No More Play Time Guilt

 Posted by on January 14, 2015  Add comments  Tagged with:
Jan 142015

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
-nutritious meals
-sufficient sleep
-clean clothes
-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.


  8 Responses to “No More Play Time Guilt”

  1. Amen! I do feel guilty for saying “no” too much some days. So I work on saying “yes” when I can.

    Also, we are working on not being our kids “servant”….if they are capable of getting something them selves then they must do it. Some examples (9 and 5 yr old)- getting their own drinks of water, something i forgot to put on the table for dinner, finding their shoes/coats/toys ect….

  2. What was your expectation for this at different ages? I’m thinking young as my son is 18 months. I prep lunch and dinner immediately after breakfast and he is getting used to free playing at that time. Depending on the day he can go 20-30 min. before he starts being needy. He also has 2 times during the day where he plays by himself in his room. We’ve been doing that for several months and he does great. I still have a lot of time where I am in the floor with him chasing him around playing hide and seek. I want a good balance for sure and to be age appropriate as he gets older.

  3. Raise your hand if you dislike playing with kids! Yolanda raises her hand!! I too enjoy the time spent together but playing with toys etc. No, please!!

  4. hi heather!! Great advice!! I was,wondering if you could tell us the things you do do with your kids durning after nap time to connect with them that isn’t playing with toys?? I hate playing with toys too and we do a lot of games and puzzles and book reading which I love but I wasn’t sure if you could add to this list?? Thanks so much!!! Love love love your blog!!

  5. I don’t have children but I remember when I was a child. I agreed with your post until I read “I am an adult. Playing is a kid thing”. I realize the point you were trying to make, but I want to ensure you that at 50 and 51, my husband and I are big kids who love to play. It is important for adults to stay in touch with their child within and not believe because they are adults they have to act a certain way.

    • I’m not saying that adults can never play. I’m saying they shouldn’t feel guilty if they don’t want to. My husband likes to play with the kids, but he does it because it’s fun for him, not because he feels like he has to. I don’t enjoy playing, so I prefer to do other things with my children.

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