Why I Don’t Like to Play With My Kids

Lately Ruby has railed against her car seat. She is four, and finds the crazy constraints of her harness beyond tolerance. So, I figured it was maybe time to start looking into the next phase up. Whilst browsing for booster seats I found a great deal via online ads for a in-box one, and went to the apartment complex to make the deal. Unfortunately, the seller wanted to meet by the complex playground, which meant letting the girls out to play because, hey, we were at a playground.

So I let the girls run around the playground while I set up the booster seat and it was pretty  nice. Except for the other kids on the playground. All began well enough, with the local kids interacting with mine.

Then the local kid saw me. The boring 30-something mom. Forget the small children, there’s an adult! And two kids wound up coming by to talk to me.

Perhaps my role during the school year as a teacher has warped my reasoning. I’m a teacher. Nice enough to share an amusing anecdote with, but no purely social interaction is meant between student and teacher, kid and adult. It’s not the I’m opposed to healthy social relationships between all ages, but I do draw the line when fellow children are passed up in favor of an adult.

I like kids, love them even. Childhood is magical.

But I am not and probably never will be one of those moms or teachers who spends a significant amount of time playing with kids.

Reason No. 1: Playing with kids seems to be a new shiny badge for modern moms.

I have no memory of my parents playing elaborate games with me. Oh, there was fun stuff here and there and my childhood was happy, but I was playing with my brothers or neighborhood kids. I do not feel slighted or ruined because my mother didn’t play games with me. She was the mom, I was the kid.

But these days, every other commercial promises this product will allow you to perform lively acrobatics with your offspring. While such health giving the option of doing so is certainly desirable, should that be the only goal? A good mom gives her all to entertaining her kids?

Some time ago, Ruby kept pulling me into cycling imaginary games to the point I could hardly function. I couldn’t do anything, think anything, just be sucked into a kiddie game. I asked for advice and sympathy on a forum, and one response stuck in my mind. To paraphrase, my job as mom wasn’t to be their entertainment, but to raise them to responsible, sane adulthood. Oh, and to do my other household family duties. Like cook and clean and whatnot.

I have heard of social media debates over how clean houses versus kids. Some moms decry messy houses while others proudly announce their messy homes signify all the hours spent playing with their children. My house is hardly super-tidy, but my heart lies with the former. I don’t think I’m a bad, uncaring mom for not playing with my kids.

Reason No. 2: Kiddie games are so boring.

To resume the aforementioned story of Ruby’s irritating game, I was miserable. She is four, and her games are fairly simplistic, often variations of the theme of the day. Cute for five or ten minutes, but hardly something an adult can sustain true interest in long-term.

I have things to do, things I have to do and things I want to do. My life does not revolve around playing boring games. It revolves around caring for my children and raising them. That means homemaking, money-earning, and showing them how responsible adults act.

Reason No. 3: I shouldn’t have to be my kid’s playmate.

This reason speaks of a frustration of mine: the difficulty of making playdates. We have a kid next door, a cute little girl who attends Sunbeams at church with Ruby, but she always seems to be at one activity or another. The fact she has two teacher parents doesn’t help. Our ward being full of teacher moms and even a few dads, summertime seems to be major family activity time and who could blame us?

The Free-Range parent in me wants to send her on her way to just knock on doors and find other kids, but we do live on a busy street and once again, Ruby is four. In a year or so, sure, but not now. May Lenore Skenazy forgive me.

But I digress. Why should the difficulty of finding regular playmates fall on me by making me the playmate?

Kids are meant to play with other kids. The choice to play with my kid when I want to does not trump the importance of kids forging friendships and alliances with other kids.

Kids understand each other in a way adults don’t. They appreciate each other’s games, imagination. They fall almost seamlessly into sync with each other as they create awesome games, maybe fight, and find and solve problems.

Those fights and problem-solving don’t play out the same way with a child and an adult. Being a teacher has made me stand back even more from minor-to-moderate childhood disputes. Oh, I may moderate, I may even step in–but not every time. I firmly believe the adult tendency to jump in to “rescue” kids from childhood social disputes ruins the building of important social skills. As an adult, I can teach many fine social skills and that’s part of being a parent and a teacher, but I can’t replace the lessons of peer interaction.

When those kids came up to me to find me more interesting than my daughters, was it because modern parenting had programmed them to seek adults rather than the awesome kids around them? I don’t know, but I do worry modern ways may have contributed.

I will continue to say, Go, child, go play with other children. I’m a boring adult.

It’s not that I don’t think you’re awesome. It’s not that I don’t love my own daughters, care for my own students.

It’s that I just don’t want to play with you. It might be better for you if I don’t.

And now I excuse myself, because Ruby wants to play Puppies are Lost in the Forest and Princesses Find Them. I’ll play for a few minutes, then I’m cleaning the kitchen.



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