Do You Play With Your Kids?

Filed under: Opinions


Lots of moms say playing with their kids is hard work. Photo courtesy of sxc.hu.

When it comes to parenthood, the tasks are endless -- feeding, bathing, diapering, dressing -- the list goes on and on. So when it comes time to get down on the floor and play, who can blame a mom if she's too tired to push Matchbox cars around for two hours?

Other moms, that's who. At least, that's what my friend Jenelle says. Jenelle and her son, James, were at our public library recently when another parent pressured Jenelle into abandoning her magazine for a round of Legos and puppets.

"James was playing with this woman and her son, and the woman was all, 'Oh, look, he wants to play with someone,'" Jenelle says. "I just smiled and kept reading, but she said it three or four times, until I finally felt like I had to play with him. I was totally annoyed, because that's why we go to the library, so he can play with other kids -- not me! I am not a play-on-the-floor mom."

An informal poll of my friends revealed that more than half of us -- myself included -- are less than enthusiastic about playing with our kids. Geez, I'm cringing even as I write that. Playing with your kids shouldn't feel like work, but for many of us, it does, and we definitely feel guilty about it.

"I feel enormous pressure and guilt when it comes to playing with my kids," says Mississippi mom Megan Jordan, 32. "I remember being pregnant with my second and reading an article about parents relearning how to play. At the time, I was still fairly enamored with being a mother and thought it was a little sad, but it's become a self-fulfilling prophesy. No sooner had I judged that article than I began having trouble coming up with dialog for the action figure I had been assigned for the moment."

Jordan is a busy mother of two boys, ages 4 and 2, and she is expecting her third child. The author of The Velveteen Mind and editor of BlogNosh Magazine, she says that she does not play with her kids every day: " I always thought I would, which makes me feel incredibly guilty. Instead, I probably [really] play with them every other day. On those other days, they basically play around me while I write or manage other tasks. I'm always with them, though not always tuned in."

Dr. Jennifer Canter is a pediatrician and mother of four, who also founded Play This Way Everyday, a company dedicated to enhancing interactive play between kids and parents. Canter says parents need to stop pressuring themselves to be the ideal playmate all the time, every day. Relax and enjoy the time you spend playing with your kids, no matter if it's for five minutes or two hours.

"Parenting can be stressful and the responsibilities on parents are enormous," Canter points out. "There are tremendous benefits to interactive, structured and free play. However, it is most important that the child and parent enjoy these special times together. One day it may be 10 minutes, another day an hour or two, and another day not at all. That's OK."

Play becomes more and more complex as children get older, she adds, and toddlers and preschoolers can exhaust parents with their imaginations. This is a good time to promote independent play, Canter advises. Definitely get in there and play pirates for awhile, but you can take a time out for coffee and a magazine, too.

That's good news for Jordan, who says she has a 20-minute limit. "If you could see me right now, you would be embarrassed for how much I'm cringing when I admit that I can tolerate on-the-floor play for usually no longer than 20 minutes," she says. "Playing cars is my best bet, but I still hit that 20 minute mark and crash into the wall."

Twenty minutes can sometimes feel like an eternity to me, when the siren song of dirty laundry and un-met deadlines drowns out my ability to impersonate a rainbow fairy or a frog disguised as a prince. But I do it, I get down there on the floor and roll a ball to the baby, or play Barbies with the big girl -- and I wonder just when it was that play started to feel more like work.

Are you a play-on-the-floor parent, and do you judge parents who are more hands-off?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.