I am writing this post for my 5-year-old son, who is a believer in science and research. You know, except when he's determined that he wants Pluto to be a planet, so it is. It just is, so there.The other day I picked him up from school and we had some time before I needed to make dinner.
Me: "What would you like to do, babe?"
Him: "I want to play TAG!"
"Playing with you is one of my favorite things...but I do not enjoy
tag. Children love to play tag - so the next time you are playing with
children, you can do that. But, what shall WE do?"
Him: "Um...okay, here's different idea. Let's run around like crazy and try to capture each other."
Me: "Great job describing what you'd like to do...but that's tag."
Him: "Okay, what about Frisbee tag? That's different."
Me: "Nope. What about Uno, or hiking, or moon sand or...."
Him: "Well what if I run around and, well (sigh), you can just walk?"
There are moments in which it is very inconvenient that we don't live in a large neighborhood or have other children! Our conversation ended this way. "Mama, you are so unusual. Everyone likes to run around and break out energy and play tag. Why can't you be like that?!"
Me (exasperated): "I'm going to do a SURVEY of adults to see how THEY like tag and I'll show you the results! It's science!"
To which I received the stink eye in response, but it did inspire him to be interested in science experiments. We spent the rest of the afternoon playing with oil, water, and food coloring. Much better.
Recently I've had a lot of conversations with parents about how much, and how often, we play with kids. My mother-in-law once commented that she didn't play with her kids as much as my husband and I do. She recalled that having a clean house was socially of more value than playing with kids in the 70s. Kids played with kids, not adults. I remember that growing up, but I lived in a neighborhood full of children.
One of my best friends and I recently discussed this. She and her husband enjoy children but do not choose to have any. So when we visit, there's always this dance regarding, how much time do we play with the 5 year old and how much time do we expect him to be able to play on his own. My friend is firmly in the camp that good kids should just be able to entertain themselves while the adults hang out. And this is not my son's idea of fun. He, of course, would like us all to play tag. And while the adults might indulge him for 10 minutes, he would like to play tag ALL day.
For me, guilt is hard to resist. I'm drawn to it. If there's an occasion to feel like I've done something wrong, I flutter around it, skittish as a moth around a light bulb in the dark. So I wonder if I play with him "too much", if I don't play "enough", and I feel really guilty if I'm finding our time together to be boring. (See Louis C.K. about playing with children! ) It took a lot of faking it before I got to the point in which I could tell my son, no really, tag is awful, and terrible, and never any fun for me.
There seem to be two camps regarding play time with children. There are those people who believe that we are all so busy and plugged in, that we should be spending more time face to face parenting. That we should really get into our child's world to make meaningful connections. And there are those who believe that we've let our children take over our adult lives, that this is new, and for the sake of both children and adults we need to allow children to play on their own most of the time. This becomes even more complicated now that we have social media and carry our lives on our phones.
To compound things in my house, my husband leans more toward being the entertainment committee, and I lean more toward "I have grown up things to do and we can talk to each other and tell great stories, but this food / laundry / dirty floor isn't going to take care of itself." So I get a lot of, "Well, when DADDY is here..." Or the dreaded, "I'm booooooooored!" To which I finally responded by asking him to help me create (and decorate) a list of things he can do when bored...so far we have 50 ideas! It lives on the refrigerator and will not be displaced by one more abstract painting from art class!
I haven't actually put together a survey about how many adults like tag, or for how long, or how often... but I sure was tempted! Science! But I would be grateful to read some of your opinions, beliefs, and struggles about play time with kids in the comments.