how much time should I play with my kids

Over the last few years, I’ve noted that I am an unusual specimen in the realm of modern motherhood. I so very rarely feel anything resembling “Mommy Guilt”when it comes to the quality time I spend with my kids. I know this is novel in an era where it seems that mothers are so often derided for focusing attention on anything other than their children but I just can’t bring myself to join them. I don’t even mean that I am running around getting weekly manicures and taking girl’s weekends in Vegas. I simply don’t place most of my focus and free time on my kids and it would seem I am in the minority.

I have come to realize over my nearly seven years as a parent that at heart, I am a mom of another generation. I feel a lot like my own mother- a parent of the 80’s and 90’s. I like time to myself and I highly prize my kid’s ability to play independently and solve their own quarrels. A helicopter mom I am not. To that end, I rarely sit on the floor and play with them anymore. It has been that way since they were young toddlers and able to amuse themselves- they have each other and I’m pretty sure they are a lot more fun to be around than I am and how else will the laundry and dishes get done?

I know so many mothers who speak of guilt that they are not “present” enough and don’t get down on their child’s level enough to play with them. And to that I say “WTAF”? I have precious few memories of my mother on the floor playing with me- she was usually cooking, folding laundry, or *GASP* watching TV or reading a magazine by herself. She made no apologies and took care of herself and our house and depended on us kids to mostly amuse ourselves. Hovering was definitely not her style and now, it is not mine either.

I have so many pleasant memories of playing either on my own or with my brothers – coming up with our own goofy games and inventing elaborate pretend worlds. I remember emptying the toy box and sitting inside so it could become my rocket ship or my school bus. I loved to quietly thumb through my parent’s record collection marveling at the strange pictures on the covers with no one around to explain any of it (and I still secretly covet Joan Jett’s sweet mullet, just sayin). We would run through the woods and dam up the creek so we could swim and catch frogs and build forts. Our favorite was to spread sleeping bags out on the living room floor and play “camp-out” on a Friday night while my parents hung out in their bedroom doing Lord knows what (please don’t make me guess) and we were absolutely delighted to be on our own.

I have so many memories of playing independently and not very many of playing with my parents and I feel nothing but happiness when I remember my childhood. I knew my parents loved me even though they were not constantly with me. My mother didn’t fret over how much or how little time she spent with us- she fretted over Mom stuff. Paying bills, going to work, doing chores, fixing the dishwasher. Us kids were basically on our own as far as our amusement was concerned and that never felt like a bad thing. In fact, it was fantastic.

Now, I am seeing that my kids are following in my footsteps. The girl is six, in 1st grade, and the boy is going on five and entering kindergarten in the fall. I am by no means a perfect parent and I will gladly elaborate on my shortcomings for anyone who is interested but this is one area of parenting where I strongly feel I have nailed it. I don’t know too many kids these days that can go off with their sibling or friend for a whole Saturday afternoon without ever calling out for a parent. They happily play in their own little world and overhearing their interactions has been one of my greatest joys in motherhood. It’s just like I remember it being with my brothers. They have developed an incredible friendship, trust and love for each other that I deeply feel would not be the same if I had been sitting with them constantly intervening and directing their play.

And the biggest upside? I have ample time to iPad it up with a cup of coffee or glass of wine and unwind by myself. A fact that I firmly believe makes me a better and more patient mother in the long run. Kids are kids and adults are adults. Maybe as parents it is time that we all agree that this is an ok way to be so we can stop beating ourselves up for not playing enough. We do not have to be with our children every waking moment in order to be successful and present parents. Letting them go off on their own helps them discover who they are rather than who they would be if we were by their side every moment. We are not supposed to want to play Barbies and cars and board games- there is nothing wrong with admitting it if you find that sort of thing torturously boring. It is great to play once in a while and if you enjoy it, more power to you. But if you don’t? Join me on the dark side happily avoiding 17 games of Candyland in a row. Bring your iPad, I’ll bring the wine, and we can all party like its 1990 (with the exception of the iPads, duh) and enjoy the quiet while our kids enjoy….being kids.

(Image: Everett Collection/shutterstock)