Of the many parenting dilemmas I’ve encountered since becoming a mom, one of the most unexpected is that I hate playing with my kids. To be fair, it’s not all the time and not everything. Overall being at home with my kids every day is the greatest joy of my life. But there are some days when my daughter asking me to play with her is more nails on a chalkboard than music to my ears.
It was a relief to me to Google this topic and find there are other parents out there encountering this same dilemma. And almost every post on this issue has a paragraph or three about how they really are a good mom. Really. They love their kids. They just don’t love playing with them ALL THE TIME. And they feel really guilty about it.
It’s like when you research formula feeding your baby and every blog post or article carefully explains the medical reasons the mom writing the article HAD to use formula. She’s not a bad mom she assures you. She had NO OTHER CHOICE.
Ladies, it’s cool. I believe you! You have your reasons.
I will spare you that here. I’m a good mom. No other qualifiers needed.
Back to our dilemma.
For years my husband and I have been quietly proud of the fact that our daughter is able to play independently. From the time she could hold a toy she has spent hours sitting happily on the floor creating complicated stories and worlds out of stuffed animals or plastic toys from the dollar store. It’s adorable to watch and requires blessedly little parental interference.
Then she turned four. I only mention her exact age because multiple posts about hating to play with your kids mention a kid who is four. There must be something about that age. And I know what it is. They get bossy!
Ellie still loves to play with her animal friends, both stuffed and the plastic dollar store variety. But now she wants Mom or Dad to sit next to her taking instructions. And not moving a muscle unless and until she’s given us said instructions.
My favorite description of playing with a four-year-old was in this post on Scary Mommy. When my daughter asks me to play with her, what she really means is sit next to her and let her dictate every word I say and every move I make for the next hour. Can’t do it, Sunshine. It makes Mommy want to put her head through a wall.
This post isn’t just a rant about feeling trapped when I play with my daughter. Although it’s good to get it off my chest. It includes some helpful tips too.
If the idea of playing with your child has you screaming into a pillow, here are some tips to help you enjoy play time with your kid again. Or at least get through it sanity intact.
What to Do When You Hate Playing with Your Kids
1. Play Something You Do Like
While I don’t enjoy sitting next to my daughter while she plays dictator, there are plenty of things we do together that I do enjoy. When I want to spend time with her but can’t stand another minute of the plastic animal parade, I suggest a new activity.
I love taking my kids outside. We can run around, get some air. I’ll play tag, push them on the swings, go for a walk. It’s all fun. For all of us.
When the weather isn’t optimal for outside play, I invite my daughter to choose a book we can read together. Or have her help me make cookies.
Basically, I suggest you have a go-to list of activities you can do with your child one-on-one that won’t make you bonkers.
2. Invite a Friend
My daughter will be starting preschool in the fall. And swimming lessons in a few weeks. She started attending Sunday school several months ago. All of these new activities are great ways for her to play with other kids and make friends. She’s ready. She clearly craves interaction when she plays and it would be great if some of that interaction came from her peers instead of her parents.
Unfortunately, not many of my friends have kids the same age as my daughter. And those that do have schedules that don’t align well with ours. But whenever there is an opportunity, I think it’s a great idea to have a play date and bring your child a friend to boss around. I mean play with.
And when there are no little friends available, throw Daddy under the bus. That’s right, I said it. I do it all the time. “You need someone to play with, Honey? There’s Dad. He’ll play with you! Yay!”
3. Give Up and Give In
I really hate to disappoint my daughter. When she asks me to play with her, I do often end up giving in. And having a blast!
No seriously. Like I said, it isn’t my idea of fun. But here are some ways to play with your kids and not lose your mind.
Set a Time Limit
One way to play with my daughter and save my sanity is to set a time limit. And I let my daughter know. I usually max out at about ten minutes. So, I will tell Ellie I can play plastic animal party for ten minutes but then Mom has to go make dinner. Or run a lap around the house. Or take a nap. Anything that will end play time.
Pick Your Moments
Giving in to mom and daughter playtime works best when I am not staring at a messy house, a sink full of dishes, and a mountain of laundry. It’s easier to be charmed by my daughter’s dictatorial style of playing together when the stress of housework or dinner or my lengthy to-do list isn’t breathing down my neck.
Consider it a Patience Test
When I was a kid whenever I had to endure something long, difficult, boring, or otherwise unpleasant my dad would tell me to consider it a patience test.
Plus you probably feel guilty for not playing with your kids enough. And the fact that you don’t really enjoy it when you do. So, jump in, relieve your guilt, wipe your conscience. What’s another sacrifice in the name of mom guilt?
Is it Just Me?
Does anyone else feel like this about playing with your kids? At least some of the time? Or are you all loving it? If you have tips for making playing with your kids more fun, please share them in the comments!