playing with your kidThe older my daughter gets, the more I feel obligated to entertain her all the time. She’s at that perfect play age – where her imagination runs wild and she still wants her parents to pick an action figure and jump in the game. But after a little reflection and perspective from some of our dear readers, I’ve realized this push constantly engage with our children is causing plenty of moms more guilt than they need. And it’s not doing the kids any favors either.

Yesterday, I admitted that I hate playing in the snow. (It’s blasphemous, I know.) Even worse, I feel super guilty when my daughter wants to drag my out in 20 degree weather to build snowmen and ice forts and I’m not into it. One of our astute commenters, Anne Cordelia, noted “this modern trend where mothers are expected to play, play, play with their children all the time.”

Immediately, I admitted that I really do feel guilty whenever I expect my daughter to play my herself for long periods of time. I associated my guilt with feeling sorry that my little girl doesn’t have a sibling to play with. We’ve been trying to have a second child for years now. The fact that my daughter prays for a brother or sister weighs pretty heavily on my heart.

However, I wasn’t the only one who felt bad for leaving their children to their own devices. Another great commenter, LiteBrite, jumped in with her own perspective.

I too feel guilty when I’m not constantly interacting with my son. For me it’s less to do with wanting siblings for him and more to do with the guilt of me working all day and feeling like when I come home I should be spending time with HIM, even though like you I’ve got things to do.

While talking about this growing guilt we were feeling surrounding play time with our kids, a friend of a friend put in her two cents. For her, the guilt was centered around being a single working mom. She felt like she needed to constantly have fun and exciting evenings planned for her child, so that they weren’t missing out, even though they only had one parent. Her single mom guilt contributed to constant engagement whenever she had time with her child.

Three separate moms, three separate justifications, all the same mom guilt. And it all resulted in us over-compensating, wanting to spend all of our time engaged with our children. We’ve been told over and over again that kids do better when parents play with them, talk with them, expose them to new and exciting activities. We’re spending so much time focusing on those admirable goals, we’re not giving our kids a chance to play by themselves.

As some other commenters noted, learning to entertain yourself is also an important skill. Helping teach your children independence and self-direction is pretty crucial, and pretty difficult to do if you’re always there, sitting on the floor and helping to direct the flow of play. Children can become dependent on an adult showing them how to play, instead of figuring out what they enjoy on their own.

The truth is that leaving your kids to their own devices every once in a while is pretty good for their development. So why do we all feel so horrible about it?

As moms, we’re constantly told that there is more we can be doing. We could be reading more. We could be doing more crafts. We could have more responsibility charts and quality time and Mommy & Me activities. Each time we hear about these great ideas, we feel guilty for not squeezing them in to our own schedule. All of that mommy support helps us cope with the hard times, but it also reminds us of how much more we could be doing.

I think that can manifest into mothers who feel like they need to squeeze in something fun and exciting and educational into every waking moment. Pile that on top of our own personal mom guilty, whether it’s for working outside of the home, being a single parents, or infertility, and you’ve got a pretty potent force that stress out even those best moms.

It might not be easy, but perhaps we all need to take a step back and see the amazing things that happen when our kids get to entertain themselves without our interruption. My daughter has been playing by herself for a half hour. Just from eavesdropping, I believe she’s writing and illustrating her own “magazine” in a blank notebook she found. Guys, I never would’ve thought to start making a magazine with her.

Our kids will be okay. Even if we don’t want to play in the snow or battle with G.I. Joes or crawl under the kitchen table that just became a fort, our kids will be fine. In fact, they might learn something.