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Learning to love playtime with kids

Something I have been struggling with lately as a mother is playing with my kids. Seems strange as play should be the easiest thing I can do with them, but I am just finding it hard to enjoy play time.
My eldest Emily has been difficult to play with since she became a toddler. As a baby I could tickle her and look into her eyes and she was happy but toddlers are a different story.  As she grew older I began to try different activities with her such as water play, painting, play dough and even using rice in a container like a sandpit. Each activity I would try would end badly. Water would be tipped all over the floor, rice spread from one end of the house to the other, paint everywhere but on the paper! Now a year later I am still struggling to find things she is interested in doing for more than a minute and things that she cannot turn into a giant mess. 
Painting = Disaster

Even eating a bowl of yoghurt can turn ugly
Recently, she has been asking me to play with her which is lovely but I am finding that I am either busy doing housework, busy with Claire or just not all that interested in playing with her. I know I am not alone and I have heard others say that they don’t enjoy playing with their kids. But I really want to enjoy playing with them and I want it to be a way I show my kids how much I love them. 
I don’t have the answers yet but here are some thoughts I have had recently that you may or may not find helpful. Firstly, I am a stay at home mum not a stay at home house cleaner.  Therefore, my priority needs to be looking after my kids,s and not making sure the bench sparkles. A clean house is important but not at the expense of quality time with my kids. Secondly, not enjoying play is (for me) not a good excuse. The main reason I am not enjoying it is that I am distracted and wanting to do other things. I really want to work on being in the moment with my kids during play and forget that the washing needs hanging out.  I also know that the reason Emily ruins the activities is mainly due to her not having my attention. If I am able to give her my focused attention and demonstrate my desire to enjoy play with her it is likely that she will not paint her face or tip all the pencils on the floor.
So over the next few weeks I am going to take my own advice and try to learn to enjoy play with my kids…who knows, I may even learn to love it!
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  1. I have totally been there Lisa!! What I have learnt though is that as long as the kitchen and bathroom are reasonably clean, the rest can really wait…but it takes a few years to “let it go” and not be ashamed when visitors unexpectedly drop in!! Plus pray that God will help you enjoy the moment and find the balance between cooking, cleaning and just being xx

  2. I find what I enjoy most doing with my kids is the non-messy stuff (they know that they go to kindy & play gp for painting & play doh, not at home!) – such as reading bks, doing puzzles, & then there are the “helping” games- like hanging clothes on their own clothes rack & folding washers & undies. Look for opportunities to play in yr day to day activities rather than having to “psyche” yourself up for it. Even just playing monsters or chaseys round the house can keep some kids perfectly happy!

  3. Hey Lisa, I just found your blog — it’s lovely to see a Christian sahm admitting their failures. I think as women we make life so hard for each other with unrealistic expectations. I too have an eldest that goes to extremes to get my attention and I know that she needs what I call eye-to-eye time where she has my full attention…our eyes meet, one-on-one. This is the really intensive time together. I ‘schedule’ this once-a-day and write it on the fridge so she knows when it is. I also write on our timetable when mummy has to do chores and what she can do at the same time.

    I have learnt to relax into the colouring-in together and actually find it soothing. I write love notes for her with coloured pencils and she keeps them all. And as she has learnt to write she now writes love notes to me during our time together.

    I agree with what Kathie has said too. Making housework part of play is a great way to get two things done. Charlie now can fold clothes, hang clothes on the fold-out clothes dryer, wash up plastic cups and plates, cut up soft vegies with a dinner knife…With little ones you can practice colours and counting while you hang clothes out…’Can you please pass me a red peg?’ ‘Can you please find me two blue pegs?’…

    All the best for your mummyhood :)

    Jane (Drayton)

  4. Thanks for the comments and great ideas. It is so important to hear the wisdom of those who have gone before us in these things.

    Jane – I have been considering the schedule one one one time things with Em. I think we would both benefit from it. Glad to have you following my blog. :)

  5. Hi. I read somewhere (no idea where) just today that our kids are most relaxed playing with us when we are doing something we enjoy. So if you enjoy housework, then your kids can enjoy “helping” doing little bits and pieces with you. My daughter absolutely loves “helping” me with the laundry, and although it takes twice as long, I’m getting the housework done and she’s getting my attention.

  6. Helping with the laundry is a really good one. As we live in Canberra most of it get hung inside so they can “hang” on the lower racks and feel proud of their work. I like the idea that they are relaxed doing things we enjoy. I am going to keep that in mind. I do love cooking and my eldest always says “I like do tooking (cooking) with you mummy, while Tare (Claire) sleeping”

  7. Hi Lisa. Just found your blog and am really enjoying it. I am a health professional and I recently went to a workshop about the power or play and the main message was that playing with your children for only 15 monutes a day can make a difference. The only catch is – you need to be in the moment. No housework, no music on, no answering phones. I decided to test this out. I set the oven timer for 30 minutes (I figure I can spare this time) and then Little Miss 19 months and I have our “special time”. I have found that since we started this, her language has improved dramatically and she is more happy to play by herself when I am doing housework. I know this would be harder with 2 kidlets but wanted to share my story with you in the hope that it helps or inspires you?

  8. Thanks Sarah! I really like that idea and it is really not a lot of time. I think Emily really gets so much out of having my undivided attention. We spent over an hour yesterday riding her bike and picking flowers it was lovely and I felt we really connected. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  9. Ha! I guess one of the benefits of not being particularly neat/clean is that I don’t usually mind a bit of play/fun made mess! ;)

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