I don’t like playing with my kids

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I don' t like playing with my kids - mom guilt and what to do about it

So, I was chatting with one of my closest friends in the world.  We are definitely different moms and different ladies, but how amazing to be close and to share our ups and downs together.

She said to me, “Well you know, Amy, there are two types of moms.  Those that like to play with their kids and those that like to watch their kids play.”  

I thought about that for a while.  Is it black and white (definitely not).  But which am I?

She would argue that I like to “play” with my kids.  After all, I love creating learning activities and homeschooling.  But I’d argue that there is a huge difference between “play” and loving learning with my kids.

What is play?

Imaginative learning.  Legos on the floor.  Pretend tea parties.  Changing baby panda’s diaper.  Sword fights for longer than one minute.

  • Do I love that my children want to do these things? Yes.
  • Do I adore their little brains in all the games and ideas they come up with? Yes.
  • Do I smile to hear their language blossom as they play and create? Yes.
  • Do I thrive on their happiness in those little independent moments? Absolutely.
  • Do I want to sit down and create Lego trucks for over ten minutes? Nope.

I give my son moments of time, and I genuinely want to give each of my children twenty minutes of individual play time each day with them.  But this is not what I adore about motherhood.  The sitting on the floor fighting with dinosaurs.  I love that they love it and need it and talk about it later.  But this is not what thrills me.

What do I love about mothering? For me, it is the twinkling eye after reading, and comprehending, a book.  It is the adoration I have for my daughter while I watch her scoop her oatmeal-animal sensory bin.  It is the camaraderie between the two, if for only a minute or two.  It is hearing the giggles and loving the here and now.  It is even washing dishes while they cut their food or pour their water, working on independent skills.  I love them.


Boredom is good

I don’t play with my kids.  Sure, I’ll sit down and build some Lego trucks for a short while, but I don’t looove pretending to eat a tomato or rescuing the princess from the dungeon (though, yes, I will do these things, but not all day).  I do these things because I love my children, but I also say no sometimes to them because I love them.  I don’t want to resent them, or our time together.  If I am absolutely disliking a game, I let them know that “mommy is done in just a minute.”

And I don’t want them to think that they can always control their situation.  That mom, or anyone, will stop what they are doing and please them.  They know that I will play for a short time and then be done.  There isn’t (a lot) of nagging about this.  They experience boredom without hating boredom.  It intrigues their minds to think of something new.

Mom time is good

And I like to have my own time.  I like to be alone.  I really, truly, am an introvert. (Those who know me in real life may find this shocking because I also love to have conversations and great friends and be super loud even, but I energize through that alone time.) I like to be alone while putting on makeup or selecting that evening’s recipe …. but ….

I love reading with my children.

I love teaching my children.

These are the things that I love.  And, that’s okay.  For a while I would feel guilty that I didn’t LOVE that play time.  Well, I do LOVE other times, and enjoy the reading and investing in long read-alouds and detailed discussions about non-fiction texts on America or about space or about how flowers grow.

Loving their children-hood

But I am a mother and my children won’t be young forever.  They won’t want to be close to me forever.  So I invite them to help me around the house.  Teaching by doing together — embracing this process and that it will take four times longer to get it done.  I ask them to help or join me in the housework.  I am trying every day to appreciate their little presence, rather than squander it.

This can be play time to them.

And I want to be grateful that they are always at my heels with a toy I can trip on or a vehicle to bash into legs.

But I do like my time too.  I encourage them to do things on their own, and have created an environment that they can entertain themselves.  I’m proud of that fact.


Creating an environment where I don’t have to do it all

I think I used to feel guilty.  That mom-guilt for not playing with my child every moment.  I really don’t do it all.  I love to read with my children and we connect in reading, and we are drawn to one another in learning.  And I have even cut back on the amount of prompted activities so that I can have my sanity.   I want to love homeschooling and mothering.  And in order to love it, I must love them.  And love my “me” time (though I hate the phrase).  And I do need my time.  A lot of that is work time, actually.  I check my work online.  I finish the dishes, or always have a load of laundry to put in our take out and fold. I have phone calls to make for work or for bills, etc.  Maybe even sneak a couple pages of my latest Dewey Andreas novel.

I have the time for this because I’ve made this environment where the kids don’t expect me to entertain them at all times. Are they alone in their rooms all the time? Absolutely not.  But they love to create and build.  This is not without whining, pleading, nagging, etc all the hard, hard parts of motherhood (the neverending sibling fights), but I try to help them direct their time.  And this, in turn, helps me have my own time to get things done.

It brings them joy

So I need to have a goal for what I’m doing with the kids. I don’t like to aimlessly “play.” But my son helps me to imagine his worlds. If I give him just 10 minutes, instead of a “I have to fold this” or “I have to load the dishwasher” or “I have to send out a newsletter” — how valued does he feel?

He shows me his gratitude and his feeling of worth in the evening. When he and I nestle together under his covers. When we read from our big fairy tale collection, just him and I, his head often on my chest, letting me wrap my mama arm around him. He’ll give me an extra kiss the day I gave him the world.

The day that I just gave him five minutes to race the monster trucks up and down the bed. And throw snowballs into the road off our giant snow mountain. That extra kiss on the lips and, “I love you mom,” is what I need to charge through and try to remember that EVERY DAY should be this way. Give him me. Not just the clean clothes or hot food. But me.

Play is play and mom is mom

So I’m that mom.  The one that would just prefer to sit on the couch and read a book while her children play at her feet peacefully.  I have a feeling that a lot of us moms feel guilty about this desire — and you know what, we shouldn’t.  Just like the moms who play shouldn’t feel guilty that their children may rely on them more for their play.

But five minutes, ten minutes, I can do.  

We’re all doing this differently, we’re all in so much gray.  And it all fits.  God didn’t make one standard mom-fits-all mom (thank You.)  And they love you for it.


So what do you love about mothering?  Embrace that!  Please share!  Revel in that and know that your children appreciate and love that about you!


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  1. I think you’re a fabulous mom. Part of growing is growing into our role too. With strengths and weakness and yet uniquely made to be the mommy for our kids. Keep up the great job mama!

  2. Its so funny, i’d just been thinking about this topic when i came across this article, and i love all your reasons. but another reason i think is really important why i don’t play with my kids is because, in their mind, anything is possible. Einstein said if you want your kids to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. and that is so so important because when kids believe anything can happen, thats when you have out-of-the-box thinkers and future problem solvers and entrepreneurs. i found when i participated in their imaginative play, my preconceived notions about the world around me leaked in and stunted their ideas. the easiest example i can think of is when i color with my kids, i color the grass green and the sun yellow because i know thats what they are. and my daughter started copying me, and then i heard her telling her little brother, “no, the grass is green, not blue” and now, all their pictures have green grass. it will never again be purple or black or pink or any other color because green is the only ‘correct’ option. all imagination and any future possibilities for that venue has been cut off. my participating with their playtime, while it was great quality time with them, they started including my knowledge and assumptions about the world in with their imagination. the moon was always in the sky, there was always tea at the tea party instead of, i don’t know, fairy dust. and when i stepped back and stopped playing with them, their imagination soared with things i would never even dream of playing. i still wrestle with them, we play at the park, and read tons of stories, or we do mani/pedis and cuddle up for movies on the weekend. but i don’t play with them anymore.

    1. Oh Natalie I love what you’ve shared!!! I love love love it!!!! Thank you SO much for taking the time to share your observations of your dear ones and their inherent play <3 Blessings - Amy

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