How much should you play with your kids?
This has been the burning question that has been tying my invisible cloak of guilt all up in knots this week.
Seriously, I thought I was done with the big fat mother’s guilt trap when I quit my full-time job, to spend more time at home with my son.
As it turns out, I am just as guilt ridden as ever, and the heavy cloak of guilt I was accustomed to dragging around with me then, is still very much with me now.
For a short while, it was just draped deceptively across my shoulders like a delicate silk shawl in this season’s hot new colour.
All it took was one slack parenting moment to bring it slamming back down again.
It was one of those days when it had been absolutely tipping down. As it is most days now and will continue to be until next Spring.
As the afternoons have started getting colder, wetter and darker, I have had about as much enthusiasm for heading over to the playground after school, as I have for sticking hot pokers in my toes.
We do make more effort to get outdoors at the weekend. So much so, that the endless round of playdates, parties and park trips can sometimes feel a bit like we have simply adopted our son’s social life and totally mislaid our own.
However, during the week we have been coming straight home after school and entertaining ourselves with indoor games instead.
Like the Octonauts memory card game.
Although my opponent is a cheater and will turn over every card until he finds the one that matches. If I pull him up on this, he will shrug and say matter of factly “but I want to be the winner, Mummy”
Sometimes, we will play Hungry Hippos if I can locate all the little red balls that rolled under the sofa the previous time.
Most days, we will practice his reading, phonics or maths.
Once a week he has swimming.
Another day, he might have a friend over to play.
He likes to help make dinner, so I let him stand next to me to pass ingredients and stir.
While I unload the dishwasher, he’ll maybe do a bit of colouring in at the table.
We play the hiding game, the chasing game, the flying game and the jumping game. When the Greek God(zilla) comes home from work, they will rough & tumble around the floor.
Sometimes we play the photo booth game.
My favourite is the tidy-up all the toys on the floor game, the winner of which gets a turn on the iPad – WIN/WIN.
Sometimes, we will snuggle on the sofa for as long as he can endure.
But each of these activities only takes around 20-minutes or so, and we have 3½ hours to fill until bedtime every day.
So, I will let him watch TV for an hour before dinner while I get on with various jobs around the house.
On a good day, I will tell myself he needs this wind-down time.
On a bad day, I will berate myself for having all this quality time to spend with my son and be totally lacking in inspiration for fun and exciting ways to fill it.
It was one of those days.
It was raining, again.
I was tired, he was tired.
So, he played quietly with his toys by himself. He imagined a land where Spiderman defended Peppa Pig’s playhouse from a big scary dinosaur; where Buzz Lightyear baked a cake and had tea with Lightening McQueen; Thomas the Tank Engine train tracks ran alongside a Knights Castle, and Mr Potato Head was the resident doctor.
I made a cup of tea, started a new blog post, and was just about to flick over to twitter, when it hit me.
The familiar pang of guilt that accompanies any activity during his waking hours where he is not my primary focus… BOOM.
I had been at home all day while he was at school. I had ALL DAY to drink a cup of tea, write a blog post and check Twitter, but had sorted the laundry and run errands instead. So, now I was using his time to catch up on my stuff when I should be crafting something instead. Or, actually learning how to craft…
I should be down on my hands and knees, crawling around the floor and getting lost in his magical world with him.
We could do a puzzle!
I must make EVERY.SINGLE.SECOND.COUNT.
I was pulling a puzzle down from the shelf and about to interrupt my son’s game to insist he play with me, when I noticed how happy he looked.
He was not shuffling his feet and looking for something to do. He was not desperately trying to gain my attention.
He was flying superheroes through the air and rescuing a bear from a lion.
He was animated and excited.
He was playing.
The puzzle could wait.