I’ve noticed that I don’t set aside a lot of time to play with the kids. They aren’t neglected, by any means. We do all of the necessities together - eat, dress, clean up, and go to the bathroom. Beyond that, though, I do not dedicate a lot of time to play.
Why not? Theoretically, I have the most time with Bunny. She is done with preschool at 11 am. We typically get home at 11:30, then have lunch. Now it’s 12 or 12:30. There’s kitchen cleanup, laundry, bills, phone calls, email, and all of my “grown-up” agenda.
With JD, I have even less time. 2:50 pm dismissal. Then he has after school activities four days per week. By the time we get home, it’s dinner, cleanup, then bedtime.
Weekends are packed with family, friends, and shopping with Wife. There is no time set aside dedicated to playtime.
Seems easy enough, doesn’t it? Put the smartphones away, turn off the TVs, maybe turn on some music. Get out a board game or some paper and crayons. Do home homework or read a few stories. Dress them in costume and have an adventure. Take a walk around the block with no agenda, no time table.
And yet, a week will go by and I’ll wonder where it went. I am terrified that someone will ask what we do when we play together.
Sounds bleak, doesn’t it?
We do have story time at bedtime. We do walk to and from school together, during which we talk about the world around us. When they have questions, I give them complete answers using adult-level vocabulary. So it’s not like we don’t spend quality time together. It’s just not often at home.
One thing that turns me off to play is bad behavior. Most of us know, as parents, that many of the best times are when we’re playing together. So it should be second nature, when the kids are not behaving well, to redirect to a game and get them back on track. Instead, it makes me more recluse, taking refuge in my domestic or administrative work. I enjoy focusing on cooking or making the budget. The chaos of children can put my nerves on edge and bring my serotonin down. I’ll even find a corner, pull out my smartphone, and look at email or play a video game. And that, to me, is unhealthy. I may as well light up a cigarette or pour myself a cocktail.
On the other hand, I know that it’s perfectly normal to want to escape chaos. While I’m at my best in an emergency, I am not good during irrational emotional breakdown. I often have difficulty empathizing with Wife when she’s facing or looking back at a challenge. Making practical sense or providing unsolicited constructive criticism seems to come out. Or, even worse, having a don’t cry over spilled milk attitude. And yet, that’s all that is something that these individual instances share - they are trying to make sense or to cope emotionally with their own versions of chaos. The kids are trying to play together without giving the other their space or things, creating a paradox of situations that cause their minds to get confused resulting in emotional breakdown. Wife is either coming from a stressful situation and is trying to release herself from the stress that enabled her to be at her best during that, while coping with the work ahead of her, all resulting in challenges to human emotional stability.
And there I am, running away, yelling, or being critical. I guess one of my challenges is the capacity to look at the present from a third person perspective. To hear the kids yelling at each other and think about what they need as opposed to allowing the noise to cloud my mind. I need to listen to Wife and think about what she’s actually telling me, rather than thinking about what I want her to hear.
Preparation is one of life’s consistent solutions. Preparing myself for the chaos that will occur over the course of the day. Preparing myself for Wife’s need for emotional support. Preparing activities to play with the kids, like an art project, an adventure, or making cookies (and not turning on the TV or handing them the iPad). Having things in place so that Wife has fewer things to check off of her mental list, like making sure that the laundry and the dry cleaning are put away and remembering to simply say, “That sounds like it was / is going to be challenging.” And putting myself in the best position my planning my day efficiently so that I am not running around, doing things at the last minute, reducing my own chaos.
While it’ll never be perfect, thinking it through will make more days good days. But I sure do love a good game of solitaire.