Honestly, Sometimes I Can’t Stand Playing With My Kids

Sometimes, I can’t help but be ashamed of how little time I spend playing with my kids. As a stay-at-home mom, I always envisioned myself fully engaged with my kids every second of every day. I imagined us doing crafts and playing with simple wooden toys and never, ever watching TV. I thought most of our days would be spent playing together, and that I would wholly and completely love it.

However, this is not the reality at all. I spend most of my time making food for my three kids, cleaning up messes, and breaking up sibling fights. Most of parenthood is a lot of work and not nearly enough play. Even when I do find wide-open swaths of time to spend playing with my kids, the truth is, I often don’t want to. Not because I don’t want to spend quality time with them, but because honestly, the things my kids want to play are so mind-numbingly boring.

My daughter, for example, loves to play with pony figurines. In my mind, I can totally swoon at the idea of the two of us engrossed in imaginative play for hours on end. In reality, however, I can barely get through five minutes of pony play before I am looking for any excuse to get out of it. My daughter narrates what her ponies are saying and then tells me how my pony is supposed to respond so I can repeat the words back to her. That’s a one person game, my dear.

My older son likes to build with legos and snap circuits, and he’s super good at it. Me on the other hand? Not so much. I can make a lego square or lego rectangle. I cannot sit and come up with some sort of amazing creation on the fly. Give me some instructions, sure, I’ll do it, but freestyle building is not my jam. Nor is science anything. Again, five minutes and I’m aching for an out.

My littlest boy is all about cars. This one is actually not so bad. Not because it isn’t boring—it definitely is. But it literally requires nothing of me but lying on the ground while he drives cars over my mountainous legs. I can read a book while he does it. I can get out my laptop and do the budget. As long as I am there and ready to serve his purpose as a hot wheels obstacle course, everyone can be happy. Why can’t it all be so blissful?

It’s not that I don’t try to enjoy my playtime with my kids. I honestly make an effort to play the games they want to play, even when I am internally screaming. I try to take a stronger interest in the subjects my kids enjoy. I try to make it a meditative experience of being present, in spite of the pangs of boredom. Yet no matter how hard I try to stay engaged, I can’t escape the fact that some of the things kids want to play are just boring as hell.  

For a long time I felt really guilty about not wanting to play with my kids. But now, I’m done feeling guilty about it. I’m not a bad mom because my ideal day doesn’t involve ponies or legos. In fact, I think it makes me a pretty normal mom and human being. So instead of trying to seize every moment, I have fun with what I can and change what I can’t.

Now, I try to divert their attention to other, less difficult-to-enjoy pursuits, like bike riding or coloring or having me read them a good chapter book. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stamp out their unique interests. I still want them to play ponies and legos and cars. I just don’t want to play those things with them. They can play those things with each other, with their friends, on their own – and I can enjoy a moment of peace while they do.

Gemma Hartley is a freelance writer with a BA in writing from The University of Nevada, Reno. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Glamour, Women’s Health, Babble, Yahoo Parenting and more. She lives in Reno, NV with her husband, three young children, an awesome dog and a terrible cat.

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