In response to yesterday’s post, a reader asked,
“how much time do you spend playing with DJ? I have a 4 year old boy who wants me to entertain him all day long. I can’t get anything done because even when I am not playing with him, he keeps begging me to and I feel so guilty telling him “no” so often. Why else am I staying home with him and making financial sacrifices if not to play with him? However, I have stuff to do! Any advice would be welcome!”
It probably won’t surprise you to know that this is one of the most common questions I receive, and I wish that when I was a brand-new mother, someone had told me what I’m going to tell you right now:
You don’t have to entertain your children all day.
In fact, you shouldn’t.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you should park your child in front of the TV all day and ignore him. On the contrary, you absolutely should spend quality time with him each day, but there are many ways to bond with children. I’m very close to all of my kids, and we spend a lot of time together, but very little of it involves playing with toys.
When I was a new mother with only one child, I worried that if I didn’t spend every waking moment interacting with Bee, she would fail to bond with me and we would never be close. I also thought that I had to somehow cram all of my housework, laundry, and cooking into her nap times in order to be a good parent, because anything less than that was neglectful. Fortunately, I soon realized that this is bullcrap.
Children need their parents’ attention, true, but this is only one of their needs. They also need:
-a clean, healthy environment
-happy, rested parents
-to learn creativity and self-sufficiency
-to understand that adults have responsibilities
-to learn the value of work
-to understand that the world doesn’t revolve around them
Sometimes people comment on how imaginative and independent my children are, and I always say, “Well, they didn’t come that way!” My children all have very different personalities; Cakes was the neediest, and the one who demanded the most attention from me. She was forever begging me to play with her, whereas DJ never asks me to play, and often seems annoyed if I attempt to. Bee was somewhere in the middle, but I handled their play time requests in the same way. We had a designated time – usually after nap – when we would play. If they asked me to play with them at other times I firmly told them, “Mommy is busy right now. I need to work.” If they continued to whine and pester me, I gave them 3 options:
1. They could find something constructive to do on their own, or with a sibling.
2. They could do chores.
3. They could take a nap.
I’m sure it goes without saying that they never chose option 2 or 3, and it didn’t take long for them to figure out that I wouldn’t entertain them all day, so they learned to entertain themselves.
It’s not my job as their mother to swoop in and prevent my kids from ever feeling the slightest bit of boredom or loneliness; they will have to learn to deal with these emotions some time. Furthermore, the attitude that parents must be involved in every one of their child’s activities is a relatively new phenomenon, and I neither share nor agree with it. When are these kids allowed to just be kids, free of adult interference? When do they get to figure things out for themselves? When I was growing up, I didn’t know a single kid who spent all day with their Mom. We were all busy running around the neighborhood, playing….because that’s what kids do while parents do grown-up stuff. Most experts agree with me that kids today are coddled and overprotected, and that helicopter parenting must stop because some kids never even learn the basics of caring for themselves. I actually know a Mom who calls her child’s college professors on his behalf to make excuses for his failure to turn in work on time (he’s 20 years old). She might think she’s helping him, but she’s actually doing him a great disservice.
My advice is this: let go of the play time guilt. I have. In fact, I can freely admit to you that I don’t even like playing. I love children and enjoy their company, but I don’t enjoy their activities. I find braiding pony hair and driving Hot Wheels cars around in circles to be excruciatingly boring, and do you know why? Because I’m an adult! Playing is a kid thing, and we need to let them get on with it. The less we join in, the better off they will be.[print-me/]