I hate playing with my children.

There, I said it.

Don't Break the IceI hate tea parties.
I hate Stratego, and Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders, and Hungry Hungry Hippos, Lucky Ducks, and especially Don’t Break the Ice.
I hate pretending I’m an animal.
I can’t stand holding little toys and making them have conversations with each other.
I really don’t enjoy activities where all the cushions and pillows from my couches are spread haphazardly on the floor throughout my house.
I would rather clean out my closets than use a silly, high voice and make Webkinz tell jokes to each other while they bonk each other on the head.


I am a horrible person.
And I’m not even being sarcastic.

This is exactly why I was afraid to have children in the first place. I knew that I was not endowed with the type of personality that would ever land me a job in a preschool or day-care environment. My gifts and talents seem to be best geared toward the few-steps-past-elementary-school and beyond kind of crowd.

And yet here I am.
A mother of three small children. They love to play.
And they want me to play with them, which I am as excited to do as I am to train for a marathon. Sometimes it feels that hard.

Part of the reason I had them in bulk was so that they would play with each other, and I must confess that usually that’s a good strategy. But they still want me, and I got the feeling today that maybe they wouldn’t fight me so much on the things that I want them to do if I were more accommodating occasionally on the things they want to do.

(You’re allowed to say things like “duh.” I can’t hear you.)

Earlier this week, I read this post by Erin where she talked about play being a child’s language of love. (I felt a little too guilty to comment.)

Then today, as I was cleaning up the playroom, I found this quote on the floor that used to be taped to the television before we implemented our what-you-will-surely-think-is-crazy rule of no TV on weekdays (which by the way has been way less dreadful than I feared it would be, but I’ll save that for another post if you even happen to care). The quote by Elder M. Russell Ballard says:

“Families need unstructured time when relationships can deepen and real parenting can take place. Take time to listen, to laugh, and to play together.”

So, rather than just feel guilty, I went back and looked at his talk about motherhood that the quote came from, and found this phrase there:

“There is no one perfect way to be a good mother. Each situation is unique. Each mother has different challenges, different skills and abilities, and certainly different children.”

So I tried to focus on my own skills for a minute. This is how I play with my children: I sing songs with them. I wrestle. I read them books. Lots and lots of books. I like to go to the zoo or aquarium or museum with them. I like to answer their questions about the world around them.  Sometimes we make cookies. I like to play outside with them (when it’s warm). I print out pictures for them to color and then I applaud their amazing art skills. I ask them questions about their friends and their day.

Maybe I’m not a horrible person.
I can do better because, come on, how hard is it really to play a dumb game for five minutes? And they would love it. So in some ways, I need to stop making excuses and “sacrifice” with just a little more joy. But, I can also focus on my strengths and “play” them up.

And though I was nervous about having children, and certainly nervous about my own abilities, I have never regretted the choice to be a mother.  I love these three kids more than I love anything else in the whole world.  Sure, my life might be “easier” without them, but it would also be much, much emptier.  They deserve more of me, and I deserve more of the lovey-huggy-warm stuff that automatically happens when I give them more of myself.

But I still might throw away Don’t Break the Ice.


52 thoughts on “I hate playing with my children.

  1. I am so glad that there is someone else out there who shares these same feelings. Even growing up I wasn’t a good kid – not behavior bad – just not playful. I didn’t like barbies and dolls and playing house. I tolerated them but did not enjoy them. I’ve felt guilty for 6 years because I don’t like playing kiddy stuff. I will have to go back and read that talk and see what I can pull from it too. So, thanks for sharing and know you are not the only mom out there who dreads Don’t Break the Ice. By the way, I threw ours away!!

  2. This is a great post. and so true. We don’t have to do things like everyone else does. Everyones life experience is unique, and they key to it-is listening to the Lords voice in telling you what will work for you. I am finding that alot of my happiness and joy is in things I am allready doing. Many qualities that I wish I had, I actaully do have. Satan tries to convince me I dont, and the trick has been uncovering all the lies about myself and let the Lord tell me who I am,a nd gain confidence in those things. I am not lacking – I just dont remember very well sometimes.

  3. I started early with the whole “use your imagination because I don’t have one so go play while mommy does laundry.” So far, I’ve been lucky because my kid likes to play by himself. Not in an autistic way, he just likes to be in control and is therefore not good at interacting with my kind of clean-up play. I’ll play with him when he needs me, but he’s a lot like me in how we both like to do our own thing.

    I also don’t buy a lot of toys. Of all he has, I bought two or three. Maybe four. Because I don’t feel like he needs them. And he doesn’t, so far. He likes cars, boxes, things that stack and nest, and music. We’re entering the ball stage and leaving the box stage.

    Oh, and I would just like to say that I hate reading out loud to him. But that has a lot to do with he and i clashing in how things should be done. I want to read the words on the page and tell him what the things on the page are, and he wants to turn the page.

    And what do I play with him? I make a playlist of fun dancing songs and we have a dance party. We stack his nesting boxes and knock them down. Put plastic shapes into holes. Tickle fight. Midnight cuddle time. Telling him what things are when he points and says ‘that.’

    I’m dreading a girl because I’m not so good at playing house or dolls or barbies. I never have liked them. Or doing hair.

    • Both of my boys loved books, but Natalie was just like what you described– she had about a 10-second tolerance for orderly book reading. She’s grown out of it now though (at almost 3), and they all love to cuddle together on the couch and listen to/look at stories. It’s one of my favorite things to do with them because it’s quiet, cuddly, and contained, not to mention all the academic benefits, etc. It’s the ONE thing I’ve always known I do right with my kids. Keep at it . . .

  4. I have two words of advice on how to get out of making your Webkinz say, “Now let’s go to the park and have a picnic” or whatever the game of the day is—

    Have Twins.

    Now, doesn’t your giving in to play for just a few minutes a day sound so much easier?

    You’re welcome. 🙂

    (We never owned Don’t Break the Ice. Phew.)

  5. We are the same kind of mother. And my best friend is visiting right now and she is playing with my kids in ways that I never do. We’ve just decided she can ship me her teenagers when they begin to drive her crazy.

    (I’m a lost cause, by the way. A complete and total ball-dropping, lame-o, procrastinating, baby-delivering lost cause.)

    • I love this post….not only because i love your honesty but also because i can relate! My playtime w my kids is by no means 24/7….some days i just have to tell her…wanna watch cartoons??

  6. Okay, so I’m laughing, but really, this is so good. And it’s true -we don’t all have the same momming skills. I may be dreadful about teaching my kids how to _________ , but there is hot breakfast and hot dinner every day. And that has to count for something. And I may not play the wii because it makes me carsick, but that’s why God gave us a Daddy around here. Good thoughts. Thanks!

  7. I love it.

    I don’t know if you saw my comment on Erin’s post, but I said something like I hate to play with my children. And I do. Heck! I won’t even buy Don’t Break the Ice!

    But I appreciate your insights. Because I do sing with them, joke with them, help them with homework, tickle them, read to them, take them to fun places and so forth. I just don’t like playing Barbies with them or having tea parties.

    My husband is better at the getting down and playing with them in that way. But you have really helped me to let go of the guilt here. I am a good mom, and my kids love me even if I hate to play dress up with them. Phewsh.

    PS We do the no tv on weekdays here too (well, the kids do. My husband and I will occasionally watch after bedtime) and it was mainly for my own sanity. I love it. And I don’t think my kids have even noticed that it’s missing. We’ve been doing it for about 3 years now and they really look forward to movie Friday. It makes it more fun.

    • Yes! For some reason my husband can play dolls w our 6 year old for literally hours! Hes so much better than me at playing! We do watch tv here…probably too much but i also have an 18 year old who has taken a hiatus from life since graduating high school….so the tv is always on…even if its not being watched.

  8. This is why I don’t work with small children. I love working with teenagers because they don’t have to play all the time, and when they do, it’s games like Uno and Checkers.

    • I specifically thought of you when I wrote this post and thought “Great, this is the big nail on Kristina’s birth control coffin,” so I added my little testimony at the end. I was/am so like you in this way Kristina– taught high school and college and would get a rash if I had to walk past a daycare. It was a leap of faith for me into the world of motherhood, and I’ve been surprised that even though all the bad stuff I thought would be there really is there, I never imagined how good all the good stuff would be. I had no idea.

  9. Thanks for letting me know that I’m not alone. I’ve felt guilty watching some friends who seem to do endless craft projects or games or play school with their kids. It’s just not in my nature. Plus, I don’t remember my mom being that kind of mother. We were expected to entertain ourselves. I guess I’ve done the same with my kids. Luckily my husband is a kid in a grown up’s body. He definitely picks up some of the slack in this area for me.

  10. I gritted my teeth through an entire game of CandyLand yesterday. Sometimes the only way I make it through a “play” session is to pretend that Supernanny is filming at my house. So far, it works.

  11. I’m JUST LIKE YOU. I try to enjoy the fact that my kids actually want me to be involved (although ‘involved’ is me sitting, taking pictures and paying attention). I try to soak it up because I know that in 30 years I will no longer be the hub of their existence (although I don’t always enjoy it). I will be in a quiet house with no one vying for my attention, aside from my amazing husband. But I do not play board games with them. We sing songs, bake cookies, hug, read books and they dance (while I cheer them on). My husband is the child entertainer. He’s always playing games and making them laugh and taking them on walks. I’m at peace with my inability to play with my kids. 🙂

    • Erika, it’s so funny that you would say that because I remember reading on your blog all the awesome pre-school things you did with your girls and thinking, “Man, I could never do that stuff.” We’re obviously all more gifted than we believe we are. 🙂

  12. Stephanie,

    Oh, how I love you. We are made out of the same mold, because make believe is about as painful as it gets.

    The only difference is that you have an age ahead of you where you know you’ll excel. I’m still wondering what my strengths are going to be . . . perhaps when they’re in college? 🙂

  13. I so understand what you’re saying! I cringe every time my son asks me play “dinosaurs” with him and usually come up with some excuse not to. Sometimes I actually tell him I don’t really like that game and suggest we do something we both enjoy. Is that bad? Other times, I bite the bullet and play the game and make it as short as possible.

    I think you’re exactly right about the whole strenghts thing. Great post- thanks!

  14. Stephanie, I didn’t write that post to make you feel guilty!

    It’s kind of funny – I’m the kind of mom who can play games with my kids on the floor. And I read to them. But I HATE taking them anywhere. We rarely go to the park. I can’t stand taking them to the store, even though they are well behaved overall. I don’t give them opportunities like zoos or aquariums or museums. (I have a bit of a phobia and really, really can’t stand getting out and around lots of people.) And I feel like a really rotten mom because they don’t get fun opportunities like I feel they “should” be getting. That’s why I posted about what I did – because I know my kids need experiences like that, and even though I HATE it, I know they love it and I want them to know I love them.

    I wish we could sometimes pool our mom resources together so our kids could get the best of all worlds. I’ll play Candyland and Don’t Break the Ice with your kids if you will take mine to the zoo!

    • Oh, good heavens, Erin, I know you would never write anything to make anyone feel guilty. I just recognized the truth in it and had that twinge that said I should do better at that. And I can. As for the board games and zoo swap, I’m totally game. It’s a great idea.

    • Steph & Erin
      You two have illustrated that mothers come in all different kinds of packages and we all come with our strengths and our weaknesses. One thing that a lot of us seem to be good at is feeling guilty, the other is comparing our weaknesses against others strengthes.
      I’m so glad that through the honest posts and comments that people share, we get to understand we there is no such thing as a “perfect mother”. We can be the best “Steph” or best “Erin” or best “Mika”. I loved what a lady at church said today, she said that she now looks back on her day and if the good stuff out numbers the bad stuff, it has been a good day….then she went on to say that she usually has good days, she just never used to stop and count the good stuff, but would focus on the bad things – so you can guess what her outlook used to be.
      Steph, it’s great that you were able to take a moment and think about the things that you do enjoy, and that unique experience you bring to your children. I think that is something that we all should do more often.

      Mika @ http://jugglingmotherhood.wordpress.com/

  15. I used to tell my kids that I am their mom, not their friend or playmate. The only thing I could stand playing with the kids was playing with playdough. And reading. I didn’t mind that so much. And I hated taking them to the park until they were old enough to climb around without me having to watch out for them every second so I could read my own book.

    I babysit and I NEVER play WITH the child I babysit (I do read to her and I talk to her and I give her crafty things to do). She has learned to play by herself and seems to do just fine. It’s my opinion that children need to learn how to entertain themselves. Maybe that’s just me rationalizing my hands-off approach, but it keeps me sane.

    I’ve found my teenagers much more satisfying to be around. I can and do play games with them–games that I enjoy.

  16. Thanks for this post! It good to hear other moms share some of the same feelings I have, and I too have sometimes felt guilty about not playing with my children.

  17. I don’t have kids, but used to babysit a lot. And I would get tired after awhile of playing Barbies. Is it totally evil that I would suggest that Barbie and her friends go to the drive-in movie, and then we’d go watch TV? Saved my sanity. And I only took care of that girl once a week, so I probably didn’t corrupt her too much.

  18. PHEW!!! I am SO glad you said it!! It has always been one of the guilt things that is always at the back of my mind. Playing on the floor with Isabel (or any child) is as painful as I would imagine pulling my own fingernails with pliers is.

    Finally I can recognise the strengths that I do have and realise that not everyone has those. A friend of mine recently mentioned an ability that I have to always make any child feel like they are the most important person in the room. I had never even thought that I was doing it, but once she mentioned it I was able to realise that it was indeed a talent that I had.

    Really, I am so happy that you posted about this.

  19. I have really struggled lately with my 3 year old. After all the kids go to school, he wants me to play with him (and by that I mean he wants to sit and watch me play with his toys). I thought about what I did with my older kids and realized I’ve never had only a 3 year old at home before. And with 5 older siblings his idea of play is mostly watching them play. So I have been trying to teach him to play alone, because, like you, I’m not so much a player.

    And most of my kids wouldn’t sit through a book until they were 2 1/2-3 years old. But they all love it now. They love it so much I sometimes hide their current favorite so I don’t lose my mind.

  20. i just have to say, I am the EXACT kind of mother- so why am I having 6?!! I’ll tell you why… cause this baby #6 would NOT leave me alone- in the temple, in my dreams, at work… Why would he want to come to a mother like me?:) I really do think we have a great family for boys. You know that song, “My Dad’s the Greatest Guy”- by Janeen Brady from when we were 7? Well, I’m living that- my boys all think my husband is the best thing there ever was!!! Anywho, it makes me feel better when I read other mothers have the same thoughts:)

  21. I bookmarked that talk because I’d love to go back and read it too. Thanks for being an honest voice. I feel like this a lot when they want me to play the games I dont want to but then I think of the fun stuff that I do with them and the crafts, and music, and dance parties that it’s ok if I dont always pretend.

  22. I tried with the older kids, but I don’t do make-believe well. Games, I don’t mind, but now that they’re 8 and 10 I only play games with them of an evening as a reward if they’ve done all their chores and homework and have been happy doing them. With Aaron it’s either chasing him around the house, tickling-type games or actual learning games (where we’re working on colors or shapes etc.) I can’t drag cars across the coffee table for 3 hours straight like he’d like me to. I can’t. So I don’t. But I think he understands. 🙂

    It’s so interesting how pretty much all mothers can relate to this on some level. Motherhood really is all about sacrifice, but there are so many things involved that we don’t actually have to give in to it all. Which is nice.

  23. So glad to hear from a few more experienced moms that I’m not ruining my kids! I so often tell my 7 year old, in effect, to “go pick on someone his own size”–go find a friend to play with. And I can’t wait till I can do that with the younger ones too. In the meantime, I’m going to try out Mary’s genius idea of pretending Supernanny is filming us.

  24. I haven’t met an adult that likes chutes and ladders–I do, however, like Sorry, Sequence, Ticket to Ride, and Tikal. Which my kids can all play. Luckily my too oldest boys really like to learn so doing learning activities with them is always fun.

    As a side note, when I was five my mom worked full-time, I had 1/2 day kindergarten; and my Dad, a college professor, stayed home with me in the mornings. I remember that each day was about me. Even though we did work: planted the garden, dishes, ect. ect. I remember the time very fondly as “what are we going to do together today.”

    My dad still amazes me–he will go out and push my kids on the swing for an hour (and loves it)–I don’t last 10 minutes. I try to remember him and enjoy the moment–it doesn’t always work–but at least I’m trying.

  25. I seem to be cut from a similar mold as well. I used to feel tremendous guilt about this until I happened on a book called Mother Styles. It talks about how every mother thinks she should be doing all of the great things every other mother is doing, and how much of what we do enjoy doing with/for our kids can be understood better by looking at the Myer-Briggs personality test. It was a lightbulb moment for me–that it was ok that I wanted to read with my kids and travel with them, but not do crafts with them or take them to the mall. It has helped me try to capitalize more on my strengths and be aware (in a careful way, not in a guilty way) of my weaknesses. I recommended it for our book group this year and it was almost unanimously picked–I’m very excited for that discussion!

    PS–I love playing good games with my kids. But I will confess that I NEVER played candyland with my 4 younger kids, and that I threw away the Mouse Trap game.

  26. I remember reading “Playful Parenting” where the author suggests playtime with your children as the cure to all that might ail them. I went away from it determined that I was going to be the crafty, game playing, write your letters in pudding type of mom. And you know what, I’m just not. I’m totally with you. I will help dress the barbies, but am much happier when the girlies are playing together making up their own dramas.

    We do puzzles together, and we play a lot of board games. I love sitting and reading together, and of necessity we do a lot of music. We also do a lot of working together- cooking, laundry etc. The kids don’t love it, but its a good way to teach them and get things done at the same time.

    I do have to say though, that I’m rediscovering the fun of playing with my little boy. I don’t know if its because he’s a boy, or if its because we have so much time together one on one, but I have time almost daily where I chase him around the house and he sqeals. And I confess that one of the big reasons I’m wanting to have another relatively soon is so that Max will have a playmate built in…

  27. For me it’s Playdoh. I just can’t do the Playdoh. I would rather die.

    And, I also remember as a child being expected to entertain myself. We lived in a safe neighborhood, and I was always outside, playing with the other kids or climbing trees or something. It was such a good way to grow up. But now I would NEVER let my kids do that. Can you imagine just letting your kids outside and saying, “Come home for dinner!” You just can’t do that anymore because of all the pervs out there.

    But anyway, this is why I’m having my kids close together in age. I want them to always have people to play with that aren’t me.

  28. I didn’t take the time to read everyone’s comments, but here is my theory about playing with kids.
    It doesn’t have to be a marathon session. I mingle play in between stuff I’m doing around the house. Nothing formal. When I’m done loading the dishwasher, I stop and chase Jesse around the living room for a few minutes. Then I fold laundry. Then I stop and we smash matchbox cars into little mini-car-wrecks for a couple minutes. You get the idea. It makes it much less painful, he gets the interaction he needs and the independent time he needs as well.

  29. I’ve always felt like that kind of mother, too. But I do play games when we have time… which isn’t that often. thanks for that “unstructured time” bit. Need to work on that.

  30. So I’m obviously a little late to the comment party on this but after skimming through what other people I have said, I guess I could probably just add “Amen” and be done. I do need to repent of too much Yo Gabba Gabba on when I’m trying to write, but I’m doing a little better at going out to play for a while each day. That usually just means laughing and clapping about whatever Grant is up to and you know what? I can do that. But not Hot Wheels. I hate playing Hot Wheels.

  31. I find a lot of times it’s not that I don’t want to play with them, but that there is just a million and one other things to do. When honestly prioritized…the dishes, clothes, and picking up of the house are obviously not that more important than showing my love through playing, as you so well put it. I am very hard on myself as a mother, and take the job probably way more serious than I need to, says my husband. So, I should look on the brighter side and think of all the things I do do for them, it’s not like I ignore them….and wow, not there yet for break the ice, but I DESPISE board games, so I am really not looking forward to that phase in our playtime. You have one sister high fiving you on that one 🙂

  32. It sounds like you are a great mom who spends lots of time with her children. You just don’t like “playing” with them. I don’t have children, and I don’t mind playing with children at all, but board games with kids aren’t fun. Growing up we had no TV Monday through Thursday. And that was before DVRs!

  33. I want to applaud after reading this because that is so much the sort of mother I am. Although I do enjoy playdough and colouring, I’ll admit. Finding where we are strong, where we’re doing things well and right, is an important task I think.

  34. I never did play “games” per se with my children. I never play games with anyone. I am not a game player. But I am a good mother, or so my adult children tell me. And we did have lots of fun together…because I do like to play verbally, joke around, listen, talk, tell stories, hike, swim, etc. etc. But board games put me in a bad mood and playing cards makes me want to hurt myself.

    Our relationships are great. You don’t have to play “games,” you just have to spend lots and lots of time paying complete attention to them. And I did pay attention. All the time. I answered every question and listened to every story.

    There are lots of ways to be a good mother. And that’s why I liked your post.


  35. I’ve enjoyed reading this thread!

    My sister recently told me how much she loves to PLAY with her son, and boy does she ever! Hours on end, they are playing games, going to parks, hitting balls, tickling, etc. Her son is a very high-needs child, and her only one, and the hours she isn’t at work (she works a 40-hour week), she pours into him with gusto.

    I, on the other hand, am with my four kids all the time, because we homeschool and I’m a stay-at-home mom. When my sister commented how much she loves to play with her kids, I told her (being completely honest) that I don’t! I like to read to them, and talk with them, and play the occasional Apples to Apples or Yahtzee game with the older ones, but I really expect them to entertain themselves much of the time. And they do!

  36. I came across this while searching under “I feel guilty for not playing with my children”. I feel a little better after reading this. Thank you for writing it.

    I still feel badly about throwing away Don’t Break The Ice- my daughter loved it- but it seriously made me want to pull my hair out to have to play it. 🙂

  37. Thank you so much….ive been feeling like such a failure because i hate playing dollies with my six year old…..but your post reminded me of all of the things we do together…reading….singing…video games…and i asked her….am i boring? She said no….you take walks with me everyday…..a walk didnt even register for me that that was fun for her…it relaxes me.
    Any way…..thanks for bringing some clairity and brightness to my day. 🙂

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