I’m a little afraid to admit this, but I’m going to anyway. I think giving some light to this failing of mine, and how I plan to improve it, might help myself and others.
Here goes: I’m not particularly good at playing with my kids.
No-one tells you how hard the simple act of play can be. Or maybe they do, and it just doesn’t register, in the way that, “Get as much sleep as you can now, because there will be precious little given to you when you have a new baby,” didn’t register with me.
And just because I’m not very good at play does not mean I don’t do it. Because I do. A lot.
But I’ve recently realised two things about play:
- I put the “need to do” tasks first. Tasks like laundry, vacuuming, tidying the kitchen and folding clothes.
- When I play with the kids, I’m not always there. Sure, I’m there with them, squeezing the playdough or cutting and gluing and crafting. But often I’m not engaged with what’s happening.
Instead I’m thinking about the laundry that needs doing, or the emails I have to answer. I think about the process my afternoon will follow as I tidy up, get dinner ready, run through showers and books and bedtime rhythms. I’m not there.
And not only does this steal my attention from the kids, but it robs me of energy and joy.
For so long I would put off the kids’ requests for hide and seek, until I would eventually acquiesce and play half-heartedly for 10 minutes. But I began noticing the sheer joy they got from playing – with me, no less – and suddenly it no longer felt like an imposition. It felt like a privilege.
So I have renewed my effort to really be in the game, whether it’s hide and seek, snap, puzzle-playing or playdough-making. And the day that I asked our four year old if she wanted to play hide and seek? Well, that was priceless. It was also humbling.
So I think we need to learn to adjust our thinking on what needs to happen. Does the ironing need to happen? Or does your child need to feel like you want to spend time together?
And yes, the laundry does need to happen. And the dinner and the sweeping and the seemingly endless tasks involved in running a household. But what if – sometimes, at least – these happened after play? What if they weren’t the number one priority all the time? What if we said yes to play first?
Grow your account balance.
I can’t remember where I read it, but there is an idea in parenting that I have found incredibly helpful when making these sorts of decisions and working out my priorities for the way we want to live.
The idea that we have a ‘bank account’ with each of our children, and playing with them, reading and nurturing and reacting with kindness and compassion all deposit into this bank account. These actions help to grow your balance.
When things like errands or cleaning or phonecalls or work need to happen, even when the kids want to play? These are withdrawals, and they shrink the balance.
The idea is, of course, to keep the balance as healthy as possible, while also recognising that withdrawals are normal and something that our kids have to get used to.
How this affects my decisions.
Instead of going to the default way of thinking (ie. get the work done first so that the play can come later) I can instead picture what the balance of each bank account looks like and make a better, more well-rounded choice based on that.
So I’ve been saying yes to hide and seek so much more. And do you know what I’m seeing? The kids are happier not only when I play with them, but they are also more content to then play together for much longer. Part of that is simply the ages they’re at, but I also think it’s a reflection of our choice to engage more and to mindfully choose to spend quality time with them.
I know the pleasure and the frustration that is full-time stay-at-home parenting. When your kids are at a certain age all they want is you and your company. They don’t care if you need to do the laundry. They don’t see that dinner needs to be cooked and that you’re the one to do it. But your role includes those mundane, house-keeping duties just as much as playing hide and seek with your little ones. This results in (I can only speak for myself of course) a deep frustration.
I understand this, and am saying so because there are days when you will not be able to play endless games of hide and seek. Nor can you bear the thought of pulling out the playdough and the ensuing cleanup, because you’ve just mopped the floor.
So I get it, and the last thing I want is for what I have said above to be misconstrued as criticism or a veiled attempt to shame anyone for not doing enough. You know what needs to happen in your own life, so please read this as a support, not a criticism.
To conclude, the core idea of this post is one that could really apply to most areas of our life:
On those days that we can, I think we should.
Can I ask, do you feel a tension between play and work? How do you manage it?