I Can't Stand Playing With My Kids & It Turns Out That's Normal

mom playing with kids
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I say no to my kids a lot. If I didn't, I'd never have a second to breathe. Sometimes saying no gives me a big case of mom-guilt, like when I say no, I won't let you "brush" my hair (which really means he rubs the brush around on my head and gets it tangled and stuck, but he's trying to be sweet and doesn't understand that it hurts). But sometimes ... sometimes when I say no, I don't feel guilty at all, because I just really don't want to do whatever it is they're asking me to do. Like play.

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I really don't like playing. Playing cars or kitchen or blocks or really pretty much anything that involves pretend, nope, nope, nope. I will color or read books or bake or make slime till the cows come home, but ask me to "play" and oh, look at the time, mama has some stuff to do right now.

And I don't feel bad at all.

I used to, though. I felt like the worst mom ever, like I was missing some vital mom-gene that other moms had. But try as I might, I've just never enjoyed playing with my kids. I loved hanging out with my kid when he was younger, and doing things with him that DIDN'T involve pretend play was always great fun. Art and nature hikes, going to the zoo, having little adventures in the backyard -- all super fun stuff. But inevitably he'd ask to play knights or animals in the jungle or monsters and I'd cringe inside. I hated that shit. Like, a lot.

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Recently, a friend and I were chatting on Facebook and my kids asked me to play with them. I said something to my friend about the dread I felt. I'm sure there was also a gif. And to my surprise, she was right there with me! We were both SO RELIEVED at finding out we weren't mom-aberrations! The realization that there was one other mother out there in the wide world who would rather do laundry than play monsters was absolutely freeing.

I decided to see just how widespread this phenomenon was and posted the question in a moms group, fully expecting the sanctimommies to tar and feather me. But I was shocked when my notifications blew up with people -- all of them other moms like me -- actually thanking me for asking, because they were bearing the burden of mom-guilt over not liking to play. One mother of three, Olga, posted, "I am happy to have my kids entertain themselves, but please don't make me play with them!"

Another mom, Fiona, 37, mother to a 4-year-old boy, offered, "I find playing with children to be really repetitive and dull. I often also feel quite guilty like I could be doing other more productive things rather than pretending to be a monkey or whatever it is I've been asked to do." It was freeing to know that I wasn't alone, wasn't the only mom who felt this way, wasn't defective.

Someone also told me something that made me feel better (and gave me a perfectly legit reason not to play). This person said that parents really shouldn't insert themselves into a child's pretend play because we basically mess it up with our adultness. If your kid is pretending that there's a purple unicorn elephant drinking tea in a castle tower, most adults are going to have a hard time going all in on that. We have a tendency to inadvertently shy away from the fantastical, and as a result, our kids do too. So it's actually better for us to step away.

Score. Whew! That was exactly what I wanted to hear. I did a little research just to corroborate, and turns out it's true. Solo play is important and developmentally appropriate. As psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, PhD, tells Parents magazine, "We often tell our children exactly what to do and how to do it, or that toys should be used in a certain manner. But creativity is an outgrowth of exploration, of using something in a new way ... Even when they think they know all the right answers, adults need to give their children the permission to have their own ideas."

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So it turns out, I'm not as much of an aberration as I thought. Over time I've found that it's WAY more common than I thought for parents -- moms especially -- to really just not want to get down on the floor and get in the trenches of pretend play. In fact, looking back, I don't remember my mom ever going out of her way to get down on the floor and play Barbies or school or princess with me. I'm not scarred. I'm not traumatized. I played by myself, and that wasn't weird back then and it shouldn't be weird now.

It seems like, in two-parent homes, there is usually one parent who excels at play and one person who would rather do the dishes than have a tea party. And you know what? That's FINE. It's good! I don't need to add to my laundry list of guilt over not wanting to sit through another session of monsters vs. ninjas. I can be content to encourage my kids to play independently and know that I'm actually doing the right thing. Science even says so.

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