On Friday, our family went to the local gym together – my husband headed to the racquetball courts for a quick game with our oldest son, and I met him a little later in the game room for pool and ping pong with the other kids. The great thing about the game room is since we go at off hours, we have the room to ourselves, which otherwise would be filled with teenagers. There is one pool table and one ping pong table, so we alternate who plays which game. I don’t personally care for pool, and leave it for my kids to play each other, or to play with my husband. I enjoy ping pong or racquetball more, and can play it with the older kids, who are getting to be decent players, or with the younger kids, who are lucky to hit the ball at all; forget about playing with any kind of rules!
Some people are naturally good at playing with their children, but I’m not one of them. I take my kids on fun trips and do nice activities with them, but I am usually in a supervisory position, not interacting in a parallel position to them. We read together and have great discussions, but that isn’t play either. Some time ago, I heard a mother of a large family said that she consciously made time to play with the kids – not to take them to the park, not to watch them play, not to buy them games (all of which are good, and things that I did, but not what she meant) – but to get down on the floor and play with them. At first I mentally rejected the idea, since it wasn’t something that felt natural to me. As I thought about it more, I realized that I was staying in my comfort zone as a parent by not being willing to do something a little different, something that I could clearly see being positive. Knowing that growth in all areas comes from overcoming my internal weaknesses and doing what I find difficult, I started to make the conscious effort to play with my kids.
I started with card games, like Uno and Skip Bo, that are easy to learn and quick to play. Then I went on to board games. I have definite preferences and my kids know that there are some games I’m much more likely to agree to play with them – basically, I prefer to play games that I like! Rumikub is a good one, so are Othello and Battleship. We also like Set and Quiddler (both card games). The kids play Monopoly and Life often, but both games take too long to play for me to sit down to the entire game. I avoid games like Stratego – it’s a great game, but it requires intense periods of concentration to formulate strategy, and I can’t play well while keeping an eye and ear on everything else going on in the house. Some games, like Scotland Yard and Clue, are fun to play with the entire family. I also have accumulated the kiddie versions of a number of games – Mastermind Jr., Boggle Jr., Rumikub Jr. – so that the younger kids can enjoy games that are age appropriate for them. I’ve found, however, that the kiddie versions tend to be very dull (and it’s hard for me to play something that is an endurance test), and that the kids quickly learn to play the older version by watching their siblings. I have always enjoyed puzzles, so that was something that was very easy to do with them, and it’s a wonderful feeling to have everyone working together one big puzzle at one time!
Then I really expanded my comfort zone, by racing with them one day when we went to the park. They loved it! They particularly loved it since they were used to me sitting by the side, watching them play, maybe pushing a swing or two. In the summer, I took them to the pool, and gave the younger kids bouncy rides in the shallow water while the older kids swam on their own. It was energizing to do something so physical with the kids – when I finished, I felt more alive and in shape than I did before I began.
Playing with our kids adds a wonderful dimension to our relationship with them. I spend all day, every day with the kids, but when we take the time to play together, it adds more depth to our relationships. It’s time that is spent together just purely enjoying one another. It is so easy to make excuses for why we can’t do it – we’re tired, we don’t enjoy it, we just want time for ourselves. Taking the time to play doesn’t need to take long, and doesn’t have to every day – but take the time to do it! You and your kids will be glad you did.