Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
Dear Scary Mommy,
I’m a stay-at-home mom of two kids, ages five and three. Because I’m home with them all day I feel like a big part of my “job description” should be playing with them, especially since they’re always asking me to. But honestly, it is like torture for me. I hate playing with my kids. My daughter dictates everything I should do every time we play. My son wants me to crawl around or chase him which I hated doing even when I was a kid myself. It isn’t that I don’t want to spend time with them, it’s that the kind of time they’re asking for is soul-sucking. Then I feel horrible guilt because I tell myself I shouldn’t feel this way. Help!
Oh, I feel you. My own four kids are older now, but of all the things I do miss about their early childhood, playing is not one of them. So right off the bat, I can assure you that not only are you not alone in this, but it’s probably more common than you actually think. I mean, it’s not exactly fun to play when your kid is telling you which doll or action figure you should be, and where you should put it, and what you should make it say. Or when you’re crawling around on knees that are creaking more than a scary door in a horror movie, getting up close and personal with the floor, and all you can think of is how badly you need to deep clean your carpet.
My first solution was to find something I could enjoy doing with my kids. And honestly, these were mostly things that I could be lazy with. They had one of those little doctor kits, for example, and I would just lie on their bed while being poked and prodded with various plastic tools for twenty minutes. They were safely occupied and I could close my eyes?! WIN WIN! I also didn’t mind playing “restaurant,” wherein I sat down and let them deliver me Goldfish crackers in the pots and pans from their toy kitchen. There was also “painter,” where they used dry paint brushes or their fingers to draw letters or pictures on my back and I’d guess what they were, which basically consisted of me taking a mini-nap on my stomach and letting out the occasional, “Is it a house?” or “Is it a dinosaur?”
My second solution was to find people who did like to play with kids and enlist them to do the dirty work. I’m lucky to have a brother who’s the kind of fun uncle that loves to wrestle and chase, and a husband whose knees held out long enough to give horsey rides. So did I pawn off playtime on the more willing parties? You bet your ass I did.
And thirdly, I came up with plenty of ways to spend quality time with my kids that didn’t involve playing. We would take walks together, or bake cookies, or read a book out loud, or watch funny animal videos on the internet. They were still getting the time with me that they needed, and it was more enjoyable for all of us. Because really, how fun would I have been as a playmate anyway, when I hated it with every fiber of my being? You can’t fake enthusiastic engagement forever.
Speaking as someone who has been there and come out the other side — my kids are tweens and teens now — I can confidently tell you that we’re all close, that my lack of play in no way hindered our relationships, and that we’re not racking up therapy bills because I didn’t play enough with their Ninja Turtle figurines.
When it comes to spending time with kids, that’s what they want most: your time. Your presence. What you spend it doing matters so much less than you think it does.