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.