I’ve written about this before, but one of the more difficult aspects of motherhood for me has been reconciling the disparity between the mother I envisioned I would be, and the mother that I really am. My husband and I had a long and bumpy road to becoming parents, so I had a long time to imagine myself as a mother. And while I’ve lived up to some of the expectations that I’ve held for myself, I’ve also been surprised by some of the aspects of motherhood that have been most challenging for me.
I think one of the biggest areas that I have surprised (disappointed?) myself is that I am not instinctively motivated to engage in play with my kids. It’s not that I don’t value play – in fact, my experience as a child therapist taught me that it’s incredibly important. But in my day-to-day life, I find that it requires discipline for me to stop what I’m doing and play with them. It’s not something I am naturally drawn to do.
I don’t like this about myself, and I’ve even sought therapy to try to change my personality in this regard, only to be told that I need to lighten up on myself, accept who I am, and just try to do the best I can. I’m sure that this is true – a type A temperament is generally not changed, so I try to compensate by being intentional. Even in that, I find it difficult. If I sit down with the kids to play dolls, about five minutes in, my mind wanders to the toy bin, or the closet, and I start thinking about what I could reorganize. If I’m in the living room playing a game, I’m likely to be wondering how long it will be until I can excuse myself and unload the dishwasher. Unfortunately, my personality does not always align with my values. Cognitively, I value being present with my kids. But that inner drive to get things done, to be productive, to cross things off a list . . . it’s not easy to squelch. This isn’t to say that my personality doesn’t have it’s strengths. I’m a great facilitator of play. I’ve done a great job of creating an organized and stimulating play area at home. I do well with finding fun things to do in our community. I’m just not always the best at being an active participant instead of an organizer/observer. With four kids, it’s also easy to step back, since they are rarely really in need of a playmate. But I know that when I am able to really engage with them, that it’s a really meaningful connection.
I’m going to make a concerted effort to play more with my kids this summer. I’m not going to set myself up with unrealistic expectations that I will suddenly turn into a free-spirited, PLAY ALL DAY kind of mom. But I am going to set aside a few hours each week where the housework can wait. For me, my best chance at success is getting out of the house and away from the list of tasks that need completion.
How about you? Do you find that playing with your kids comes naturally, or is it something you have to be disciplined about? If you find it a challenge, have you figured out why? And have you found any lifestyle changes that help you be more available for play?