If You Suck at Playtime with Kids It's Totally Okay to Just Stop

I suck at playing games. It’s true.

I suck at playing games. It’s true. And because of my immense suckage (to use the technical term), I don’t really like playing.

From the time 22 years ago when I was laughed off the volleyball court, to the time 22 days ago when I plied my friends with food and wine on “game night” (hoping they’d forget to play Settlers of Cataan), I have sucked at playing and therefore actively avoid it.

Given this strange condition, filling the space in a day with three young children can present a few challenges.

Recently my girls and I were enjoying one of the first sunny and warm afternoons of the season. I called each of my three-year-old’s friends to come join us burn through our new bubble blowing kit. Sadly, they were not available. After my last phone call, my daughter could tell it was another “no.” She hung her head and begrudgingly said, “Come on, Mummy. Let’s play school. *Sigh*

Hmm. Seems my kids (and super into Cataan friends) have caught on.

It’s not that I’m not playful; au contraire, mon frère. I am very playful by nature. I can get those girls excited about finding a small puddle to jump in. I can inspire them to stop walking from here to there and start dancing (or marching, or slinking like snails) instead. I can turn the most mundane of errands into an afternoon adventure. And you should see what I can do with a theme. I guess I would say I am good at directing play. And launching those little levered plastic jumping frogs across the room.

I would say too that I am very good at purposeful play. I love reading together (until the twins eat the books). I love colouring together (until the twins eat the crayons). I love making things out of play dough together (until the twins eat the playdough). I really love pretending I am the host of a cooking show while they sit in their booster chairs and watch me make dinner (until, ironically, no one eats the food).

We have the most success in our day if I am doing things with my children while they are doing something else. In the biz we call this tandem play. If we are engaged in our own activities in the same room, together but separate, we usually manage to attain room-wide peace. I also see this as an opportunity for me to demonstrate concentration and following through. For example, let’s say I am sweeping the floor; they can see me focused on a task and sticking with that task from start to finish. Sometimes I will even sit and read a magazine while they are playing. I see this as an opportunity to model my love of reading for my girls. And also it is an opportunity to keep up with the Kardashians.

Otherwise, if I am too engaged in trying to play with them as opposed to near them, I just get in the way. I try to over direct, and teach them things, and give mini lectures, and intervene too much in their squabbles, and monitor who’s had a turn with which shopping cart and baby stroller. Plus, I don’t like it when we’re playing pretend and it doesn’t go my way.

I have the maturity of an eight-year-old.

Further, I believe that play is the child’s work. It is through play that they start to figure things out. Our generation is very good at enrolling our kids in a host of activities to enrich their lives, and not so good at remembering the value that comes from just being a kid. They need to “rassle” with each other to learn what is acceptable and when to pull back, how to read and react the needs and emotions of others. In the biz, we call this empathy. They need to experiment acting out that which they see modelled around them, helping their development of language, motor skills, and understanding of social roles. They need the chance to build things, have them knocked over by a maniacal sibling and recover from that. In the biz, we call that resilience. What they don’t need is me stepping in to give ideas as to how they could do something in a better or more educational way.

Moreover, I believe that the task of parenting is to teach the child how to live as part of a group (thank you, Alyson Schafer). And in no group living situation across any species on Earth that I’m aware, is it the job of the parent to entertain the child. Nor the job of the child to be entertained. My responsibility is to give them the skills they need to communicate, to forge healthy relationships, to cope with setbacks, and to instill the sense that they are a person of value and loved every minute of every day. I can do this most effectively without being at the centre of their playtime, wearing wings and a tiara.

Although truthfully, I never say no to a tiara or good set of wings. Or to running the imaginary taco stand that we turned our puppet theatre into. Just wait till they find out I changed the imaginary salsa recipe.

Previously published at Medium.
IMAGE SOURCE: MEGGYZAZA VIA GETTY IMAGES

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Taco enthusiast, lover of vinyl, gazer of stars, and mama of three little girls under six (including twins), Leisse Wilcox is a family lifestyle writer with a background in education and marketing.  She can be found balancing her time between laughing so hard that it hurts, daydreaming about an A frame cabin in the woods, and loving her three little girlies to the moon and back.