To play or not to play

I’m on vacation again this week. This time because my boys are between daycares. Our beloved provider is going back to school and in a few days my boys will start with a new child care provider. While that is a stress of its own, this post is about an entirely different stress-that which I feel over finding ways to fill our days this week.

There are many reasons why I choose to work, some financial, some personal. I’ll also freely admit that part of it is because I’m not good at being a stay-at-home mom. While I’ve accepted this part of myself, it doesn’t mean it comes free of guilt. I have tons of it.

The thing is, I’m not good at entertaining them. I’m not at all adept at child’s play. Even when I was a child I wasn’t. I had to grow up young and fast and I changed. I’ve been told that I went from a happy, carefree fun-loving child to a serious, more deliberate child over night. It’s just one of the lasting effects of losing a parent at such a young age. I’ve never been good at imaginative play. I was more the type to sit in a room and listen to the adults. This has carried right over into motherhood. I love to go places with them, show them new experiences, but I am terrible at just being with them. I find their activities monotonous.

Let me be clear, I’m a loving, sensitive and caring mother. I’m the person they come to for comfort, for a story, to chat. I provide emotional stability, and offer the loving arms of complete acceptance. I cook and clean for them. I organize excursions, plan parties and holidays and deal with the extensive list of motherhood responsibilities that don’t involve play (like doctor’s appointments and school supplies). I’ve convinced myself that these are important roles to play too and that it’s okay if daddy is the one they go to for a good time. Particularly since I have boys and already struggle to relate to their interests. So I leave the play to the experts. People who are focused entirely on engaging them in learning and stimulating activities in ways that I struggle with.

Last week I read this article by Leah McLaren in The Globe and Mail with fascination: Ditch the guilt working moms: The kids are all right. I’m often caught unawares when I read blogs or news articles that articulate how I feel so precisely. It’s startling because I brate myself for some of this stuff and can get caught up in a silo of my own emotions. I forget that others can completely understand.

In her article, McLaren cited a landmark British study, conducted by the Institute of Education in London, that looked at the lives of about 17,000 British parents and their children. The study found that factors, such as emotional stability and quality of home life, were much more important in determining early childhood development than whether a mother worked or not.

I have never doubted that my children are thriving in child care because I see it with my own eyes. They are happy, confident, well-adjusted children. In care they are exposed to situations that they wouldn’t otherwise be. They learn how to handle themselves in diverse social situations, self-coping skills and that other adults can care for and love them. I’ve seen how these skills have served them well, even when they are still very young.

The greatest challenge for me as a working mother has been the overwhelming pull in so many directions. Day in and day out I go through the motions, I do all the tasks that need to be done at home and in the office, and yet I never feel fully focused on anything. I wears a woman down and takes away from the ability to do any of it really well.

Admittedly these are the struggles that I’ve chosen, and they aren’t going away. So for now, I’m home for a week with my boys. Of course I’ll enjoy it, and them. We’ll enjoy a few play dates and outings to keep me sane and them entertained. And I’ll hope, as I always do, that they won’t notice how little I like to play. Because I assure you, where I may not engage in child play, I compensate for in my adoration for them and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

 

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37 thoughts on “To play or not to play

  1. Acting Balanced Mom says:

    I honestly think that we, as women and moms, spend too much time on guilt… I think that outings and time for the kids to play together by themselves can be invaluable for a week… have fun and don't stress too much!

  2. Cathy says:

    This post really resonates with me. I am very similar to you. I find that I will bake for the kids or take them on outings, but I don't actually play with them like my husband does. I don't really know how.

  3. Alex@LateEnough says:

    I love your honesty. And I truly believe that knowing yourself makes you a good mom. Not being home. Not playing games. Loving them. Being available. Being comfortable. You are a wonderful mom. (And playing with kids can be totally boring. Seriously)Also, as someone who chose to stay home, I often worry that working mothers think less of me. I had a working-mom neighbor remark after I told her my daughter would start two-morning a week preschool in late fall: Wow! You'll get to party!{sigh}It's bound to get boring comparing ourselves to each other one day, right?

  4. Jill says:

    Christine, again I say thank you for your post. I feel so much of what you expressed. I echo your thought that the greatest challenge is the pull in so many directions. I also can echo what you said about your children – thriving their in child care setting. Thanks for passing on the reminder you got this week…none of us is in this alone.

  5. Finola says:

    I am just like you. I wasn't a typical kid either, though for very different reasons, but still. And as a Mom I never enjoyed playing on the floor with baby toys or reading the same story for the 100th time. We have worked hard to get our daughters playing independently. It takes a while, but they do get there.And no guilt – you guys are doing great! And make sure to take some short cuts around the house too.

  6. Sarah says:

    I don't think it's playing that you need to focus on, per se, but the attention. Even though you don't like to get on the floor and race cars, that doesn't mean that you are not giving your kids the attention they deserve! You are. You are there for them.My son loves to play independently and sometimes I feel guilty that I am on the computer while he quietly plays with his cars – or loudly runs laps around the house, but that works for him and it's good for him to learn to not rely on me to entertain him.Don't be so hard on yourself. You are a good mother and you have great kids! Maybe there is something you enjoy – like crafting – that you can share with them?

  7. Kate says:

    My parents didn't play with me, not doll or things, they would get out crayons and let us color, ask us to build with hhe blocks, put on music and encourage dancing, open the door and let us go outside. You don't need to feel guilty. Everything I have read here shows me your depth of passion for those boys, and that surely comes through. I think the constant tugs at our attention is just part of life. I know I struggle with it daily.

  8. ShannonL says:

    Oh, Christine, I soooo relate! I am not a fan of "playing" (I rarely ever do), and I could never be a stay-at-home mom or a child care provider. I have so much respect for those who choose to, and do a great job of it. I'm just not that strong! Luckily my kids are pretty good at playing independantly, like I did when I was a child. Seriously, like you said, we provide for them, show them love and attention, and they are cared for and played with every day, experiencing things they probably wouldn't at home. They are well-balanced, happy kids and that's all we can really ask for. We are better parents *because* we go to work… we're just not cut out to stay home every day and we acknowledge that. I don't (usually) feel guilty about it! ;-)You're a really great mom, and I don't think that getting down and playing with them would make you any better. It's the love, support and attention that you already give them that is more than enough.

  9. Corinne says:

    I know this isn't the basis of the post, but this line struck me: " Particularly since I have boys and already struggle to relate to their interests."I just finished reading Laura Lee Groves (from outnumberedmom.com) I'm Outnumbered, a book on raising multiple boys (we've followed each others blogs for some time, and while I don't have multiple boys, I definitely learned a few things about boys in general) One thing that she says over and over is that we cannot give in to just saying "boys will be boys" and we don't understand them, so that's that. There are so many ways to connect, and dare I say (and Laura mentions) that play is one of them. To see what they're interested in, and while we might not be interested in what they are, our presence is what really matters, listening to them while they tell us about what they're playing and doing. Just a thought :)And oh the mama guilt… I really don't think it matters if you work or if you don't, it's always there, about so many different things.

  10. Capital Mom says:

    This is why I like to bake. There are only so many pretend cups of tea I can drink, trains I can push, books I can read before I go crazy! But making something, even if it makes a mess, gives me a purpose to our activities.

  11. TKW says:

    Good God, I suck at games, too. I am positive that in Hell, mommies are stuck playing CandyLand over and over while Yo Gabba Gabba plays in the background. Your love is enough. YOU are enough. This notion that we have to be everything is just bonkers. Loved this.

  12. Blissed-Out Grandma says:

    Christine, it sounds like you do know that you are a wonderful mom and that you needn't feel guilty. As someone else pointed out, attention is what they most crave, and you give that in many ways. It's sad that you missed out on so much of childhood, but it may be that you'll get some of what you missed just by watching and listening to your children, and being there for them.

  13. Amber says:

    I think that, as moms, we all could do with a little less guilt. We're all just doing the best we can, and I really believe that that's what our kids really need. Not some ideal situation, or perfect parent, but someone who just shows up and tries.

  14. Rudri says:

    I think we can't be everything to our kids all of the time. I decide to play on my strengths and do what I enjoy with my daughter. I am not the Candy Land mom or the barbie doll mom, so I generally find alternate things that we can both enjoy. Hanging out at the park, bowling, and painting pottery tops our list

  15. JulieB says:

    I could have written this post… love it. Like CapitalMom I do a lot of baking with my kids when I get the chance. Thankfully they are also now slowly getting old enough to play board games and do jigsaws.As for working mother guilt – I guess this is something that is never quite going to go away, however, as I see my children grow and thrive I am veeeery sloooowly starting to think perhaps they won't turn out too badly despite being in childcare!

  16. Nicki says:

    You are a fantastic mom! Guilt sucks the life out of us – all humans but women in particular. You will have a good week with the boys.Good luck on a seamless transition!

  17. Jana @ An Attitude Adjustment says:

    Once again, a great post. I think that article you read speaks volumes. When the parents are happy, the kids are happy. It's not about being home vs. being at work. I've done both, and right now, I'm staying home because I know that it is helping me maintain my sanity. I can't imagine trying to navigate the demands of my own job (exhausting) and also the demands of the household. But Oh, Canada. You have some flexibility in your job, and it sounds like some good vacation time. It makes it an optimal environment for a working mother.I feel like I grew up way too fast as a kid and was bombarded with practicalities. I actually enjoy the imaginative play because it gives me a chance to be a kid again. (I'm not so into baby play. But a talking toddler is fun.)

  18. Lynn says:

    Loved this post, Christine…I can completely relate. I also really hate to play – to pretend the same thing over and over again, to force myself to while away hours playing Lego when my mind is racing to all the other things I need to get done. I am a stay at home mom, and I've learned that it's necessary, for me, to tell them okay, I've had enough play – go see your brothers or sisters or else find something to do on your own, Mommy needs a break. It's hard and I feel so guilty, but there's so much else I am doing for them, I try not to fixate on this one thing.One time my younger sister, who feels she had a very unhappy childhood, complained that one thing that was really wrong with our mother is that she never played with us. I laughed and said I thought that would be strange – to think of our mom playing Barbies! I never felt an absence in my life because she wasn't into kid play. I guess every kid is different…I hope mine can see me for all the things I DO do, not the things I don't.

  19. Leslie says:

    Needed to hear this today, when I'm back at work after four days home with Jack. It is hard to leave, but while we're gone they're continuing to learn and have fun.I run out of patience for indoor play especially. I like books or projects – baking, painting – but my child asks to play Battleship like a dozen times a day. Yikes!One of my greatest pleasures now is going out with him – a trip as mundane as the grocery is a thrill for him.

  20. theycallmejane says:

    I'm not so bad at games (in fact, we're about to finish our long lasting Sorry! game that we abandoned last night) but I'm horrible at *pretend*. Never, ever been good at it. So my kids know that I will always stop and read them a book, or play a game or build the train track. But playing train engineer? or knights? or wizards? Uh-uh. Nope. Not me. Focus on what *you* like to do with them – that's all they care about. Trust me.

  21. Pam says:

    Don't worry about not "playing" with your kids. Mine are teens now and I was a fulltime SAHM when they were little and I never played with them. Like you, I found it tedious. But, also like you, I took them on outings, to the playground, arranged playdates and spent plenty of time nurturing them in other ways. And you know what, they are absolute fine. Well-adjusted, intelligent, caring, compassionate and sweet young ladies. Your boys will be fine, too.

  22. Jack says:

    I am actually very good at playing. I have an active imagination and am good at keeping up with the kids…most of the time.Lately I have been so stressed out with work and other things that I have had a hard time with the kids. I feel exceptionally guilty because I can't relax and spend time with them the way that they want.The point is that it sometimes goes both directions.

  23. Liz (Loving Mom 2 Boys) says:

    What a great post. It is so hard no matter what you do as a mother. Someone always has an opinion, and many people feel more than free to share it with you. I am currently a SAHM but it wasn't my choice to make that transition. It is very hard, and I feel like I let my kids down most days (especially when I'm tired!!!) I look forward to going back to work, and I know my boys love the social interactions that they get from daycare.I hope you and your boys have a great week together!!!

  24. Justine says:

    Christine, I was so looking forward to reading your thoughts on this and I'm thrilled to see that we share even more things in common than I thought. I am also not the person my daughter runs to for good, old-fashioned play and fun, and I also think that I'm not cut out to be a SAHM. It requires an insane amount of patience and fortitude and I readily admit that those are not my strongest attributes.Like you, I prefer to play to my strengths and provide her with as much love and comfort in what little time we have with one another. And I make sure that she continues to be well cared for while she's away from me. Now I see that she's flourishing. She is definitely more than all right despite my full time job. Even though I yearn to be with her more, I know for now, this is best for all of us, and while it isn't ideal, it is good enough.

  25. Amber says:

    Hey, as a stay-at-home Mom I will tell you that I also dislike playing with my kids. I prefer that they play with themselves and, you know what? They do. They are fine. They are socially sound and perfectly able to entertain themselves. In releasing the guilt I could have felt for doing this I find that I actually do enjoy getting on the floor with them and blowing bubbles or stacking blocks. I prefer to educate and play at the same time and somehow it works.Anyway, really, Christine, you hit this issue right on the head. It isn't about staying at home or working, it's about staying focused on the end result: how your children will turn out. I know many mothers who plop their kids in front of the TV all day, is that a great way to teach them? No. (Not that I'm against TV, just pointing out that staying-at-home doesn't always indicate quality care.) Good for you for recognizing what you need to do.

  26. Amy Whitley says:

    I have to admit, I've always thought that ALL moms find it difficult to embrace the monotony of child's play. I have actually set the kitchen timer for myself after promising my toddlers and preschoolers two minutes (and not a minute more) of engaged play with Little People, animals, Legos and the like. So boring. :)But as someone who's been on both sides of the working/not working fence, I can say that both have their challenges, guilt, worry, doubt, etc. As a working mom, I find it so hard to be pulled so completely in different directions all the time (as you mentioned), and as a non-working mom, I really struggled with my self-identity and esteem. Basically, I've decided that moms are damned if we do, damned if we don't. But that's ok, because we're strong enough to take it, right? 🙂

  27. Allison @ Alli 'n Son says:

    Ugh, I remember that working moms guilt. It can all consuming. But, I have a secret. I'm not great at child's play either. After about 15 minutes my mind is wandering to everything else that needs to be done. So I fill our days with play groups and classes and outings. It takes some pressure off me and exposes my son to new places and people. Plus I make new friends too. And even though I stay at home, I still feel like I'm being pulled in a million different directions. You are right, the most important thing is that your children are in a loving and nurturing environment. At day care or at home. It doesn't matter. You do what us right for you and your family.

  28. Allison @ Alli 'n Son says:

    Ugh, I remember that working moms guilt. It can all consuming. But, I have a secret. I'm not great at child's play either. After about 15 minutes my mind is wandering to everything else that needs to be done. So I fill our days with play groups and classes and outings. It takes some pressure off me and exposes my son to new places and people. Plus I make new friends too. And even though I stay at home, I still feel like I'm being pulled in a million different directions. You are right, the most important thing is that your children are in a loving and nurturing environment. At day care or at home. It doesn't matter. You do what us right for you and your family.

  29. Allison @ Alli 'n Son says:

    Ugh, I remember that working moms guilt. It can all consuming. But, I have a secret. I'm not great at child's play either. After about 15 minutes my mind is wandering to everything else that needs to be done. So I fill our days with play groups and classes and outings. It takes some pressure off me and exposes my son to new places and people. Plus I make new friends too. And even though I stay at home, I still feel like I'm being pulled in a million different directions. You are right, the most important thing is that your children are in a loving and nurturing environment. At day care or at home. It doesn't matter. You do what us right for you and your family.

  30. Allison @ Alli 'n Son says:

    Ugh, I remember that working moms guilt. It can all consuming. But, I have a secret. I'm not great at child's play either. After about 15 minutes my mind is wandering to everything else that needs to be done. So I fill our days with play groups and classes and outings. It takes some pressure off me and exposes my son to new places and people. Plus I make new friends too. And even though I stay at home, I still feel like I'm being pulled in a million different directions. You are right, the most important thing is that your children are in a loving and nurturing environment. At day care or at home. It doesn't matter. You do what us right for you and your family.

  31. Kameron says:

    Also being a working mom, I can empathize with your plight of being pulled in a million directions. I am a scientist. I'm analytical. I struggle to be creative. I am not the huge imaginative mom that can make up elaborate stories or worlds to play in. Luckily my hubby provides the physical play my son looks for and I find more joy in the things I teach my son. I tend to make everything a learning experience. While I might not be able to make up a story on the spot, I have a lot of (sometimes useless but entertaining just the same) info in my head that I like to impart. He is a sponge and I feel like teaching him to count, add, that worms are invertebrates, and random other things is the way I contribute to his growth. We love our kids and shouldn't feel guilty that we work.I work for my peace (and stimulation) of mind, knowing that if I didn't, I wouldn't be as good a mother.

  32. "Not Telling" says:

    I so relate to this. I don't know when it was decided that we're supposed to be their playmates. What gets me is when she begs me to play with her, and how excited she is when I do. But I have to put a timer on it or I'll go nuts. And maybe it's good that she sees it as a treat rather than a right, you know.

  33. Stacia says:

    It's funny, I encourage pretend-play with my kiddos, suggesting the dish towel become a superhero cape, for example, and then I shoo them on their way to continue their adventures (together, but without me). And I can only remember one time specifically where my parents got down on the floor and played with me. I think there's a lot to be said for children directing their own play. We give what we can give, we support them as best we can, and they find their way, whether we build Lego castles with them or not. =>

  34. Belinda Munoz + The Halfway Point says:

    This is one of my reasons for taking my time about (and maybe not) having a second child. I just don't know how good I'd be with two kids. With my son, I feel like I lucked out because he's open to all kinds of play, some of which I'm pretty good at like making up stories. I have my doubts but, I also believe that it's enough to have a lot of love for them; regardless of my limited range of play skills.

  35. Hyacynth says:

    I had to sit on this post for a few days and really think about it before commenting, mostly because I'm {pretty much} a stay at home mom and I needed to search myself to see if I could understand how I would feel if I were a working mom. I don't play well either. It's not something that comes naturally to me. But I couldn't for the life of me fathom going to work full time after my oldest was born three years ago. There was this inner compulsion inside of me to be with my baby at all times. I never ever thought about playing with him when he was a baby, and it came as quite a surprise when I realized that, oh, that was part of this whole SAHM thing. So I learned to play. And I learned to enjoy the play {well, sometimes I get a little bored, but mostly I like playing because I like seeing how they react to the play.}I wonder, though, if I had been happily immersed in a career before my boys were born if I would have had second thoughts about staying at home with them. I wonder if I would have thought about it and had to make a choice between a job I loved and staying at home if I would have talked myself out of staying at home because I wouldn't be good at it. {I do that, unfortunately.}I don't think you're anything but a loving mother, Christine — whether you work out of the home or if you worked inside the home, you love your kids just the same — with all of your heart. And they know that, I'm sure.

  36. Chantal says:

    you and I are more alike than I thought 🙂

  37. […] been on vacation with boys Two energetic, enthusiastic and loud boys You’ll remember I worried about it Feared our days would be long Now, come the end, I’m surprised By the unexpected joy and […]

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