Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Confession: I don't really play with my kids.

I almost never play with my kids.

I read to them all the time--it's our favorite thing to do.  We read picture books and chapter books and encyclopedias and I even read recipes on the rare occasion I can handle the mess and stress of cooking with them.

I sometimes give them a starter idea, like this morning when I handed them a cardboard tube full of plastic dinosaurs and suggested they create a prehistoric dino-land in the sandbox (and later have a dino-wash with soap and scrub brushes before the dinos are allowed back in the house), and I often set them up with supplies so that they can be creative (like the cardboard spaceship/doghouse that is on our front porch, complete with pink tissue paper and sparkly alphabet stickers), and OCCASIONALLY I may get talked into playing a board game or even a game of catch in the backyard.

But overall, I trust they will keep themselves occupied.  I even ignore them.  And...to tell the truth, I think it's good for them.  They know that I am always available for a hug or a kiss.  They know that I am frequently available for a "Wow! That sounds awesome!" and they know that sometimes I'm even available for a "Come see, Mama!"  They are always supervised, albeit sometimes through the window or even via the baby monitor that is still on in the hallway outside their bedroom.

So sometimes I worry that maybe they're not getting every kind of "enrichment" from me.  Like when I go to pick them up at their grandparents' house (the grandparents play with them and do projects and make them their special little helpers and all the things they can manage to do because they know we're coming to pick them up soon) and they wail that they never want to go back home with me.

But really, I remember when that grandma who devotes every moment to her little Jabber and her little Monkey told me to "go play outside" as she handed me a cup of Kool-Aid and locked the door behind me.  (It's hyperbole, Mom...no, you didn't really lock the door.  At least, not when it was below zero.  Not when there was lightning.  Much.)  I remember playing board games with myself.  (I even played Stratego against myself, which, if you know the object of Stratego, is pretty lame.)  I read books, drew pictures, played elaborate games with my stuffed animals and My Little Ponies and taught myself to play guitar and basically turned out okay.  And I was all alone for the nine years I waited for my parents to get around to giving me a sibling.  My kids are so lucky--they have a built in tormenter friend! 

So yeah, I think they sometimes start acting crazy because they're tired of hearing the tapping of my fingers on the keys and tired of waiting for me "to just finish this scene".  And sometimes I really would probably have more fun if I put down my paintbrush and helped them dig a dinosaur bog.  But overall, I'm happy with the way they can occupy themselves.  And when I see Jabber ride by on his bicycle, with his superhero mask and his tool belt full of mysterious objects, funny voices emanating from his constantly flapping mouth...or when I see Monkey, stubbornly wearing his fireman boots and holding "a lava bomb" as he sits on top of his "rowing crusher"--I think about how the freedom to occupy themselves might help them cope with life better than if I'm constantly guiding them or providing them with activities. 

I admit, there are ways to have the best of both worlds, ways that I periodically flirt with but ultimately find myself too adult-busy for.  A long time ago when I read the book Playful Parenting, I was really impressed with the free play time, where parents are told to play with the kids but to let the kids have the reins.  I further admit that this is hard for me.  I know that my kids love it when we do some of the things I read about in this book, especially playing with puppets or dolls or whatever to work through problems, teach lessons, build empathy.  So I try some of that, telling stories using some puppets we have--stories about a big brother and a little brother who don't always get along.

But more often than not, I hand them a cup of Kool-Aid and send them out the door.


cathellisen said...

I "play with my kids" in a similar fashion, and yanno - it means that they know not to rely on me to be their entertainer. They know how to entertain themselves, to use their imagination to come up with ideas and stories and games to play.

TBH sometimes I feel like such a slacker parent because I'm not sitting with them every hour, helping cut and glue shit, but at the end of the day, i just tell myself that it's not going to kill them to learn how to do stuff without all the mumsy hand-holding.

Although...I don't read much to them. I make Noa do all that.

Kristan said...

I was an only child whose parents worked 16 hr days; I know all about entertaining myself. And you know what? I agree that it can be good for kids. There's a big difference between having to fend for yourself, and just having to entertain yourself. My mom always made time for me when I needed her, and we did special things on weekends, but for the most part, I played make-believe, or watched TV and read, or built dollhouses out of cardboard. And I LOVED my childhood.

Honestly, I've never been bored a day in my life, whereas I see tons of people around me who constantly need PEOPLE! or THINGS! or MONEY! to be happy and entertained. All I need is my imagination, and I thank goodness every day for parents who nurtured that.

Lisa said...

Your kids are developing great skills. Having older kids, I can tell you, I started parenting when that whole "quality time" and "self-esteem" helicopter parenting really hit full force. Boy, was I shamed for not having my kids over-programmed or for not toting around humongous canvas bags full of stuff to keep them entertained when we went to a restaurant, for example.

My mom was not one for giving lots of advice, but I do recall her saying that I was the kids' mom, not their playmate and I'd regret it if I started entertaining them all the time.

And they are fine, possessing both friends and imaginations.

Oh, and those kids that were constantly stimulated when they were tots? Now I see them on Facebook constantly posting - going to Six Flags! At the movies! Bowling! and when they don't post those busy busy statuses? They post that one very important words. "Bored."

Shana said...

I love you for posting this. I am the exact same way with my kids. I rarely play with them. And it isn't that I don't like them, but I honestly find it dreadfully boring to sit and play a game with them or what have you. But, like you, I am always here if they need something or if they want to talk. I love talking to them! I am always here for a snuggle, because I love that too. And I enjoy taking them out and doing fun things like going to the beach or going for a walk. When we are home, though, they are on their own to entertain themselves for the most part. I make sure that they have plenty of art supplies on hand and plenty of toys and books. I provide them with snacks to keep their energy up and I check on them periodically when they are running outside, but that's it. Of course, I have to be here to mediate their bickering too, but what mom doesn't? ;-)

elissa said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! I think parenting is so...stressful. and there are so many people who do it better and with more dedication and less selfishness and I just know that for me, spending every ounce of energy entertaining my kids would make me unhappy and them bored when I'm not around.

(they would probably benefit from more of a balance, to be honest, but I guess there's always room for improvement, and structure is something I do all day long, so I get a little sick of it. When the boys are in school/daycare, I know they're getting the right mix of free play and structured time, but our summers turn into pretty lazy and loose, haha.)