How I handle the Mom Guilt when I don’t want to play with my kids

mom guiltMy last post talked about judging.  Now let’s discuss guilt.  I think mamas can quickly identify feeling pangs of guilt related to SOMETHING mom-related.  Why are judgment and guilt two feelings so quickly available once you are a parent?!

Mama guilt is PERVASIVE. There are times it feels like no matter what you do, it’s not enough and it’ll never be right.  We care SO MUCH about our kids, we’re willing to blame ourselves if anything ever goes wrong, and we are the people who created these kids, nurtured them, love them like crazy and would give our lives for them!  It’s a major disconnect and I say NO MORE.

How I handle play time Guilt

I was recently emailing one of my girlfriends about playtime with our toddlers. She expressed guilt over not enjoying imaginary play.  I think it’s OK to have a preference for what you want to play with.  Not every kid wants to play with Legos, so should every parent be expected to play too?  My oldest daughter doesn’t want to ride bikes or take walks with me, but I LOVE these activities.  I am pretty darn sure she does not feel one iota of guilt saying NO when I ask her to come outside with me.  This is a two-way street.

Mom will you play ball with me?
Mama, will you play ball with me?

I only play when I want to, and with toys or games I like.  If asked to do something I don’t enjoy, I don’t feel guilty saying no because there are plenty of other things we can do. I used to get pangs of guilt about not jumping at the chance to do imaginary play, but on the days I am home with the girls, I want to get my stuff done and be productive.  They follow me around the house like little ducklings and sometimes and I’ll make my chores more interactive.

For example, they love using the broom; so much so, we bought them a little broom and dustpan to play with (I can imagine a mom reading this and rolling her eyes, but my floor is slightly less crumby and I like it). My girls LOVE watching the Kitchenaid mixer, and my challah recipe just so happens to call for 3 cups of flour.  I put the mixer on the floor and they each get to dump their own cup of flour into the bowl and watch the mixer go round and round (it’s mesmerizing).  They like “kneading” (really playing) with the challah dough when it’s done.  I am always trying to be productive and think of ways to involve the girls because 1) I get stuff on my to do list done, 2) we’re doing something productive together (teaching moments!) and 3) they are learning firsthand what it takes to run a household.

In contrast, I had a friend who never wanted to do housework with her kids around because her mom ONLY did housework when she was growing up and she felt neglected. I think there’s a balance.  I’m not mopping floors and telling my kids not to walk into the kitchen, but they think it’s fun to watch me vacuum around the house and help me gather laundry and put it in the washer and dryer (but I fold after they are in bed because then it looks like a laundry bomb has gone off in the living room).

What’s a parent to do when their kid asks them to play something and you really don’t want to? You feel terrible for shooting them down, but should you make the sacrifice?  I wonder, would it be terrible for you to suggest something else you DO want to do?  I’ve said this to Esther, “I don’t want to play that, let’s read a book or play with Legos.”  I’ve also told her first I need to get [fill in the task] done, then would she like to help me?  She usually jumps at the chance to do something new and different with me.  I mean even hanging clothes up on hangers or organizing my stuff under the bathroom sink is thrilling to a kid because they get to see a glimpse of your stuff, touch it, inspect it… it’s like a new toy.  If my daughter still wants to play with dolls, I’ll just do something else near here (like build a Lego bed for her Barbies), so I’m still engaged, but not bored out of my mind.  I think it’s OK to want to play with the toys I find interesting.

Read more on “how I handle all the many forms of mom guilt” here!
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2 thoughts on “How I handle the Mom Guilt when I don’t want to play with my kids”

  • I have mom guilt over lots of things, but I don’t have a problem saying “I’m not in the mood to play that.” to Finn. Usually it’s something very labor-intensive for me, like pushing him around the yard in his wagon. My main sources of guilt are being on my phone too much, letting him watch TV and letting him have unhealthy food, like overly processed stuff or Chick Fil A or something. Guilt and judgement go hand in hand, because it’s usually the things I’ve judged others for that make me feel guilty myself. Self-judging!

    Back to playing, kids that age do all kinds of parallel play with each other, so why not with you? You are still spending time with them and that’s all they want. 🙂

    • There’s a million things to feel guilty over… I have two more posts related to working mom guilt and “not providing educational moments every minute of the day” guilt. You’re right, our kids just want us to spend time with them.

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