I’m feeling kind of like doing nothing today. It’s half-way through the second day of Christmas break and so far we’ve made pumpkin pancakes, gone to the dentist, had three playdates, decorated Christmas cookies and ridden bikes at the park. Strangely enough, I’m starting to run out of steam. But the reality of it is, I’ve been cramming our time full of fun stuff and having friends over to avoid the inevitable responsibility of actually playing with my kids.
I’m going to admit something to you all. Get ready. Here it is: I do not play with my kids. There. Now you all know my secret. And you know what? It doesn’t make me a bad mom. I can very clearly remember my mom saying to me, “I am not here to entertain you,” and no truer sentence has ever been uttered by a mother. It took me a number of years before I, as a mom, was able to come to terms with and accept the fact that it’s okay not to play with your kids. Social media really makes it feel like you should be making cupcakes, throwing glitter, and having dance parties with your kids all day long. But no matter how many amazingly crafty, family-fun ideas you see on Pinterest or how many of your friends are posting photos of picture-perfect family events on Facebook or Instagram, you don’t have to be like that. And chances are your friends aren’t actually like that either. If I were that kind of Facebooker, I easily could have posted at least 10 pictures of my kids having a smashingly good time over the last day and a half that made it look like I’m Mom-of-the-year. I could make it look like I never yell, always snuggle on the couch with my kids, and end each night with books and kisses. Instead, in reality, I yell more than I would like to. Snuggling on the couch with the kids always ends with one of them kicking me in the face. I can only commit to a make-believe game if I’m also drinking a beer, and usually by bedtime my patience is so thin I have to close my eyes while the kids brush their teeth so I don’t have to see the toothpaste all over the sink. They’re lucky if I actually make it through a book before I fall asleep putting them to bed.
Here’s the thing: I am not six years old. I don’t enjoy playing dress up and pretending I’m a ladybug. I don’t like drawing pictures of rainbows. I don’t like playing Go Fish for the seven billionth time, and I don’t even really like to build with Legos. Don’t get me wrong – I can and sometimes do those things. I can play one or two rounds of Uno. Sometimes I do feel like making and pretending to eat a plate full of Play-doh cookies. I can color a picture. But then I’m done. I’m not doing it another fifty times because it was only marginally fun the first time. We all know that kids don’t just want you to play chase around the house for 10 minutes, they want you to do it for an hour. But like I said, I’m not six, so I’m not going to do that. Since I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for over six years, I HAVE done all those things. A gazillion times over. So I don’t feel obligated to do them anymore. Which is why I sometimes have to remind myself that Mommy Doesn’t Have to Play.
Lest you start to feel like I’m a bad mom, let me assure you that I’m not a bad mom. I do love my kids. And when they were younger, or when there was only one of them, I did get down on the floor and play games. I did chase them around the kitchen island. I have made up stories and let my kids put stickers all over me and I have built a carwash out of unit blocks that we drove matchbox cars through. But now that my kids are four and six – they can play with each other. My job here is to make sure they make it through the day. I do the laundry, I clean the house, I cook every single meal, I do all the grocery shopping, I plan and coordinate all the doctor’s appointments, the playdates, and the swim lessons, I set up the watercolors and clean up the mess, I walk with them to the playground and try to make sure they don’t get hurt while they’re there. But I don’t play.
My job is not to entertain them, and that’s just fine. By not playing with them, I have fostered their ability to entertain themselves. Which, frankly, might be one of the best lessons I can teach them. Life is not one big parade of constant entertainment. No one is offering you a list of things that you can do when you’re bored. In fact, when my son starts telling me he’s bored, I start listing off chores for him to do. (That is exactly what my mom used to do to me, now that I think about it.) I can tell you what you’re not going to do, buddy: you’re not going to watch TV and you’re not going to play the iPad. Go find something to do or you’ll end up folding laundry.
So, don’t feel bad about giving your kids the little “scoot along now” motion with your hand this winter break. You don’t have to play with them all the time (unless you feel like it.) That’s real life. And it’s OK if you want to drink a cup of coffee and look at the Internet. They also need to learn that you do things for yourself that don’t involve them. You can still be a good mom even if you don’t play. I am, and I’m proud of it. You should be, too.