Playtime Pressure

I admit I have fallen into the mommy entertainer trap. Somewhere along the way I took it on as my responsibility to not only be the mother, but also the one-mom party bus of crafts, games and other diversions to fill an afternoon.

I feel guilty if my kids are bored—as if I’m doing something wrong or letting them down. I play Memory and princess make-believe and other equally mind-numbing games with them, all the while wondering if I am the only mom on the planet who secretly dreads playing for hours with their children.

So I felt a little freed by an article I read today on about how many parents feel the same way I do. No adult in their right mind looks forward to endless board games and tea parties.

What I got from the article is that playtime should be fun for both parent and child. It’s not my job as a mom to entertain my child, but it is my job to encourage and promote play in our house. That may be as simply as having an impromptu tickle fight on the floor.

My problem, though, is I am too involved in my kids’ playtime. They come to me for ideas on what to do rather than inventing their own game. I have recently realized that part of my job should be helping them learn to play independently. On a recent family trip, my girls played for hours with their gaggle of cousins who have grown up playing together. They don’t need an adult playing with them or directing their play. They just play and fight and work it out and play some more.

I noticed during that time that my daughters were happier, got along better with each other and were even more compliant with me. I didn’t have to pretend to be Rapunzel once!

I believe strongly in playtime. I think it’s critical to lifelong happiness to know how to play, and also to feel bonded with your parents and siblings through roughhousing and play. Childhood play teaches lifelong lessons about sportsmanship, imagination, reconciliation and self-sufficiency. A lot of those lessons simply can’t be learned if mom is your primary play partner or always there mediating every playdate.

So I am trying to approach playtime a little differently these days. I still get down on the floor and play and read books and plan crafts to do together. But I am also learning to say, “I don’t feel like playing that right now. Is there something else?” or just telling them that it is kids-only playtime and they need to come up with their own game.

More often than not, I end up joining their game because I get to just enjoy myself without directing the fun or engineering the play. And when playtime is actually fun for everyone, everybody wins.

How do you enjoy playtime with your kids?


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