“Mommy, will you play with me?” I hear this question at least five times before I enjoy my breakfast. When my kindergartener gets home from school, I’m inundated by the same question while I’m in the midst of making snacks, sorting through the papers piling up on the counter, sweeping up crumbs, and preparing dinner. “Mommy, will you play with me?”
My typical response is usually something like, “Not right now, maybe later” or “I’m busy right now.” For my kids, later is never soon enough. They keep asking. The truth is I don’t always want to play with my kids. Pushing Paw Patrol vehicles around on the floor, dressing baby dolls, or playing with action figures is not how I imagine spending my time. As an adult managing a household, there often seems to be more pressing things to be done. On top of that, I would like to use some of my time to think about myself.
“Mommy, will you play with me?”
Feeling guilty for not playing, I found myself asking mom friends if they play with their kids and Googling things like, “I don’t like playing with my kids.” Through my Google search, I found articles written by parents confessing the very same thing that I was feeling. My friends told me they didn’t really play with their children. The words I read and the experiences of others offered some reassurance that there was nothing wrong with my approach. I was told to ditch the guilt I was carrying for not getting down on the floor and playing. The problem was that I still felt guilty.
To make matters worse, my son got very upset with me one day for not playing with him after he repeatedly asked me to. I mean yelling, crying, and accusing me of never playing with him. He even called me out for “always being on [my] phone.” Ouch! That one hurt. In the heat of the moment, I had to remind myself that the things my son said were not completely accurate, but that was his perception. As the parent, I had to take a step back and consider what my kids were really seeking each time they asked, “Mommy, will you play with me?”.
The “experts” may say that I don’t need to play with my kids or feel guilty about that choice, but as I study my children, I’m learning that it is not always about playing when they ask me to play. It is about connection. It is about me being present. If I’m honest, this is often a challenge for me. My brain is often overloaded with the tasks required to keep our lives in order and my own creative thoughts, all of which are battling for my time and attention.
After my son expressed what he was feeling, I knew I had to address what he said in some way. I let this moment become an opportunity for me to share my own feelings and model compromise. At dinner, I talked to both of my children about how I do want to spend time with them, but sometimes I just don’t enjoy the same activities as them. We talked about things that we like to do as individuals and tried to find some common ground. As a result, we were able to brainstorm some things that we could do together. We poured the Legos out on the family room floor and spent time building that night. I made sure to put my phone aside so I could be fully present and engaged.
I don’t know about you, but motherhood constantly teaches me something new and challenges me to be better. Some days I still feel guilty for not getting down on the floor when my kids ask me to play, but I’m learning to let that guilt go and focus on what’s most important, prioritizing connection.