I don’t think I sat on the couch for more than five minutes when my kids were toddlers—we were always on the floor playing trains, or at the table squeezing Play-Doh, or off on an adventure somewhere. Honestly, I thought I’d enjoy it more than I did. Oh, I could play Thomas the Tank Engine for 30 minutes just fine, but the whole day? Not so much.
I’ll admit it—I couldn’t wait for them to play independently. Parents often joke about kids’ short attention spans, but I will say that my kids could play stuffed animals, or Playmobile, or just about anything for a lot longer than I wanted to. I did it—but I didn’t enjoy every minute of it.
There was a constant refrain of, Mama, play with me, Mama play with me, Mama play with me augmented with high-pitched cartoon voices radiating from the television. Some days felt a week long.
They got older, and I got to actually sit in my own chair and read a book while they played nearby. Eventually, the kids moved to the basement playroom and didn’t need much entertaining at all.
Of course, we still did things together, like a board game or trip to the beach. But once they were older I only played the games that I found interesting. I controlled how I interacted with them. I’m not in the mood for Uno—let’s play Clue. I don’t want to watch Pokémon, how about Young Sheldon?
We still spent a lot of time together, but most of it involved them playing sports and me watching from the bleachers. Some days I felt as if the only time we spend actually talking to each other was in the car on the way to a game.
When I got home from sitting for hours at the baseball field or hockey rink, I just wanted to sit in my recliner and open my laptop for a while. Catch up on the world. Take a shower and a nap.
Then it was time for cleaning and cooking and supervising never-ending homework. Sure, I worked at the same table while they wrote their papers and solved equations, but we no longer really had shared interests as much as shared commitments.
We were a Venn diagram—two overlapping circles, one of adult space, and one of kid stuff. The shared space in the middle was becoming smaller every year.
This wasn’t how I ever envisioned parenting.
I got back on the floor—metaphorically.
I re-entered their world. When we played games, I let them choose which board games we played, instead of suggesting my personal favorites. I put the kids in charge of the remote and we spent an evening streaming YouTube videos of their choosing, instead of a family-friendly TV series. I sat next to them as they played video games. I took fencing classes with my youngest. I even tried to learn to solve a rubix cube—note that I said “tried,” not succeeded.
I put them in charge of how we spent family time, and I learned more about who my kids are based on observing what they liked.We had better conversations and developed inside jokes.
I didn’t have to yell much at all. We are back on Team Family again. By sitting back and following their lead—much like I used to follow them as toddlers around the house—we all had a lot more fun, myself included.