I was on cloud nine. My seven-year-old son was actually letting me hold his hand…and we were skipping! What could have induced this amazing turn of events? Why the “Happiest Place on Earth,” of course.
We danced around Jiminy Cricket trash receptacles, jumped over concrete benches, and sang along to the never ending soundtrack of Disney themed music. How sad that it took three days into our family vacation to Disneyland for me to let loose enough to feel like a kid again.
I’ve given that experience a lot of thought. What was it that made me feel free and playful? Why is it so hard for me to feel that way every day? Why do I struggle to have fun with my children?
Somehow in the years between childhood and mommyhood, I lost not only my ability but also my desire to play. Sure, I love the idea of some R&R with my husband or a girls-night-out. But, what happened to the little girl who loved to sit down and play Barbies or make nana-soup in the backyard?
I am a “to-do” mommy. I have my list. Every morning I hit the ground and GO. There are meals to make, laundry to fold, emails to send, children to chauffeur, appointments to be made, and…well, you know the routine. I am motivated by my list. I feel an urgency to “GO, GO, GO!” It is difficult for me to slow down long enough to play, or even have fun.
For some mothers, the magic of playing still comes very naturally. But, I’m going to venture a guess that I’m not alone in my struggles with this. I’ve had to intentionally add the word “play” back into my vocabulary. So if you are like me and need to make yourself play with your children, schedule it in! I have found that when I take even fifteen minutes to stop what I’m doing and do what my child wants to do, it has worked wonders for my relationships with my children.
We are all familiar with the fire-safety phrase “Stop, drop, and roll.” For the safeguarding of our relationships with our children, I propose we all need to take the time to “Stop, sit, and play.”
The kind of play you do is completely dependant on what your children enjoy. I have boys who love to play LEGO’s. My designs are rarely as imaginative as theirs, but they always praise what I’ve made and love that I’m on the floor with them. Last week one of my sons came up with the idea of making letters out of LEGO’s, and wanted to spell his name. He got stuck on the lower-case “e” and asked me to help him. I was so grateful that, because I had built with him in the past, he knew I would make time to help him with his project.
It’s okay to guide the play to something you enjoy too. Everyone, including you, should take a turn in choosing the activity. Sometimes we build a blanket fort, kick a ball, or play a board game. Having all boys, we don’t ever play dolls or have tea parties, but sometimes I require them to help me bake cookies. Often we will snuggle up and read a book.
With my baby I have to set a time in my day where I stop whatever I’m doing, sit on the floor, and build with blocks or roll a ball. We climb stairs, look out the window, or sing songs. Sometimes my mind wanders to all the things I ‘should’ be doing, but I have learned that ‘should’ is all relative. What I should do is enjoy my children while I have them.
If you have teenagers, play a computer game or app together. I know, you may get that ‘look’ when you volunteer, but if you’re persistent, your teens will appreciate your efforts to spend time with them. Think about what they are interested in and then get creative. You might watch a sports event or music performance. You could plan a meal and make it together. Ask them what they would like to do.
Besides taking a few minutes a day to play with my children, our family has also implemented outings and date nights. If my children have completed all their jobs during the week, they earn our Friday after-school-outing. Sometimes we go to a museum or park; other times we’ll eat one-dollar cardboard pizza and watch a movie.
My husband and I swap each month which children we take individually on a date. Last month I took my seven-year-old out to shop for decorations for his birthday party. I was thrilled when he came up behind me later that day and gave me a big hug.
I still struggle with the “stop” part of “Stop, sit, and play.” It’s not easy for me to walk away from what I’m trying to accomplish in a day. Making action figures talk to each other isn’t on my “Top Ten Fun Things to Do” list; but getting a random hug is well worth the time investment. And surprisingly, more often than not, I end up enjoying myself and even find the carefree child within.
QUESTION: Are you allowing, or making, yourself take time to play with your children? If not, when can you schedule it in?
CHALLENGE: Pick a time of day when you can spend at least fifteen minutes doing something one-on-one with your child/children. If you aren’t already, plan at least one outing a month doing something fun as a family. This doesn’t have to cost money. It can be a trip to the park, library, or local recreation area. You can fly a kite or play a board game. (Watching T.V. doesn’t count.) Try to just do something where you are spending time having fun together.
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Kristine Jones says
I have to sometimes reist the urge to have Polly Pocket #1 say to Polly #2, “Let’s clean our house and organize our clothes.” Playing with my kids often gets transformed into cleaning with them. Thanks for the reminder to just play with our kids with no strings attached.
Rachel Nielson says
Fantastic article! I love the idea of scheduling a time to have fun (that may be the only way that it will happen for me).
As part of the approval process for our adoption, we had to take a parenting class. It was very interesting and informative! The social worker who presented the class devoted a good amount of time to discussing “play” and why it is absolutely imperative to the normal, healthy development of children. He recommended that a parent have 30-minutes of unstructured playtime with their children every day. This can be all of the children together, and it rotates who is in charge of leading the play. He said when he gets home from work, his children know that it is playtime with Dad. He will come in the door, loosen his tie, and say, “Let’s play!” and they all cheer. (How cute is that?) He said we need to get down on the floor with our kids, look in their eyes, and tell them through our body language that they are important. I have tried to remember this advice, as I am definitely a “to-do list mommy.”
I’ve also thought about how this advice could be applied in a marriage. Often when my husband gets home from work, it is “Go go go!” “Can you help me with dinner?” “Noah needs to be put to bed.” “Let’s talk over the week’s activities.” Blah blah blah. It does wonders for our marriage when I just sit down with him, look him in the eye, and talk to him/laugh with him. I’ve tried to remember the 30-minutes of unstructured play for him too–going for a walk, playing a board game (I hate board games), whatever he wants to do. This is much easier said than done, but it’s something that I have tried to do at least occasionally.
Sorry for the long comment, but you got me thinking. Thanks, Elsje!
Mary Jenkins says
This is such a great article Elsje! For years I have struggled with just sitting and playing or even playing at all. When my daughter was a baby I would sit and play with blocks or roll the ball with her, while simultaneously cleaning up the toys around me and putting things back on the shelf. When I actually do “stop” during the day to play toys with my son I sit in the middle of his room and similarly create games to help clean up. I have found myself more than once while playing thinking, “But I’m sitting here not getting anything done! There is so much on my to-do list.” This article has helped remind me there is no job more important to be done than spending time with our children. The laundry, dishes, etc. can all wait.
Elsje Denison says
Thanks! This was written awhile ago, and it’s still something I struggle with, but I’ve found I’m so much happier with my relationship with my kids when I do it!
Thanks for this reminder Elsje! It is a timely for me, as I’ve realized that the more I stop, sit, and play, the less likely my toddler son is to try and get my attention in other (negative) ways.
Koni Smith says
I read this today, Elsje (I know, I’m a little behind 🙂 ) and stopped and built a tower of blocks with my 1 year old. It felt good and fun! Thanks for the reminder!!
Ginny Kubitz Moyer says
I really needed this reminder today! Thank you.
Yes, great reminder! I also think it’s okay to have “fun on the run” with your kids when you are in an inevitable “go” mode. Sometimes when times are truly busy, I think it’s enough to simply act or talk in a fun way with your kids while doing not so fun things. But I still need to “stop, sit, and play” more!
I love that thought Allyson! Especially as my kids are getting to be on the go themselves. Sometimes it’s more a matter of being silly with them while we’re all on the go. Thanks for sharing!
Stacie D. says
This has been on my mind. Thanks for the reminder and the great ideas!