Around my daughter’s first birthday, I remember having a conversation with my mom that filled me with guilt. I admitted to her that I had no desire to play with my kid. I fully expected her to give me advice on how to change my mind about the issue. So I was shocked when she nodded her head. She said, “I didn’t like to play with you guys either. And, honestly, I had more than one kid, so I wouldn’t have to.” That brief conversation made me laugh, but it also relieved me that maybe I wasn’t such a terrible mom after all.
I have always found the pressure to play with your kids perplexing. It is something that modern moms tend to feel a great deal of guilt over if they have no desire, or time, to do it. But why? Is that our job? Is it in the best interest of our children? At least for me, I have concluded it is neither required nor important for me to play with my children. And they will still become decent, well-rounded, beautiful human beings. Here are five reasons I don’t play with my kids, and I have no guilt about it.
5 Reasons I Don’t Play With My Kids
1. I want to foster their creativity.
One of the many reasons that I appreciate my upbringing is that my sister and I used our imaginations all day, every day. We weren’t distracted by television, iPads, or loud, obnoxious toys. Nor did we depend upon our mom to keep us entertained. We knew that mom was there if we needed her. She would watch what we were doing every now and then, but her job was to take care of the home and our needs and, later on, a part-time job. So we pretended together and with our neighbor friends all the time. And it was wonderful! I want to instill the same sense of using one’s imagination in my kids. Especially in this noisy and distracting world we live in these days.
2. I want them to learn how to entertain themselves.
I can’t tell you how many times a day I hear one of my children whine about being bored. And every single time, I order them to find something to do. I’m not trying to be a mean mommy. And I’m not a bad parent, despite how it sounds. Learning how to tolerate boredom and entertain oneself is a vital life skill. Unfortunately, many kids don’t learn how to do it these days. Allowing children to learn how to entertain themselves will teach them self-motivation and problem-solving and probably help them discover a few passions as they try new things.
3. My job is to provide and protect.
I am a single mom of two young kids. My job is to provide for and protect my children. That includes working so that I can earn an income for my family. This means I have very little time to play. Even when I was a stay-at-home mom and did not need to worry about an income, my job was not to play with kids. My job was to take care of them and the house, the bills, the laundry, the grocery shopping, the cleaning, and my husband. Managing all of these things also left very little time for play. What my kids will learn by watching me work hard for our family is far more valuable to me than what they will gain from my playing with them all day.
4. It stresses me out.
I am terrible when it comes to pretend play. I always have been. As a child, I rarely played house or with dolls or anything that required me to pretend I was someone else. As a teen, I took drama throughout high school and hated every minute because I was a terrible actress. So playing pretend anything with my kids stresses me out!
Every time I have tried, I find myself stressed, bored, anxious, and looking for an excuse to flee the scene. Research has shown a direct correlation between parenting stress and behavioral issues in kids.1 The last thing I need is to be stressed out over mom guilt, trying to play with my kids just to have them develop behavioral issues from it! It’s better for all of us for me to gently and lovingly pass on playtime.
5. Our culture has it wrong.
And, honestly, it’s unfair to moms. I have never understood why American moms believe we should spend all kinds of time entertaining our children. This was never how it was meant to be. Nor was it how mothering was in this country until fairly recently. Mothers in other countries think we’re a bit ridiculous for feeling like we have to play with, entertain, or continuously watch our children. I admit, I kind of agree with them.2 I am all for keeping our kids safe and ensuring they’re learning in appropriate ways. But the amount of control Americans tend to try to keep over their children is unhealthy.
Many cultures around the world place enormous value on teaching their kids to be independent at a very early age. Other cultures place more importance on teaching kids to be obedient. In America, it seems our primary goal is for our kids “to be happy all the time and experience no discomfort and achieve…These are competing values.”3 Be happy all the time? No discomfort? Goodness. No wonder we feel pressure to entertain our children! I don’t know about you, but I would rather teach my kids independence, self-reliance, self-motivation, problem-solving, and creativity any day.
The Bottom Line
Of course, if you are the mom who enjoys getting down on the floor and playing LEGOS or Barbies with your kiddos, by all means, do your thing (and God bless you for it!). Psychologists suggest that there are types of play adults can have with kids that are good for them (like sports and board games).5 In my opinion, stressing out or feeling a bunch of guilt for not playing with your kids should be banished from the Book of Motherhood. Whether you’re like me, a non-player, or whether you are a pretend play loving mama, whatever you do, it should be a joy and not a duty.