do I have to?

I can’t play with my kids. Not something you want to admit at mother’s group, but there it is.

I’m not the kind of parent who can chase a toddler around the park without feeling a little self-conscious. I don’t think I’m very good at making cubbies and having tea-parties. And that won’t be me in the front row of a Wiggles concert, dancing and singing while clapping a child’s pudgy hands together in time to the music. I couldn’t even manage “here comes the choo-choo train” when my kids were starting on solids.

Parents who throw themselves into their children’s play with gay abandon are my heroes. At birthday parties they’re usually in the thick of the action, organising impromptu games of touch footy or teaching everyone how to do The Nutbush. I’m the one at the back flicking listlessly through last month’s glossy magazines or giggling with like-minded parents. And rest assured, I suffer a bit of the old Bad Mother-itis every single time.

I have many theories about my parental failure: too much responsibility as a child; fear of looking stupid; penchant for wearing expensive heels on play-dates – ok, so maybe now I’m just being silly. But the fact remains, I am not a player.

German educator Frederick Froebel  – the father of Kindergarten – is widely acknowledged as having coined the phrase, “Play is a child’s work.” I couldn’t agree more so I have always encouraged my kids to play. Our backyard is the envy of other kids with a trampoline, sandpit, swings, boxing bags, Tarzan ropes hung from trees and our gorgeous pet rabbit, Rex. I just don’t go out there to play.

When Indiana started school, and Levi and I were home alone, I used to dread being asked to play with him. He would get out his action figures and tell me, “Now, you be the bad guy and I’m gonna be Spiderman and the bad guy has to do this and then he’s gonna say to Spiderman…”

He lost me at ‘Now’. I would sit there grinding my teeth and praying for the game to be over.

But Levi’s mate Oscar knows exactly how to play with him. What’s more, he seems to actually enjoy it! I said to Oscar’s mum, “Oscar just gets Levi.” Unfortunately, when it comes to play, I don’t.

So how do I reconcile this, my shameful shortcoming?

Well I have decided that it’s a matter of playing to your strengths. So if you’re a Nutbush type of parent, then more power to you. And if you’re always up for a bit of cubby house creation I say embrace your inner Frank Lloyd Wright and build the cubby to beat all cubbies. That’s you up on stage with Hi-5? Bravo.

But those fabulous endeavours are not really part of my parenting repertoire so I looked to my own personal strengths. Books are the first thing that came to mind. I love reading to my kids and have done since they were newborns. I once even volunteered my services at my niece’s birthday party – a sort of Aunty Storytime.  (I was certain I would rival the usual party entertainment but found I was not quite as riveting as a petting zoo.)

And Luke and I love taking our kids to restaurants. Babycinos, Spaghetti Carbonara, Vietnamese quail – now that’s our kind of fun. Our kids have been happily eating out since they were babies.

Films are another of my passions and I would take the kids to the cinema twice a week if I could afford it. Levi, particularly, has inherited this passion and can almost debate the finer points of why ‘The Incredibles’ is so much better than ‘Cars’.

I believe that kids will play whether you get involved or not: as long as they have the space, a few props and, occasionally, a buddy or two.  Should I feel bad if I really can’t do the Hide ‘n’ Seek thing without stifling a yawn? I don’t think so.

Instead I say take your own passions – reading, eating out, stamp collecting – and make them a part of your kid’s world. Then stand back and watch them integrate what they have learned into their games. That’s where the real magic of play begins.

And, by the way, if you really are a great cubby house builder, can my kids come over to play?

Are you a ‘player’? What strengths are in your parenting repertoire?

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “do I have to?

  1. oh GOD!!!
    I love my kids to death but I hate playing with them. I mean, I don’t mind pushing them on the swings at the park, or having a bout of evening family dancing (yes, we do that…. long story), but when it comes to Hide and Seek or Monopoly or I Spy…. I’d rather stick needles in my eyes.
    I feel constantly guilty about it. But as with many aspects of my life as a mother, not quite guilty enough to change!!!

  2. Martin Shanahan

    When my youngest daughter was in Year 6 – and was also one of the Captains of her primary school disaster befell us both.

    I picked her up from school in the afternoon. As we started walking across the yard from her classroom I decided that we should have some fun. To her eternal mortification and never-ending embarrassment (she insists this remains true now three years later) I decided to start skipping.

    Now I had seen her skipping on this same yard not one day earlier – and she was enjoying herself immensely. Why with encouragement I was sure she would enjoy skipping with her father.

    Noooooo! Never!!!!! How can she instantaneously be absorbed by the tar surface of the playground.

    Once more I was squashed into proper shape.

  3. OMG! Once again…SHAZAM…same here!

    Except…I don’t mind doing the dancing thing. We will dance around the kitchen with the music blaring. But it’s the radio rather than Hi-5. And possibly something inappropriate, which I will sing loudly over when a dodgy lyric pops up.

    I don’t mind making the playdough, but once made, it’s up to the kids to use their imagination and go for it. Please don’t ask me to construct a dinosaur.

    I’ll play the odd board game. But it has to be quick. Monopoly is a reeeeally big commitment, and Hubby must be involved.

    And at the park? I’ll push the odd swing, but begrudgingly. Mostly, I wave my boys off to play on their own.

    And yes – I feel guilty about it. But like you, I’ll read until the cows come home, and always have.

    We’re all different, and all capable of different things. Our kids will turn out ok! x

  4. Lisa

    Ditto, ditto. Wow it’s like you’re talking about me. Love reading, petrified of parks. Ta for reducing some of that mother guilt!!

  5. An Idle Dad

    Are you guys kidding? Playing with kids is awesome! I’m happy to follow the spuds around the surf, checking out the latest sea-shell discoveries. My problem is kids are way fitter than I am, so I can’t keep up for long.
    I’ll hang with the Dads and drink brews and chew the fat but at least part of the day is spent playing.
    I love it.

  6. Oh you are speaking my language. I find it difficult to play with my kids and it is something I try and change weekly, but and up getting distracted by something else.

    Hopefully they won’t be too scarred by it.

  7. I’m with you. I’m not a player. (Probably not what an early childhood teacher should say) But both my own kids have amazing imagination, and amazing ability to be inventive, be self contained.
    I also very strongly believe that adults can hinder children when they get involved in their play, imposing (whether they mean to or not) adult ideals and boundaries. Play is the way children explore their world, make sense of their world, and push new boundaries in a safe, secure way.
    I think sometimes the best thing we can de as parents is to step back, observe, and only get involved when we are invited to do so.
    Ok, stopping now… I’ll save it for my thesis!

  8. I love toys. Just love them.

    Consequently my child has more toys than is healthy for an 8 year old. I just wish I did not have to share them.

    Funny thing is he much prefers make believe games and will spend hours and hours on the trampoline enacting some bizarre violent game while I play unhindered with his toys.

  9. Carol

    I failed playgroup!

  10. An Idle Dad

    Nomie, I hope you never try to paint different parenting styles in “my way good your way bad” colours because it’s a little disingenuous.
    I could say that just because you are unable to bond with your child and prefer to watch TV over teaching through play, you favour your theory, right?
    But really, it’s just different styles. We need different styles. It’s a good thing. Interaction with kids is never a bad thing. And leaving them alone to play is good as well. Just because your aren’t a player, doesn’t make the other way wrong.
    My daughters makes so many discoveries a day that make me laugh and look at things with new, fresh eyes. I’d miss ’em if I wasn’t there, playing.

  11. I have a thing about making an effort to play with my kids because I can so vividly recall the intense frustration and disappointment of trying to convince my mum (my dad wasn’t around) to play something with me. I do wonder whether it would have killed her to just feign enjoyment for the duration of a quick game of Uno! That said, I now realise she was tired and over-worked, and I think you’re right in saying that as long as you share your passions with your children and give them enough attention, they will feel included in your world, which is what they really want.

  12. Playing to your strengths is absolutely the answer. I’m a reader too, so books have been my window to my kids’ world. Husband is a gadget man, so he is in charge of all things tech (and trust me, as the kids get older, he is an invaluable asset!).

    I don’t do dolls (never did, even as a kid) but I have done hours of tea parties with my daughter and niece (I just pretend the pretend tea has pretend brandy in it, and we get along famously.)

    I have taught the kids blackjack and Texas Hold’em so I didn’t have to play another game of Go Fish. That’s good parenting right there.

  13. Pingback: Men play with kids because we don’t have puppies « Cooking with too much salt

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