’t think my teaching her is going to be the best way for her to learn. While we’ve got a while to decide, it’s something that we’ve started thinking about and struggling with already.

  • Clementsaylor

    I think there’s a big difference between entertaining your kids and playing with them. u00a0I try never to entertain them. u00a0My husband does, playing monster and tossing them up in the air and all, but he works so much during the week that those times happen infrequently enough not to create an expectation of being entertained in them. u00a0But I do try to play with mine (4 of them, homeschooled, ages 3-8) at least a few times a week. u00a0I always do my chores first, and try to keep a time limit (10 or 15 min) so I don’t feel like I’m catering to them. u00a0If someone really wants me to play with them, I’ll ask them to help me finish the dishes or laundry or whatever first and then I can play for 10 minutes. u00a0It’s the best part of my day when I can slow down and sit on the floor with them. u00a0I feel a lot more peace when I make time for play in my life.

  • Nichole

    I think almost anyone of us enjoys when a loved one takes part in an activity we enjoy whether they love the activity or not.u00a0 It feels good to share it with someone we love and we feel loved to have them join us if they do so with a good attitude or at least a willing, moderate one.u00a0 I think it’s fair to say that while we don’t have to regularly partake in every type of activity with our kids, it is good to join them from time to time if they are regularly asking us.u00a0

  • Pjeakenney

    I agree with the comment about setting a certain amount of time to play with them, even a couple of times a week.u00a0 I really struggle with playing with my kids (meaning dolls, blocks, etc), b/c it’s something I find difficult.u00a0 However, I know it means so much to them when I do.u00a0 I do read to them, take them to the beach, talk with them, homeschool them, watch the plays they put on, etc., but playing “dollhouse” or Legos is something I struggle with.u00a0 I do think I need to do it more often, b/c it does mean so much to them.u00a0 I think it’s something they would really remember.u00a0 I think sometimes those little things are more important than a perfect house or perfect lessons, however, I do think you can go way overboard and begin to resent those times together, which isn’t good either.u00a0 Moderation in all things, even moderation.