Making time for Play (and its rewards)

When you have your first child, you score through as much material as you can find, about every topic imaginable: feeding/diet, sleeping patterns, teething, diapering, health & sickness, behavior, discipline, milestones, and even – yes – PLAY. I remember getting a magazine after having our first which outlined different ‘games’ to play with your baby at different stages. I loved it and used a lot of the suggestions. Well, when you only have one, and you are a SAHM like I was at that point, it’s pretty easy to make time to play. After all, there is only so much laundry. The baby is still a baby, hence does not eat meals, therefore less food for you to make each mealtime. Baby is not old enough to really make messes, so it’s easy to clean up. Baby also sleeps a lot. I remember searching out activities or games to do, because I actually felt like I had TOO much unscheduled time on my hands.

This is in stark contrast to what happens when you have more than one child.

I recently read an article by another mom of 3 that left me in stitches. (You can read the article here. In fact I suggest you do.) It lays out some of the more difficult (and hilarious) parts of having 3 kids so close in age. Now let me tell you, articles like this used to make me angry. The gentlest kind of angry, because I could see truth in them, but what I couldn’t see was how any self-respecting mom could find any of those sort of situations funny. Because if you really cared about your kids, wouldn’t you be ashamed of those situations and doing your best to fix them at the next opportunity instead of laughing about them? And how can you complain about all the “bad” things without giving equal airtime to the blessings they provide?

However the past 6 months have been, well, a time of rediscovery for me. I think it took me a lot more effort to get used to my eldest daughter going to school every day for a half day, instead of just 3 days a week, than I expected it would. I thought it would free me up to get a lot done, but that’s not the truth. What do I DO all day? Well, mostly I try to get stuff done and get interrupted. But that’s for another post.

Last month, with the holidays upon us, and my awareness of my complete lack of innate creativity, I picked up a few very simple crafts to do with the kids. I realized that most of our time at home was going unstructured (free play). This is great sometimes. I know it helps stretch their imaginations. But most of the time it leads to them being bored and unfocused, which frustrates me because I can’t focus on anything either, since they’re constantly interrupting me. So I set out to do more scheduled activities – which I had been previously unwilling to do since our youngest is really too young to participate in anything that’s too messy or involved, or includes anything that even remotely looks like food (oh yes, it will get eaten).

The past week we have taken it pretty easy. I mean really. Sitting around, cuddling, reading books, watching movies, not doing much of anything very productive. (I still feel like I’m forgetting something…)

So when a friend asked me to do a play date, I felt hesitant about it at first. It would be great to get out with the kids, and our girls hadn’t played together in forever since they are on different school schedules. Now was the perfect time to set something up, before they both went back to school. I was looking forward to it, even though it has been snowing like crazy and the high today was 11º.

Let me tell you something. I AM SO GLAD WE DID THIS. I was reminded why I used to try to schedule at least one play date a week. (Honestly, last year, I had to LIMIT us to one play date a week because we got so many requests. One a week was my limit – otherwise it got too crazy.) I know there’s a group out there that think it’s stupid that we ‘schedule play dates’ for our kids, because back in the day kids just went out their front or back door and played with the neighbors, generally unsupervised. That’s great, and I wish it was still like that, but the reality is it isn’t. Families aren’t ‘one size fits all’ anymore. Both parents often work instead of one. Jobs are more untraditional, meaning scheduling is a necessity, because moms having free time every week day isn’t implied anymore.
**Side note: Any time there is the option of food, your kids WILL ask for it. What is the solution to this predicament if you don’t want to be bleeding money every time you take them somewhere? 1. Eat before you leave, and let them know you are going to PLAY, not to eat. (I’ve found giving the kids expectations helps diffuse disappointment and thus, meltdowns.) 2. When they inevitably ask to purchase food anyway, bring out your own snacks that you have smartly packed. 3. Use the “we won’t come here again” threat if they continue asking. At least, these seem to work for me.

Now I know for a fact that this play date was not convenient for either of us moms. We both have 3 kids. Do you know how much time it takes to get out the door when you have to bundle up 3 kids for 11º weather (only one of which is semi-capable of doing it for herself)? The preparation it takes – making sure you have sippy cups for the young one, bottled water for the older ones, snacks that are age-appropriate for all, and enough diapering supplies to last the time you’ll be gone? If you DO know how much time it takes, you’ll also know that once you have them bundled, you might as well do the rest of your errands then too, otherwise you’re multiplying your time unnecessarily. So now you have to plan what errands you have time to run without overlapping the next meal or nap time. What will you need to successfully complete these tasks? … You can see how this gets out of hand.

We both also could have used this time to clean, run other errands, or some other more productive, ‘check it off your list’ type task. But you know what? Being with the kids in that setting, when you cannot possibly do ANYTHING ELSE but supervise and enjoy them (and, okay, get in some mommy chat time) is such a relief.  On a separate but related topic, it reminded me that I am not the only one tackling the challenge of doing the best you can but still feeling like it’s just not quite good enough. So these play dates are not just important for the kids, but for us moms too, if only for the reminder that we’re not alone. And that IT IS WORTH IT – and NECESSARY to our sanity – to occasionally and voluntarily inconvenience ourselves, because the reward is worth the effort.
(Another side note: we had my daughter’s friend over to our house after the play date, and I felt like the mom I used to be again – the one who is confident, fun, in control yet still flexible, and very capable. I ENJOY having other kids at our house. I really do. I am thankful for good friends who raise good kids for my kids to play with!)

I forgot what it was to really ENJOY my kids. Remember my earlier post about being unhappy? That attitude was a red flag, but I didn’t know how to fix it. Now I remember: TAKE TIME TO ENJOY MY KIDS. John 10:10 (Amplified version) says Jesus came that we might have and enjoy our life, in abundance, to the full, until it overflows. 1 Timothy 6:17 says God gives us all things RICHLY to enjoy. (YES! That includes our kids!) Isn’t that good news???? We don’t have to feel guilty about taking time to play with our kids. I had been so caught up in trying to do everything right that I forgot how to do one of the most important things right. Because when we enjoy them, they see that we care about them. That they are important enough for us to take time out from scheduled appointments and to do lists to just PLAY. And I think that, more than anything, is an act of love.

And the best part is it’s a two way street. Even if you feel guilty or have a begrudging attitude towards playing with them, if you just let go of your plans for a little while to play with them, YOU will be the one feeling loved, and blessed, and fulfilled, and HAPPY.

The more I experience, the more I believe the mantra that when you are feeling your worst, the best you can do is go out and serve someone else. Because whoever we serve, we can’t help but love, and love blesses the giver as well as the recipient. ❤

 8 Reasons you should make time for play dates (with other moms/kids, outside the home):
1. Your kids have the opportunity to release pent-up energy. This makes them happy, and tired. They will nap and go to bed easier.
2. Your kids can practice socializing. You have the opportunity to teach them manners and behavioral habits that will shape the person they will become.
3. You can see what types of activities your kids are naturally drawn to, and good at, and seek out other ways to encourage those gifts.
4. You get mommy time. Compare stories. Share struggles. Enjoy victories!
5. You once again prove to yourself that you can handle 3 kids (or insert your # of children here) on your own, in a sometimes uncontrolled or very minimally controlled environment = confidence in self and self’s abilities.
6. Sometimes it just helps to see other moms out there doing the same thing you are – dealing with meltdowns, correcting behavior, grabbing a quick moment of quiet while the kids are playing – to remind yourself you are not in the trenches alone. Seeing other imperfect moms = opportunity to be understanding to THEM… and forgiving to yourself.
7. You are away from home therefore cannot interrupt play time to do laundry, dishes, or other chores.
8. You get to enjoy your kids = they are more thankful and respectful/you enjoy watching them play/your love for each other grows.

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