How I’m Reforming My Play-Hating Ways

How I'm Reforming My Play-Hating Ways

I love interacting with my son.

I love talking to him—he’s so funny and creative, conversations are usually pretty interesting.

I love reading to him—he is a very enthusiastic book lover, and that gives me an insane amount of joy.

I love snuggling with him—we snuggle every morning, and it always starts the day off right.

I love watching him draw—he has this crazy innate talent (and love for it) that I can only assume was a recessive gene from his grandmothers, because neither Josh nor I have much in the way of artistic ability!

Z drawing a train
The kid loves to draw!

I do not love playing with my son.

Okay, before you get all, “How can she say that?!” on me, let me explain. I like playing with him, but I for sure don’t love it.

Why?

It’s almost always the same thing, and I almost always do it wrong, regardless of what I’m doing! Let me paint you a picture (with words since, as noted above, I have zero talent in the visual arts):

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning. Josh is still sleeping, and Z and I have been up for a while. Z’s done watching Daniel Tiger and eating breakfast. He’s ready to play!

Z: “Mommy, want to play with me?”

Me: *hesitation –> plastered smile* “Yeah! Let’s go!”

We get into his playroom, and Z makes a beeline to his drawer of cars. I desperately try to convince him to do anything else.

Me: “Hey, you know, we haven’t built a train track in a long time! I bet that’d be really fun. We could even put trees and dinosaurs around the track. Doesn’t that sound cool?”

Z: “No, I want to play cars.” Blargh. I tried.

I sit and wait for direction. I would never just grab a car and start driving it around the room! That is strictly forbidden, let me tell you.

Z: “Mommy, why aren’t you playing with me?”

Me: “I don’t know what you want to do yet.”

Z: “I want to play cars!” Oh . . . Duh.

Me: “Okay, but how do you want to play? What do you want to do with the cars?”

Z: “Let’s race!” Yes, that’s what I figured.

I pick a car from the two choices he’s offered me. He decides that’s actually the car he wanted, so he takes that one and hands me the other.

We race. And race. And race.

For. Ev. Er.

Toy cars in "garage"
These are parked in the garage during preschool. But believe me, once he gets home, they’ll be zooming about!

Now, to be fair to Z, I will admit that sometimes playing with cars is not racing. Sometimes we crash over them with monster trucks or put them down the big ramp with the loop in it. Ahh, such variety—the spice of life!

I’m going to give myself a bit of a break from guilt here:

I don’t hate playing everything. There are lots of things I happily play with him—soccer, catch, puzzles, board games, roughhousing on the super-soft, pillowy blankets on our bed, hide and seek, and many more like those.

But he never wants to do those things!! He loves to hang in his playroom and do the very things that bore me to tears.

So how have I been handling this situation?

Here’s where I get real with you.

I have found myself doing two things lately that I am totally not proud of.

1. Making excuses to either shorten playtime or get out of it altogether.

For example, “Oh I’d love to buddy, but I have to start making dinner!” or “Yeah, just let me get this one thing done first.”

Ugh. Even writing that out makes me feel like a horrible person!!!

2. Bringing my phone in the playroom and looking at it when he seems engaged in his own play.

This has gotten worse since I started the blog, unfortunately. I have a lot of social media irons in the fire, in an attempt to get this little blog noticed, and I get notifications that, well, have to be checked right away, you know.

Otherwise they’ll go away. Or something. Or I just suck.

Woman looking at smartphone
Can’t…stop…checking.

Every time I do either of these things, I feel absolutely awful afterward. But I continue to do them anyway! What is wrong with me?

I actually think nothing is wrong with me. A quick Google search for “don’t like playing with my kids” brings up article after article of either parent confessionals or tips on how to enjoy playing with your kids.

So, I’m totally not alone.

How can I (and you!) become a reformed play hater??

I’ll start by listing a few things I have been trying lately:

1.  Infuse his play with my own style of play.

While playing cars, I’ll engage him in some kind of funny word play, or maybe I’ll pull him into my lap and cover him with kisses and tickles. It breaks up the monotony and either puts our brains to work or adds an element of physical affection, which is always a positive thing.

2. Break his “rules,” just to switch things up and keep him on his toes.

I’ll introduce monster trucks to the race, even though he explicitly stated it was only for race cars! Gasp!! Most days, this elicits a fit of giggles . . . If it doesn’t, and instead becomes a battle of wills, I drop the idea and play by his rules.

I’m not cruel. 😉

3. Set time frames for how long I’ll play before I go do whatever else needs to get done (usually dinner).

I got this idea from an article by Joshua Freedman, in which he suggests that we basically establish the ground rules for when we play and how long we play. This act can help us to more fully embrace and make the most of the playtime that we do give.

So far, I’ve found this to be a pretty useful strategy. Z and I have quality time together, and I know that (and this is going to sound terrible) my commitment to playing cars will end.

And here are a couple of suggestions from others:

1. Don’t let our kids boss us around.

Peter Gray Ph.D. asserts that it’s actually best if we basically stand up to our kids during play and try to get them to play the way we want to. He says that when a child is confronted with a playmate who does not bend to his will, he begins to develop valuable social skills, like being aware and considerate of the needs of others.

I have to admit that I’ve tried this a couple of times, with very little success. As I have mentioned previously, my little man is very willful and things can escalate pretty quickly. Playtime is generally one of those times when I choose not to fight battles if possible.

There are plenty of other times that I have to assert myself. I hate the idea of fighting during play.

But, since I’m actively trying to develop social skills in my kiddo, I may have to revisit this and give it another go.

Maybe. I’m cringing just thinking about it.

2. This article from Aha! Parenting suggests that we agree to play the child’s favorite thing, if he or she will play whatever it is we’d rather do first.

In my case, for example, I’d tell Z that I’d love to play cars with him, if he’ll play balloon tennis with me first.

I see this having a 50/50 success rate, which is worth trying!

As you can see I haven’t found a huge wealth of super helpful tips. The ideas above are good, but I was hoping to get a more comprehensive list here, to be honest.

I’d love to hear from you!

What are some ways you’ve alleviated your boredom when playing with your kids? (It’s okay to admit that it gets boring—I promise, you’re not alone by a long shot!!)

Please follow and share!

13 thoughts on “How I’m Reforming My Play-Hating Ways”

  1. This is such a great post, since I used to get so bored playing with my son! I actually feel bad since I like playing with my daughter since I always loved barbies! ha!

  2. I have to admit I am very much like you (and have felt the same guilt), which is why I am always so impressed with your father’s ability to keep going and going and going with “monotonous” play, lots of times even encouraging its continuation (also his ability to invent silly new ways to play). And this doesn’t apply to just his play with Z, I was equally impressed with his skill playing with you when you were little!! I guess some people are just naturally good at it, and for those of us who aren’t I think your suggestions make sense and are very doable.

    1. Thanks! Yeah I thought they seemed like things I could handle. 🙂 I also have to say that, while maybe playing isn’t my (or your) forte, there are plenty of other ways that us non-players bond and build strong relationships with these kiddos. It would just be nice to have it all, you know! 😉

  3. These are great ideas! I’m totally tracking with you—playtime is a little exhausting and repetitive for me. I love the idea of setting a time limit, because I can be “all in” for half an hour or something if I know there’s an agreed-upon time. Thanks for this!

  4. Substitute My Little Ponies for cars, and this is me and my 5-year-old!

    I will definitely try the “setting a clear time limit, and do it up-front” strategy. I like it because it feels more fair to A — her expectations aren’t suddenly forced to change — and it allows me to fully commit to play for a pre-set period of time and then stop without guilt.

    If A bosses me around during our playtime and vetoes my every suggestion, I tell her that it hurts my feelings and that I’m not enjoying our play. That usually works, and we end up playing more collaboratively. If the bossing around continues, then I calmly and politely excuse myself. I don’t make a big deal out of it, but I won’t stay and play.

    1. Ah no! It’s the same with girl toys?! 🙂 Great strategy for the bossing-around issue. Sounds like you’re building empathy effectively!! I love it. Thanks for sharing, Miki!

  5. Right there with you, including the phone in the room problem. I do love to play sports with my kids, but the video games, and cars, and legos, especially when they are younger, I can only maintain so much enthusiasm. And it gets worse as you add kids because you are just dang tired. But I notice with my youngest that I engage less than I did with the others. I have to make myself engage, but it takes so very little to thrill him. And when I play with him unrestrained, he attaches to me for awhile. I’m his new “buddy.” When I see that, I know what long-lasting effect playing with kids has on the long-term relationship between parents and their children. Given I have very little relationship with my parents, that relationship building is invaluable.

    Great post! Keep it up.

    1. Oh man, I can’t imagine how hard it is to maintain a high level of engagement when you’ve got 5 kiddos! You must plop into bed and fall immediately to sleep! 🙂 But yes, it’s definitely an important part of parenting and building that bond, even if it’s tough to do at times. I’m so glad that you recognize that and give it your best shot even when you’re exhausted. Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your thoughts!

  6. Reading this post makes me feel like you must be a better person than me! I gave up trying to play the things that don’t interest me. I often tell A that I just don’t want to play that, it isn’t really enjoyable for me. He has so many Things That Go.

    However, the child is blessed with a dad who is really good at the play. I compensate for my weakness by encouraging their play relationship as much as possible (a little too much of it happens around bed time), scheduling play times with other kids who will enjoy the same type of play that A does, and reminding myself that it is great for children to learn to entertain themselves. This summer A even got bored! (I was envious because I haven’t been bored in at least six years.)

    We do lots of fun and great stuff, especially in the summer, and I take him to many cool places so he can experience things. I don’t feel guilty about him being ignored or neglected. Now that he’s five, I’ve started explaining that, while it is enjoyable for me to take him places where he will have fun, those activities are mostly for him, and it is work for me to pack the food, make arrangements, and get us there. He seems to be getting the idea. I’m hoping this will help him understand that it isn’t fun for everyone just because it’s fun for him, and also instill additional gratitude.

    I think you can play how they want to if you don’t feel like having a battle over it. Nothing at all wrong with that. You send him to preschool to learn how to make friends and get along with others. Children will probably learn the unspoken social rules faster from their peers than their parents, who they already know how to manipulate.

    I kind of gave up on trying to enjoy playing the things I don’t like and instead play up to my own strengths and bond over things like reading, puzzles, gardening, card and board games, cooking, etc., leaving the more physical play to his father. I also spend a great deal of energy answering all manner of questions starting with “Why?” and “What if?”

    Hats off to single parents who have to do it all.

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