Do you struggle with actually WANTING to play with your kids? These three keys for how to enjoy playing with your kids will help you ditch the guilt and strengthen your family.
Confession: sometimes I don’t want to play with my kids. I have one child who can happily entertain himself for long periods of time, and one who is constantly begging me to play with him.
I want to be an involved mom. I want to make beautiful memories with my kids. I know these days will fly by and be gone before I know it. But sometimes I CAN NOT stand the thought of acting out Paw Patrol one more time.
How do we reconcile the two? How do I actually enjoy playing with my kids without feeling like my brain is turning to mush?
3 Keys for how to enjoy playing with your kids:
1. Schedule it.
For better or worse, I am a goal-driven, task-oriented person who likes to cross things off my to-do list each day. The problem with this mentality and motherhood is that I cannot check off “raised my child” at the end of the day. I know that the love and attention I give to my boys is SO important (it’s why I chose to be a stay-at-home mom in the first place), but sometimes a morning spent playing with blocks and re-enacting Mario Kart races in the basement with tricycles leaves me feeling less than productive.
So, if I can’t “accomplish” the big goal of raising happy healthy humans in one day, what can I cross off? I can cross off doing the laundry, running errands, making crafts, etc. In my need to feel productive, I sometimes neglect to give my boys the attention they need and deserve.
It’s all a balancing act, right? It’s important to do the cooking and cleaning, too. However, awhile ago I started to set aside a few chunks of time each day to be really actively involved in playing with my kids. We do “mommy school” in the morning, and I also set aside some time in the afternoon to play. There is no magic number (at least not that I know about). Just pick a block of time (or two or three) each day where you will focus on your kids.
Blocking out the time each day to play makes it more deliberate, and it becomes a choice I make to invest in my children. It also allows me the mental freedom to block out times for other things at other times, like exercise or cleaning, without feeling neglectful. When the time is set aside for the purpose of intentional play, I am more present with my kids, and I enjoy it more.
2. Put down your phone.
This is essential. During your set aside play time, PUT DOWN YOUR PHONE. And not right next to you. Set it down across the room, or in another room all together. Ugh, how many times have I sabotaged play time with my kids by “just checking one thing really quick” on my phone that turned into too much time passing where I half-heartedly played while scrolling through Facebook or Pinterest.
“Yeah, buddy. I like your tower.”
“Just a minute. Mommy’s looking at something.”
No more. A month or so ago, I made the conscious decision to set my phone OUT of reach for more hours each day. It turns out that social media is really not going to fulfill your need for connection with the outside world. I get it. By four o’clock most days I am DONE playing mommy. I’m tired. I’ve been around little people all day, and I could desperately use some adult conversation. But I started to realize that I was turning to my phone as an escape far too often, and that I wasn’t feeling any more fulfilled after scrolling through who-knows-what on my phone than I felt before.
Now, I do have to admit that I started setting my phone down mostly because my phone’s battery has been dying all the time, so I have to plug it in two or more times a day or it dies on me in the middle of the grocery store. However, that stupid battery has become a huge blessing to me because it opened my eyes to the reality of my phone addiction.
Before I got a smart phone 4 years ago, I didn’t even WANT one. I was proud of my low-tech phone. And now I can’t live without it?
Actually, I can. At least for a few hours each day, I can. We all can.
We can hear the ding of a notification and let it wait while we finish one more game of Go Fish.
We can look up that “one quick thing” after we’re done measuring how many Legos tall our kids are.
We can liberate ourselves from the itch to check phones and instead become more engaged in real life.
Keep in mind, it’s not just about giving our kids the attention they want. I’ve realized that once I put down my phone and really participate in playing with my boys, I enjoy playing with them more. I see more of the funny things they do, I notice more of their weird comments, and laugh more at their crazy antics. There are still sibling quarrels to referee and tantrums to deal with. However, in between the less-than-pleasant parts of daily mothering, when I’m present, I catch sight of more of the beautiful moments that otherwise slip quietly past, completely unnoticed.
Find common ground.
I know, finding common ground with a two-year-old can be tricky. Our goals and priorities are not exactly aligned. However, I really believe that the final key to enjoying play time with your child is to treat your child like any other friend. Meaning, find something you both like to do. I think that moms sometimes have the mistaken idea that “good” or “loving” moms have to play whatever their child wants to do, but I believe it’s important to teach our kids that relationships are a two-way street. It’s not helpful for them to expect everyone else to cater to their every whim. I want my kids to know how to navigate friendships and “find a way to play together” (as Daniel Tiger would say).
Ask yourself, what do I enjoy doing with my kids?
There are lots of things I like doing with my boys. I could read books for hours. I like cooking. I think coloring is fun. I enjoy board games, going for walks, and working in the yard. We do a lot of those things because we ALL enjoy them.
That’s not to say that I never play things with my son that I don’t love. I think that sacrificing your own preferences to what you know another person would like is a way to show your love (like when I watch football with my husband).
For example, I loathe the game Chutes and Ladders (I rue the day I unwittingly bought it), but this morning, I agreed to play it. Little Man knows that I don’t love the game–I’ve told him on several occasions–but today I played it with him because he likes it. You know what he did? He was so surprised that I agreed to play that he gave me a big hug and thanked me for playing. He understood that it was something I did purely because I know it matters to him. If I agreed to play all the time, I would be grumpy and he wouldn’t appreciate the sacrifice. But, as is, it becomes a rare treat.
Just like with deliberately choosing to set aside time to play, you can choose whether to show a bit of extra love by doing an activity you don’t particularly enjoy or to look for something you can all truly enjoy. Whichever way you go, you will enjoy the activity more because you are actively choosing it, rather than just “giving in” or “surviving” one more hour.
I still don’t always jump up and down at the thought of spending 10-12 hours by myself with my kids all day. BUT…as I’ve taken more control over my relationship with my kids, and looked for ways to enjoy my time with them, I’ve been a happier, more fulfilled mom. I still have a long way to go…and I still forget to take my own advice some days. But, I’m seeing progress. And we’re all at least a little happier because of it.
What do YOU do to enjoy playing with your kids?