No-need Time

I don’t enjoy playing with my kids. I know, it’s one of those things you aren’t supposed to feel, let alone admit, but I don’t. I used to feel guilty about this, that I felt restless and bored whenever I sat down to play cars or dolls. I would see other moms having so much fun playing with their kids… surely they loved their kids more than I loved mine, or at the very least they were better moms.

Then at a parent evening at Katherine’s school, while a bunch of parents were trading stories about all the wonderful play they enjoy with their kids, I felt a wave of irritation, no doubt stemming from a sense of inadequacy, and blurted out that I don’t like playing with my kids. To my surprise, the teacher smiled and nodded, as if this was quite common. “That is because you are not two years old,” she said. As this soaked in, the teacher went on to say it is ok to not enjoy playing with your kids and more than that, it is ok to not play with them. They don’t need us to play with them; being present doesn’t mean being their age-equivalent playmate. Relief washed over me. I did love my kids! I was a good mom - or at least not a bad mom due to not wanting to play with them. This revelation was very freeing for me. I didn’t have to spend my days making traffic jams, diapering dolls, and coloring. I could enjoy not playing with them.

Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with my kids. I love listening to their chatter. I love seeing what they create. I love watching them play. As long as I am peripheral. In fact, I think my being peripheral changes the nature of their play in a good way. Remember the joy of being totally absorbed in a make-believe land? Dressing up and playing house in a fort built out of couch cushions and blankets? Or gathering grasses and weeds to mix into a muddy concoction that was really a stew to feed your baby bunny (aka, your little sister)?  Remember how there were no adults watching (sometimes unfortunately for your little sister)? I remember this freedom, the space to create a land that only a child can create. A land adults cannot be part of. Staying peripheral gives my kids this space.

But just because I had made peace with the fact that I didn’t have to play with Katherine didn’t mean she had made peace with it. She was used to my half-assed participation in building traffic jams. I had to reset the standard. Her teacher suggested I set aside some time each day where neither of us needed the other. No-need time. At first, no-need time only lasted 10-15 minutes. But slowly Katherine got used to it and we had longer and longer stretches. Now no-need time is part of our daily rhythm and both Katherine and Clara seem to appreciate it. We can spend a morning together, each of us doing our own thing, sometimes coming together in order for me to try a sip of pretend chai that has been prepared in their kitchen, or to change the murky paint water. It is relaxing, fulfilling time together. It is peaceful.

If you happen to be thinking, wow, independent kids who are capable of going about their day with only minimal effort on my part, I assure you that is not the case. I do dress them, feed them, clean them, take them on outings, and all the other standard stuff. And, I’m still envious of those parents who genuinely like playing with their kids… they share something with their kids that I don’t and relate to them in a way that I can’t. But at least now when my kids try to get me to play with them, I can say no. Guilt-free.

Katherine and Clara Reading(Sometimes this happens during no-need time. But never ever in the late afternoon hours when I need to make dinner.)