Tuesday, December 12, 2006

To Play or Not to Play: That is the Question

Really, how much do you or should you play with your children? For me, no matter how much I do, it never seems to be enough. Last week, I was so burned out from a recent rush to a deadline that all I felt like doing was hanging out with the kids. So, I quit working around 2:30 in the afternoon. I left my office, the nanny went home, and Jeff was already home and relaxing. I read Christmas stories, played Legos, and some monster trucks. About an hour later, I wanted to glance at a magazine and relax on the couch a bit before it was time to start dinner. Relaxing mid-day is a rarity for me, I sort of have to give into it when it happens.

I wrap up my Lego session, after building a fantastic space station with Phillip and Samuel, and plop on the couch. They continue playing for a bit, until Phillip wonders in the family room where I am sitting and says, "Mom, will you play Legos?" I just did, I said. Now I am going to read a magazine for a bit. Here it comes..."You never play with me." Of course, I replay the last hour for him, seeking credit for my efforts like a pissy teenager.

Playing with the kids around here usually follows one of these scenarios:

A) We play, all together. It is great fun. Then, someone decides they are not being treated fairly, is getting fewer turns, didn't get tossed as high as the last guy, or wants to play another game alone with you, like Battleship or Sorry. It is like they set me up to say no, or if I do say yes, the game ensues, only to be interrupted so many times by siblings, it is totally disrupted.

B)We all play together for a set period of time and when I exit, each one asks that I now play with them alone. An impossible task, and even when I break it up, someone always reports "cheating" of someone getting more time or playing something that was more fun than what they played with me.

C) I play with one alone only to be bombarded and interrupted with whines from the others of when is it their turn to play with me to the point where we actually hardly played at all, only distracted and reacted to interruptions.

This was easy to manage with just one. I would play with him for a bit, and then he would play by himself for a while. Play with me, play alone. When number two came along, this took a little more planning and arranging. When Sam was an infant, I could easily play cars, or things that I could do while holding or nursing him. As Sam got older, this became increasingly difficult as it was his main mission to suck every ounce of attention out of a room and direct it at him.

Still, I tried. Puzzles with Phillip and then on to cars with Sam. Back to monster trucks with Phillip and then blocks with Sam. Sometimes, we would manage to all play together, but that was always very short-lived when Sam was little (and often didn't end well). When number three came along, life was so much more complicated than it ever had been before that I had (or devoted) less time than ever to actually playing with the kids. And, like Sam when he was little, number three seems less interested in playing most of the time and most interested in just disrupting and destroying everyone else's playtime...oh, how I love the determination of two-year-olds.

Phillip and Sam play really well together, most of the time. But, there is also the delicate balance of giving them time to play alone (which is important) and making them share (which is equally important). Sometimes, Samuel and Andrew can even get a good game going, but theirs often ends in tears. Three creates odd-man out, naturally. This is a growing problem in our house and I think it will only get worse, not better, as that third man becomes more and more aware of when he is being left out.

I am being honest here, so let's not be too judgmental, but it is most of the time really difficult for me to get down and play with them and not think of all the things I should be doing, like paying bills, cooking dinner, laundry, organizing the closet, or running errands. So, I am ashamed to say after number three, I am sure I play with my kids a lot less than I should and certainly less than they want me to.

Now, I am probably being too hard on myself, as I know I do play with them and I try to keep a realistic picture of how much and what I am playing with them to make sure it is well-rounded and balanced (arts and crafts, Legos, games, etc.). I make sure the answer isn't always no and I love to see the smile on their faces when the answer is yes, I can play. But, it seems to never be enough. That, my friends, can be discouraging.

So, in a perfect world, after my Lego adventure, Phillip would say, "Gee Mom, thanks for choosing to play with us first instead of reading a magazine and relaxing. We had a great time playing and together we built a really cool space station. I enjoyed your company, and now, you deserve some down-time. Go read that magazine and relax. We will play quietly in here for a while."

Well, a girl can dream. And, until that happens (which would be: never), I will instead suffer through constant guilt, followed by friendly reminders from two of my children (and I am sure all three, once he can actually say these words), that "you never play with us."


Anonymous said...

I'm guessing that you do more with your kids than most moms, especially those with multiple children. Every time I read about one of your big projects (e.g. gingerbread house), I wonder how you have the time! Obviously it is difficult to focus on all the time you ARE spending with them if they point out the time you are not playing. They should grow out of this in a few years when they get older and more independent, right?

Amanda Sue said...

i am CONSTANTLY updating and revising my "to do" list, and i am never more aware of it than when i am sprawled out on the floor playing hide-and-seek under a toddler's dirty tee shirt. all of the sudden, i have so many chores to do, it feel like i should put dillon to bed so i can get started on my work.

is something wrong with me?