Monday, 6 May 2013

I'm sorry kids, but no; I don't want to play

Yes, that's me.... playing on the beach

Mummy; will you come and play?

I really really hope it isn't just me that gets a little tired of the mantra coming from my two girls far too many (in my opinion) times a day: "Mummy; will you come and play?".

I have always been conscious that I am a parent. Even when the girls were really little and I was playing "Incy Wincy Spider" up their arms, I knew that I wasn't there to just be their playmate.

I am very aware of the burden of responsibility I have as a parent to teach them how to grow up to be kind, considerate, polite, intelligent, knowledgeable, courteous, civil members of society. I know that I can't do that AND be their best mate at the same time.

Or; let me elaborate further; I know I can't always be their best friend. A lot of the time I will have to pull rank to be successful as a parent and I know that my words won't hold as much weight if I spend a lot of my time trying to also be their best bud.

Teaching life skills

Another life skill I want to teach them is tricky to explain in one word. It's the skill of having patience, thinking for oneself and occupying oneself. It's the opposite of instant gratification. Children only learn this through practise. being encouraged to wait for things; learning to queue; learning to entertain oneself. Perhaps "self sufficiency" comes closest to explaining what I mean.

I consider myself fairly good at this one. I was nearly 8 years old when my sister was born, so I knew how to spend hours entertaining myself with Lego, Wendy houses, playing dolls, teddy bear picnics, and later in life I happily read, write, choreograph and so on, without the need for external stimuli. It probably explains why, when I do venture into the world of computer games I prefer the sort where you create and build things, rather than shooting, blowing up and racing cars. Smurf Village is a current addiction.

So, since our girls are only 2 years apart, I do encourage them to entertain themselves and learn to play and use their imagination. I don't want to 'entertain' them every moment of the day as they won't then learn patience, nor have the opportunity to think for themselves. They have each other to play with, which can be a great thing, but sometimes I encourage them to play their own games independently. I should make it clear that I do a fair amount of playing, but it is in short stints -like a quick 5 minute racing game across the back lawn, or a couple of rounds of Snakes and Ladders.

Emotional turmoil

Regardless of all this sensible thinking, I still feel something of a heel when, come the moment that my kids want to play, it's the last thing I want to do at that moment in time. I feel like I should WANT to play.

I want to play sometimes obviously. But, more often than not I just don't feel like putting in the effort, for, as any carer will tell you, playing games with a 4 year old and a 6 year old can be hard work. Particularly on those occasions when they ask; "will you play with us Mummy?" and I make the effort and say "OK, what are we playing?" And they say, "we don't know what to play." Quite honestly, in those moments, I have been know to say "well let me know when you've decided" and settled back down on the sofa.

What your dad might say

Apparently there is plenty of research that tells us that we 'entertain' our offspring so much these days in the UK that it is detrimental to their development. Really? I respond sarcastically - I wonder how much of my taxes they spent working out that obvious conclusion. I refer you to my thoughts on self-sufficiency above. My dad could have told the researchers this too.

Anyone's dad who is around 60 years old will tell you that "when they were a kid their parents didn't play games with them. They played out with their mates, in the garden making dens, down the park, messing about down by the brook climbing trees and generally exploring." What a pity those Enid Blyton style days of letting the children explore and roam the local village are gone. I hope that we take note of what we have lost in this new world of closed front gates and paranoid parents. Let's not aggravate the loss of that freedom by micro-parenting our children.

Next time they "want to play", it might be time to suggest they go out into the garden and make themselves a den. As for us parents? Well maybe we get to be people again, and not solely servants to our kids.

What do you think?

What do you think? Do you think you should want to play with your kids and feel bad when actually you just want to be left to read the paper, do chores undisturbed and have adult conversations with your own, same generation, friends? Or do you spend all your time entertaining your children and wish you could step away and encourage them to entertain themselves a bit more? Have you experienced that heart-sinking feeling when you've just sat down after a long day and they ask the 'question'?

Is it a cultural thing? Do we, in the UK, entertain our children more than, say, French parents?

Let me know your thoughts. I'd love to hear from you.


  1. I very rarely play with my kids, I never have. Three kids in under five years plus a job, plus a husband with his own business who works long hours doesn't leave much time for playing! I do enjoy it when I do, but much prefer playing outside with them to playing board games or (horror of horrors!) pretend games. Luckily my kids are the self-sufficient type!

    1. Probably because they've been given the opportunity to be! It is interesting how capable children are when given the chance.

      Very glad that the first comment on this one supports me! Was worried lots of people would tell me off!

  2. I love playing with my grandkids - except when they want to play "dogs". I'm always the owner, which is boring. But then I am no good at barking either...

    1. My kids haven't played this particular game yet. they have, however, discovered playing "horses", which is absolutely not great for my back!

  3. Great post!

    I'm always encouraging my kids to play by themselves. I do think quality time is important but as the name suggests, its about quality not quantity!

    I'm in total agreement about previous generations. Kids are losing their sense of adventure and imagination these days.

    And learning to entertain yourself and enjoy your own company is a must!

    Operation: Be His Mother

    1. Glad you concur! Thanks for visiting. :-)

  4. I love this post. I currently work full time and my daughter is almost 2. I come home from work and playing is the last thing on my mind. I do however give it a go but its never for very long - partly because by the time i'm home we are straight into the evening routine of tea, bath, milk and bed but also because I am just so flipping tired! xxx

    1. Working full time is definitely an added challenge. I started back at work full time only 5 months ago and am finding it challenging. Sooo tired when get in. I feel your pain.

  5. I am the same. Working full time you are just too tired. But I also feel guilty about it. But as my son is an only child like myself I know how important it is for him to use his imagination. Now he plays well on his own. He closes the door to his room and you can hear him playing his own games and making stuff up. It's fab when you know you have house chores to do.

    1. Avoiding chores is probably the only time I'm tempted to say Yes!

  6. I love playing with Ronnie, but then again I work full time so when I come home I'm absolutely desperate to be with him and play. I guess because we have big chunks of time away from one another it changes the situation, not sure if I'd feel the same if I didn't work though!

    1. I've not been working full-time for long, so I haven't got to that point yet. I think the days and days of playing are keeping me going for a while!

  7. I must say that I used to play with DD1but did so less and less with subsequent children. Number 4 is now 19 months and I think that her borther and sisters are better suited than me to play with her :)
    I agree that it's good for children to know how to entertain themselves. I also think that, in spite of our best efforts, we can't really recreate the same enthusiasm and imagination that they display when they play, and we always have to make it educationnal...! Let them roam free ! ;)

    1. That's an interesting observation. Children aren't stupid and know if you are faking enthusiasm. I wonder whether it's better to be honest and say " I really don't want to play at the moment", or to lie and then play 'falsely'? I probably think the former.

      It's easier to say no when you have more children too, as they do entertain each other!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  8. I am enjoying your blog just found it today. This post has a real resonance with me after a very late weekend at home with my toddlers. We did things together but on the whole I let them be while I stayed on the sofa and endured a draining visit from aunt flo. I kept thinking I should do this or that with the kiddies but couldn't get my act together.

    If I'd have micrmanaged every minute of their day they never would have had an impromptu disco in the garden, neither would they have packed their bags and planned a lengthy 'journey'(destination unknown)

    Reading this tonight has reassured me that I have their best interests at heart whilst also looking after myself.

    1. I'm pleased you found it useful. I think it's important that children learn how to entertain themselves and, though it may sound odd, how to be bored. They also need to learn that we are their parents, not their servants -an important distinction learnt only when we allow ourselves to take time out for us sometimes too.

      It sounds like your children have great imagination!


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