“You need to be more playful.”
My mom said those words to me after I had just yelled, “NO!” for the third time. My son had tried to spray me with his water gun as we were sitting outside.
“He never listens to me.” I complained to my mom.
“He’s not even four. You need to be more playful.”
My initial reaction was to get defensive. He needs to obey the rules, and I had already asked him not to spray me in the face. But as I let my mom’s words sink in, my chest started to get tight. She was absolutely right. I need to be more playful. I’m not a playful person. As much as I’ve always liked kids, I wouldn’t consider myself good at playing with them. I know how to entertain them and can think of a long list of activities to do. But play with them?
The irony is that just a few months ago, I was asked something along those lines by a behavior specialist.
“How often do you play with your son?”
Well, um, we do a lot of things together! He likes to help me bake, we go to the park, he comes to Target with me, we take family walks…he’s by my side all day!
“But how often do you let him direct the play?”
I was silent for awhile. The truth is, I really don’t. I’ve been thinking about this lately. Why don’t I play with my kids? Like really, truly play with them. Is it because I’m too busy? There’s always something else that needs to get done. Is it because I like to be in control? Is it because I don’t want to? Maybe.
Maybe it’s that I don’t make the choice to be playful. My children are at ages where they can play independently for a bit while I get things done around the house. Given the choice between playing with them or tackling my to-do list, I tend to chose the latter. But the truth is, they do need me. They need mommy to sit down on the floor and be playful.
When I think about the activities that I enjoy doing with them (puzzles, books, games), it’s always because there is structure to them. You don’t have to imagine reading a book, you just do it. What I struggle with is imaginative play. I want to blame it on mom brain. I have so much going on in there that I can’t turn it off and focus on silly, epic superhero versus ninja turtle battles.
Here’s what I’m learning though. I can’t overthink it. All I need to do is let my son direct me. That’s it. I don’t have to make it difficult. Preschoolers love telling us what to do and being in control. Mommy, pretend that you’re a good guy and I’m a bad guy! And sister can be a ninja baby and we have to hide in our secret cave.
I’m working on playing with my kids every day. I know they won’t be little for long and this is truly what they need from me right now. They need a playful mama. A mama that can relax and let go of the to do list.
One day I’ll be wishing I was having a water gun fight with my kids. I don’t want to regret not being playful.