Me: I feel like I’m just failing everybody. I don’t have enough time to give to all the different projects that need my attention and be a good mom at the same time. Some days I just want to quit everything, shut the door and just be a mom. Then I’d have the time to play with them and read them stories and go to the park and do mom stuff.
Husband: You know even if you didn’t have outside stuff to do, you still wouldn’t be the kind of mom that gets down and plays with the kids. That’s just not who you are. You’d still be looking for other stuff to do. You might be too busy right now, but I don’t think you’d be happy if you quit doing all your outside stuff.
When he said it, I just sat there for a bit and tried not to cry. I wanted to argue about it. I wanted to defend myself. I questioned my value and worth. What kind of mom am I if I’m not the kind of mom who plays with her kids? A bad mom.
WHY DO I THINK THAT?
My mom didn’t “play” with me when I was growing up. I had siblings to do that. I had neighbor friends and even good old-fashioned imaginary friends, but I didn’t expect my mom to get down there on the floor with the Barbies or the legos. I love my mom and we have always had a great relationship, so why do I feel this pressure that to be a mom means playing with my kids when that wasn’t even what was role-modeled for me?
I remember being a babysitter as a preteen and teenager and kind of hating it. I liked the kids, but I felt uneasy about hours of providing entertainment for them. That’s when I realized I could sweep the kitchen. Then I had something to do, they could entertain themselves and the parents were happier when they got home. I did dishes, I picked up playrooms, and I enjoyed myself AND the kids more when we had a task to do together or even just in the same area. That’s when I knew I could really love being a mom, even a mom in a big family where there was always lots to do.
I know this about myself, but why do I still feel like such garbage about not being more playful? What is this mythical standard I’m trying to live up to? Why does it feel so shameful to not be “the kind of mom” who plays with her kids?
I wonder if maybe in my mind that equates to not liking my kids, which just isn’t true. I like seeing the Duplo blocks castle my preschooler built. I love to hear my daughter sing while she colors. I can sit outside and read a book while my boys shoot hoops in the driveway yelling, “Watch this, Mom!” and I DO! I DO “watch this” because I love to see them shine. I like to sometimes do puzzles beside them, to be offered a drink from their pretend tea party, and I will wrestle these kids until the day they are big enough to beat me, but I spend very little of my parenting time and energy in “play” with them. I feed them, I help them wash their hair, I oversee homework time and kiss them a million times a day. Is it okay if I also say, “Mom needs a minute to herself” on occasion? Is it okay for me to have hobbies and friends and sometimes even just be “too busy” to play with them?
There are things that have to get done to keep this little corner of the world running smoothly. Laundry, cooking, the weekly Bleaching Of The Boys’ Toilet, and those things all take time. There are also things I do just to keep my sanity in tact. Bathing is one of them. Calling a friend while I’m prepping lunch. Praying while I do dishes. Reading and writing so my brain doesn’t atrophy.
This is okay, right? It’s okay if between preserving my sanity, keeping the house afloat, and keeping my kids safe I don’t actually play with them? This is a tension I imagine didn’t exist for my farming grandparents. I don’t think previous generations had expectations that life would revolve around making Hot Wheels tracks or that adults would spend an hour making their own Play-doh creations, but somehow I still feel guilty.
I want to let this go. My kids don’t actually need me to play with them. They need to play. They need me. But they don’t “need” me to play with them. I believe play is the incredibly important work of childhood. I provide the unscheduled time and the tools for them to play and then I back away and let them do it. They need me to care for them, to meet their needs, to love them and invest in them, but I don’t have to grab a Star Wars action figure in order to do those things. I have even noticed that when I don’t get involved in their play they tend to be more creative, learn to solve problems on their own, and they stay with one activity longer.
In defense of my husband, he already knew all this to be true. His expectation isn’t that I’m spending all my time playing and he was thoroughly confused about why simply stating a fact about how I parent made me so upset. He doesn’t carry the emotional weight I do of trying to be the “good mom” and the Instagram expectations of parental playtime that come with it. He sees the results of what I actually do all day– a clean(ish) house, kids that are fed, homework that’s done, little people who feel safe and loved and are becoming appropriately independent. He supports my involvement in people and activities that reach outside our home. What we’re doing is working for our family. I just need to let myself believe that.