Can you love your kids - and loathe their tea parties and Candy Land games? One honest mother confesses why she doesn't like playing with her kids. By Jennifer Steinhauer, REDBOOK.
I don't indulge in a lot of mommy guilt. But here is one thing I sadly must confess: I don't like to play.
I detest throwing balls, climbing trees, or pushing little trains across the kitchen floor, calling out "Woo woo!" Rarely have I been that mom standing at the top of the slide in the playground, wind in the face, gleefully ready to take a ride. When I am forced to race tiny dolls from room to room of their little bitty house, I find myself plotting my grocery list in my head.
Don't get me started on Candy Land. I'd rather get a bikini wax. One time, while playing a game of Battleship, I snuck my computer under the table and furiously tapped away at emails until I was busted.
Let me be perfectly clear: I love spending time with my two daughters. On my commute home from work each night, I begin to imagine their faces on the other side of the door of my house, the enveloping hugs, the smell of grass (my little one) and powdery perfume (my older child). Some nights my feet can barely ferry me fast enough and I acutely suffer every moment stolen from them by the inanities of the Washington metro system.
Related: 50 Ways to Stay Bonded with Your Kids
I like to read with my girls. I like to bake with them. I like to shop, talk, eat dinner, watch movies, run errands, ice skate, carve pumpkins, and walk along the beach with them, hot sand on our feet toward the relief of a salty wave. But I have never been one for sprawling across the floor with a load of dolls who are traveling to Norway via a layover on the coffee table (I'm told that's Belgium).
The dislike I feel for playtime is almost a visceral one, a tingling under my skin. Partly I am sure it is due to lack of patience. When will the game ever end? There is also my inherent inability to get down in it, to suspend reality and my to-do list. I'd rather supervise from a distance. Something about play makes me feel like a fraud: Who am I to pretend to be 4 years old? Though honestly, it's inexplicable, like someone else's aversion to cilantro. It just bugs me.
While some women admire one another's haircuts, or feel jealous of a friend's thighs, I envy those mothers who seem to take real and actual joy from throwing a ball one more time across the yard. I imagine their lives to be filled with patience and introspection and deep tolerance for pretending to lose at checkers. I assume their kids will end up happier, better adjusted, and more full of love toward their mothers, all because of the hours those moms spent eating plastic "steak" and "fried eggs" served from tiny kitchens.
Related: Date-Night Dresses Under $100
You may wonder if I was played with as a child. The truth is, I can't recall. I remember stamp-collecting with my father, and I know he was a fan of the game Sorry!, largely because he loved to say "SORRY!" loudly as he dragged his piece across the board, sending mine back to home.
Wait, my mother happens to be standing right here--let me ask her! She says we played Old Maid sometimes. She says she isn't sure if it was on the floor. Well, that's all she has on that. But I am not sure anyone who is now middle-aged had hyper-playful parents. The aggressive emphasis on play that is all around me now seems to be some extension of modern helicopter parenting, in which we assume there is a right way to have fun, and insist upon facilitating it.
Related: The Top 50 Date-Night Ideas of All Time
There are people who do actual research on this kind of thing, and they say that mother-child play varies from culture to culture, ranging from nonexistent to rather amped up. Outside of our Western, play-obsessed culture, parents tend to let their kids play by themselves--or else how would they get any work done? Here, as busy as we think we are, most of us can afford to play. But that doesn't mean I have to like it. And I'm not alone: My friend Andrea and I spent a good 30 minutes on a bench in our neighborhood park the other day, celebrating the fact that our children were playing together and not demanding it of us.
Then, our kids were racing toward us, asking us to throw a Frisbee. And we obliged. Because the older children no longer ask, and soon, neither will our smallest ones. The things we do as mothers that set off so much guilt--quitting nursing, failing to sign the permission slip--turn out to be fleeting. When the pleas for tea parties end and the last round of checkers is won, disliking play will just be one more piece of motherhood guilt I won't have to feel anymore. And of course, even if I'm relieved that the days of plastic food are over, a part of me will miss being asked to eat it.
More from REDBOOK:
- How Emotional Baggage Can Improve Your Marriage
- The 13 Most Exciting Chocolates in America
50 Knockout Date-Night Hairstyles
The Most Iconic Workwear of All Time