I wonder how many times a day my sons ask me this. Actually, Thomas (3-years-old) just commands, “Play with me!” And why shouldn’t he? That’s what mums (and dads) are meant to do. But we’re also meant to provide nutritious meals, clean clothes to wear, get everyone where they need to go, and earn a living.
Before I became a parent, I imagined playing carefree with my children for long stretches of time each day. I didn’t realize that I would feel anxious as I built Duplo towers with my son because I needed to get dinner in the oven. Or struggle to engage fully in reenactments of emergency/superhero scenarios because I had a couple of phone calls to make before heading out for school pick-up. Before I became a parent, I also didn’t realize that I would refuse my children’s requests to play with them several times on any given day because I had other things to do.
So, I have a love-hate relationship with this question, Mummy, will you play with me? It fills me with both tenderness and guilt. When he asks, my son is inviting me into his world and wants to spend time with me—which I love. But sometimes I feel almost angry at him for asking me to play when I can’t say “yes.” Can’t you see I’m busy making school lunches? Don’t you know how much I have to do?!—which I hate. It is a constant jostle for my attention that I haven’t yet got right. And perhaps I won’t.
Remembering the Value of Play
When we play with our children, we affirm them. We show them that they are important to us and that the things they care about matter. Having fun together is also a natural way for people of any age to connect. When we don’t take time to play, our interactions with our children can be reduced to organizing and instructing them: “Go and put your shoes on.” “Where is your reading book?”
We find out lots about our children when we play with them, too. We discover new vocabulary they have picked up, get insights into their world view, and become privy to their dreams. When I commit to our play, my son and I are both present, in a state of spiritual alignment which feels nourishing for us both.
There have been times when I’ve noticed my boys’ behavior has gradually become more difficult for no obvious reason. Thinking about it further, I realize that I’ve been preoccupied and haven’t played much with them recently. When I go back to prioritizing playtime together, their behavior often becomes easier. They needed us to connect.
Here are some of the steps I’m taking to help me fit some quality playtime into each day:
5 Ways for Busy Parents to Play More with Their Children
- Remember that every little bit counts. A short time spent playing together is better than none. When one of my sons asks me to play, I’m trying to say, “Yes,” if I possibly can, even if it’s just for five minutes.
- Play something you and your child both enjoy. Our children can sense when we don’t really want to be playing with them and are doing so out of a sense of should. It’s likely they take it personally at times. The other morning, I was meant to be playing Star Wars with Jake but struggled to get enthused and wasn’t really doing much. He looked at me as if to say, “Well go on—play!” On the other hand, he and I bond over Legos. I even wrote a blog post called “Six Life Lessons Lego Taught Me.” I know I can be present and good company when we play with Legos.
- Build playtime into the daily routine. When something is built into our routine, we don’t question it or have to make time for it—it’s just what we do. In our family, we have a few parts of the day dedicated to playing together so that, if the day does get away on us, we have had some playtime to connect. When it’s my turn to get up with our boys at 6 AM, we play for nearly an hour until it’s time to make breakfast. After dinner every night, we have five minutes of playtime for the whole family to play together, no matter how late it is.
- Plan an extended playtime together occasionally. For me, this works best on the weekends. I mentally put aside a specific stretch of time for playing with my boys at least once each weekend and commit to an hour or more of playing and hanging out with them.
- Initiate play on your own terms. If I have ten minutes to wait until the washing machine has finished its cycle, instead of doing another job or checking my phone, I try to join whatever my boys are playing while it suits me. If they’re not engrossed in something, I suggest an activity I think we’ll all enjoy to do together. So far, they’ve never declined my invitation to play.
Time Well Spent
Playing with our children is a great way to practice some of our spiritual parenting values and beliefs, such as demonstrating our child’s worth to them, being present, and building loving relationships.
I don’t think parents should be their children’s main playmates. Playing with friends, siblings, and on their own is really important. But it is a special part of our role and worth making time for. I’ll be honest, there are times when playing feels like another thing I should do, but often I end up having fun. And I never regret spending time with my boys. It always feels like time well spent.
QUESTION: What playful activity do you and your child both genuinely enjoy doing together—an activity you can do full-heartedly, without thinking of your to-do list?
CHALLENGE: Create a place in your daily routine for non-negotiable playtime with your kids. Even just five minutes. If it goes for longer than 5—bonus!
Edited for Power of Moms by Nollie Haws and Kimberly Price
This post originally appeared on Julie Louisson’s site, Nurturing Little Souls.