Zen and the Art of Making Time to Play With Your Kids…or, Didn’t I Just Play With You Yesterday?


May 16, 2015 by Julia

I’ve been anxious about time lately. The to-do list in my head feels urgent, and it makes me crazy when my kids beg me to play with them in teary, pleading voices that I hear as accusatory: they dare to imply that I neglect them because I have to do laundry or the dishes!? It’s not the playing that I mind, necessarily – if I am relaxed enough and they aren’t fighting with each other I enjoy it – it’s the setting aside of my own agenda for theirs that is tough. Sometimes the idea of playing Dinosaurs vs. Transformers while a bunch of other responsibilities weigh on me is more than I can handle. Hell is a million half-finished projects and a messy house. When I’m in that unfinished, chaotic limbo, how am I supposed to drop it all and come up with an exciting narrative for Fiona’s dollhouse family? That would require enthusiasm.

“Mama Gives Up At Dinnertime”

Play feels like something you can’t cross off a list. It could go on forever, if you let it. It may produce nothing, teach no ethical lessons. It may be boring or physically demanding. And the kids know – THEY KNOW – if I am distracted. At least when I’m doing housework, I can zone out a bit. Most parents learn that housework is actually easier than playing, maybe because of how our adult brains work.

A large part of it is that with errands or chores, I’m ensuring my own break after the kids are in bed. I don’t want to be vacuuming up chip crumbs then. By that point in the day I want to enjoy my glass of red wine and a fulfilling, brain-engaging, soul-feeding activity such as writing, or reading a novel, or watching the latest quality product from HBO. Because I have desires, too – not just responsibilities! Is that so hard to imagine, children???

Just kidding. Of course it’s hard for them to imagine; Fiona is seven and Jack is three-and-a-half.

I do feel guilty, though, when I am doing household chores instead of playing with them. I fight the guilt, I protest it out loud. “What if I never washed your clothes?? I’m doing this for you! So don’t try to make me feel bad about it!” And then I feel more guilty for asking them to appreciate the most basic things I do for them – the things they should take for granted, at their ages.

I’m pretty sure there is nothing wrong with trying to get all the crappiest crap done while the kids are awake, like killing two birds with one stone (a less-than-angelic idiom to use when talking about the care of one’s own children, I am aware), but their agenda is just as important as mine. They’ve got a to-do list, too: Learn about the world. Get exercise. Explore. Have fun. Get some love. Try new things. What they need to learn through play is just as important as what I need to do in order to keep our family going. It may not always have to come first, but I feel better when I deliberately make time for it. This is where the guilt comes from when I don’t. I know the truth:

They want me – not just all the background stuff I do to make sure they’re fed and clothed. Not just me taking them cool, fun places. Me. And this time is precious. In the grand scheme of things, they will not want to play with me for that much longer.

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It leaves me in a place of constant evaluation of how to spend my time. I feel selfish, but I am still starving. I do so much for my family, and yet I am painfully aware of my shortcomings. Whose turn is it – mine or theirs? What should I do for the present moment? What must be done for the future? Who am I serving when I mulch the garden? I want to do right by everyone, including myself. I don’t know when to work and when to rest. Every choice seems to have such consequences. Jack asks me to snuggle on the couch with him while he and Fiona watch a cartoon, and I think, I can’t say no to that. I want to do that. The kids should see their mommy sit down and do nothing in their presence sometimes. But what does this mean for dinner? What about those emails? How much time will this rob from ‘my time’ after they’re in bed? (As though cuddling with Jack wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, anyway.)

I did snuggle with Jack, and his warm soft cheek on mine brought my heart rate down. The stress drained out. I made a conscious decision not to look at my phone, to actually watch the show with them, and laugh at the right parts. It was wonderful, and I was glad I made that choice for those twenty minutes.

I wish I didn’t consider every block of twenty minutes so seriously, though. It’s quite a burden. I know I ask this on a fairly regular basis, but does everyone feel this way? I don’t think I’m so different from anyone else, but at the same time I wonder – are there people who don’t agonize so much? Are their lives better-lived than mine? How do you define better-lived? AHHHHHHHHH. Shut up, brain.

Could there be any more questions in this post, rhetorical or otherwise?

That’s me. I go through phases of desperate grasping for meaningful uses of my time. The worry about it decreases the enjoyment of anything, though. I wish I could make my inner waters like a still pond in a forest of pines, but I am choppy surf, coming and going.

Clearly, I need more moments of zen.


Writing gets me there. So does yoga. So does focused, quality time with my family. I’m thinking a solid hour of quality playtime with the kids every day might be what we all need.

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I will find a way, I will find the time, I will stop and breathe and hug. Even if I have to put it all on my ever-shifting daily to-do list.



2 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Making Time to Play With Your Kids…or, Didn’t I Just Play With You Yesterday?

  1. I know exactly what you mean about feeling restless because there is a never ending list of grown up chores to do but you can’t neglect play time with the kids either or you definitely won’t get any time to do anything without kids underfoot! So you might as well just settle in and enjoy the play time … but as adults we have grown out of playing so it’s an effort … but a rewarding effort … I hear you. 🙂

    • Julia says:

      Thank you for sharing your own experience – and for hearing mine! I am pretty convinced that sometimes we just have to commiserate until things start to make sense again. Clearing my head with this post helped me A LOT. 🙂 Thank you again for reading and taking the time to comment – hope you are well!

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