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Farming it out

shutterstock_162734723As I replied to Helen’s comment on this post, I don’t like to play with my kids. I like to play with other people’s kids in a structured, time-limited way such as the therapeutic hour because mostly what I’m doing is observing; with my own kids I’m counting down the minutes until I can go read my book. I don’t mind occasional (emphasis on occasional) board games, puzzles, building or other task-oriented play but despite loving to play-pretend as a child, I never really liked to play-pretend with my kids. Oh sure, I’d attend a tea party now and then or “babysit” a doll so they could finish up an adventure but those times were rare, as my kids themselves will tell you.

Their dad is great at it. He’ll get down on the floor and move the little guys around and make the little guys talk to the other little guys but me, I’d rather stay over here with my book, thanks.

I may be lousy at playing but I’m great at talking. Give me a deep discussion or a quick conversation and I’m there. Ask me about sex, drugs, rock and roll and religion and I’m up for it. That’s how I parent — I’m about talking.

Their dad is less great at that. Go ahead, ask him something potentially controversial and watch him change the subject so fast that you’ll be discussing the weather without even realizing how well he’s deflected your question. But he’s got that playing thing down.

My husband is great at some things and I’m great at other things. And you, you’re great at things, too, just not all the things because none of us is great at all the things.

I know a lot of parents feel guilty because they don’t like to play (or paint or cook or whatever) with their kids and I want you to know that I am a licensed expert on this parenting stuff as well as an advocate for less guilt, more joy parenting and I absolve you. You are absolved.

Now your kids still need to play but that doesn’t mean that they need to play with you all of the time. If you like to play then go for it. Do it lots. If not? That’s fine, too.

There are lots of parents who don’t like crafty things (me, I’m raising my hand again) or messy things like fingerpaint or playdough (these I can do). That’s fine. You can farm that stuff out. You can sign them up for a great preschool where they’ll get lots of messy play time or you can look to the library for crafts or you can check out the rec center to see if they offer sewing classes for middle schoolers. You can enlist friends and relatives or ask if anyone knows someone willing to come teach your child archery or Minecraft for cash or barter. You can ask your neighbors if their fourteen year old will come over and talk Pokemon with your obsessed 5-year old while you cook dinner so you can listen to a not-safe-for-children podcast instead.

And you don’t have to play with your kids, or at least not as much as they’d like you to. You will probably have to play some. You will probably have to sip some imaginary coffee they make you or run around the backyard fighting bad guys a little bit but you can say no. You can be not into playing and super into other stuff.

That’s fine.

It takes a village, this parenting thing, and the village can cover the things you don’t like to do so that you can really really really enjoy spending time with your child doing the things that you both like.

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  1. I struggle greatly with this. My 4 yo is constantly asking to play and I really really dislike the kind of playing she enjoys. But I don’t have grandparents or aunties and uncles or any of her cousins nearby. There is nobody to farm this out to. And I think it affects her because she has such a great desire/need to play with me. It doesn’t help that I work a lot from home and thus am visible yet unavailable with my eyes glued to my computer. I understand there are other parents who don’t particularly love playing kid games and pretending to be fairies trying to save a tree by brushing it with leaves (one game I bit my tongue through). But what about when this is a sort of love language for your child and there isn’t a community at the ready to play with my child? I feel like I am letting her down and she’ll look back and say “My mom would never play with me as a child, it was so frustrating, I VOW to always play with my daughter.”

    • AB, I really like how you frame this as a love language! I worked from home during much of my kids’ younger years and I so appreciate how hard it is to be there but not be available or to have to put kids off because an emergency or tight deadline has come up; juggling that is really difficult. If you’re willing to do some play — and it sounds like you are — then you can schedule it in and set a timer. You can do this once or twice a day — however much your schedule and sanity allows. As far as letting her down, honestly I think most kids would love unlimited time with parents playing or chatting or cuddling but none of us has unlimited time to give so we will necessarily always be disappointing. But if we give what we can — and when I say what we can I mean what we can give without resentment so martyring ourselves to the cause doesn’t count — then it has to be enough. Fifteen minutes (or whatever time you can do) brushing trees with leaves sounds like a real gift to your child even if she would rather you do it for an hour or two. Of course she’d like more because we’d all like more of fun stuff but if that’s really all you can give joyfully (mostly) and willingly (mostly) then that’s enough. It really and truly is enough.

      • Thank you :-)


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