To play or not to play, that is the question

Every few days or so my chum Marilu at Olly Ocky ( posts, on her business facebook page, a picture, quote or article reference about the value of children’s play. She does good research, and they always make me think/smile. I also have a file on my shelf of pre-schooler activities that I’ve ripped out of magazines over the years. And since I’ve started tweeting and blogging, my exposure to the incredible wealth of play-promoting sites and writers has expanded further. To the point where it actually becomes unhelpful. I’m overwhelmed, and left full of a sense of my own shortcomings. There are so many good ideas out there, and I’m not really doing any of them. Are all these perfectly playing mummies out there marshalling their kids towards ever greater realms of personal enlightenment through meaningful experiences at every given moment of the day? I struggle to manage little more than a quick story read here, 10 minutes rough and tumble there, a game of snakes and ladders or dominoes once she’s in her pyjamas. While I may have perfected my ‘I’m interested’ voice, as my four-year-old says “Do you know Mummieeee, …..” for the 53rd time that day, my involvement in my children’s play is not as focused, as self-surrendering, as I might like.

Now why is that? You should know that this is a question that has preoccupied me greatly, especially since the birth of our second child. As an only child, I worried a lot before my son was born about how I would the accommodate the diverse developmental needs, with a 3 year gap, of our kids during the normal playing day. I dithered about how I would divide myself between them. When he was newborn, it wasn’t too difficult, but now he’s mobile, engaged and developing his own opinions, it can get very tricky. And I think this has actually, on occasion, left me stagnated, befuddled to the spot, unable to decide what to do for whom, and so not really involving myself in the play of either. I facilitate, I talk, I help, I read – but I don’t really play.

The pyschotherapist in me wants to understand this. I think back to my own childhood; do I remember playing? Well, yes, but only in a certain kind of way. I can see my 8-year-old self insisting on another game of Monopoly at the Christmas dining table. I can see my jotting pads, my colouring pens, my books. I can see me organising Tiny Tears’ clothes in the little wardrobe my step-grandfather made for me. But not too much else. Seeing the theme here? Yep, it’s all very controlled, calm, managed. This is who I remember myself being; the word ‘playing’ doesn’t really seem to come into it. I have always been goal-focused, introverted, cerebral when it comes to the activities I self-select. Throughout my life I have traded on my intellect, and I’ll quietly admit to having always felt uncertain about what my definition of ‘fun’ is. I think I’ve rarely pursued fun just for the sheer fun of it.

Does who I am in my own play mean that I am never going to get it right for the kids? This is my fear. I have been blessed with a daughter who jiggles, prances and gambols her way through life in constant pursuit of laughter and silliness with a zeal that a Cbeebies presenter would envy. The irony of this isn’t lost on me, and it is hard to shake the sense that I am letting her down. I struggle to ‘give in’ to every joke, bounce and tease; if you were with us, you’d be forgiven for saying “Lighten Up”. Someone wise said that we should love the kids we have, not the ones we thought we’d get. I honestly thought, when my little girl was born, that there was a high likelihood of her being a lot like me. But really, apart from her love of stories, she couldn’t be more different. And I do really want to get better at embracing that; I don’t want to slowly squeeze it out of her.

This stuff has been bubbling away for a while, as I said. So when my twitter-chum Pippa, of storyofmum, put out an invite to participate in an online course designed to encourage mums to play, in a guided way, for 10 minutes a day, it felt as if the universe was saying, ‘come on, look this one in the eye, why don’t you?’ ( But it hasn’t worked really. In as much as I have failed to carve out the time, as I slog away on extra paid work this month, deal with family illness, and plan our house move in two weeks time. Those aren’t excuses by the way. In my heart, I’ve watched myself avoid the play. And maybe that was I was supposed to learn from the whole exercise. Watching my avoidance has, at least, prompted the writing of this blog post; it’s got me addressing the play imbalance.

And there’s not much point in guilt. I’ve blogged about that before, (in my Modern Motherly Mayhem post‎ ). No, what I need to do is let go of my sense of inadequacy and get on with changing what I do. For them and for me. So, first things first, I’m going to start a new page on the blog where I record a piece of play with the kids; the goal is once a week, give or take. I’ll take the idea that I’ve seen on the digital waves that most appeals. And I’ll blog about it.

When I strip back my psychologising, my meandering, I am left with the question, ‘What do I want them (the kids) to remember?’ That I found a way to play, is my answer. And I am going to get round to doing my course; I am going to find the space for myself, too.


18 thoughts on “To play or not to play, that is the question

  1. Lovely Leoarna, thank you, always for for thought. Hmm I might make more time to just play tomorrow, it’s all to easy not to.

    • Absolutely Kate – easy to find yourself doing other stuff that ‘seems’ more important. Thanks for stopping by and commenting – always chuffed when folk feel prompted to respond! x

  2. Really enjoyed this post. We can never underestimate the value of play. I am continually amazed at how much learning occurs whilst kids are playing. I have an article coming out soon about this very topic, called “Learning through play”. I will share it with you.

    • Will be interesting to hear your perspective; learning through play is hotly debated in the UK, such is our preoccupation with getting kids behind desks. Look forward to it!

  3. 1. Please do not beat yourself up
    2. ‘Calm’ play is also ok, running around is not a must, playing with child does not have to be against own personnality (possible to find middle ground and the other party in the couple can do the running/rougher playing too (my view, not research!!)
    3. Above all. I am also a strong believer that it is good for kids to get bored once in a while to develop self reliance and independent play and imagination. We are parents, not entertainers

    • Hey hun, thanks for commenting! You’re right to suggest I shouldn’t try to be something I’m not, and I do beleive in self-directed play too. Writing the piece has helped me decide exactly where on the spectrum I do sit, and getting supportive comments such as yours helps me define further – cheers!

  4. I wish you lots and lots of play. I have struggled with it too as an adult, but my kids have worked their playful magic on me and the moments when I let myself sink into their games (now often played together, now that daughter is 2 and son nearly 5) are when I feel most present in my life. I am quite sick of playing Octonauts though. xx

  5. look forward to seeing what you get up to. I love playing with the kids but just struggle with a shortage of time because of homeschooling them too, there just don’t seem enough hours in the day to do both sometimes and i know we really should make time for the play element more because that is what they are going to remember. xxx

    • I think definitions of what play is are broad, and I ‘m guessing your home schooling has an element of play within it. But yes, I think it is what they will remember, so we need to think about the memories we are helping to create. Thanks for stopping by again hun!

  6. Wow, how I can relate to this! I’m not a mummy who relishes the thought of getting down on my hands and knees to enjoy a little bit of make-believe play. I’m more of a mum who sets up and dreams up ideas for them….I honestly find ‘playing’ a little tedious! Now that my children are tweens, we enjoy a board game together, watching a funny film and going on a muddy dog walk. Thankfully, I’m not forced to ‘play’ anymore! I do miss reading them stories though 😦 Good luck with your initiative, I look forward to reading how you get on x

  7. Great post Leoarna! I actually enjoying playing more than I thought I would (my son is too and a little comedian already) but I do find it tedious sometimes… You’re right about ditching the guilt, I wrote something about this recently, if you’re interested… Either way, isn’t the hardest thing not only making the space for ourselves but also allowing ourselves to take that space…

  8. Indeed Rachel, indeed. My kids have been out all day, and the weirdest thing, despite my being busy finishing some work and packing to move house, has been feeling ‘alright’ about drinking a cup of tea without interruption. Hmmm! Thanks for the follow, and for stopping by to comment – I’ll be over you way pretty soon!

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