I’ve learned a lot of good parenting tricks from my mom.
But one of the best has been this: Do things with your kids that you like to do.
When I was growing up, this meant that my mom read a TON of books to us (for years, not only was she reading aloud to us at night, she was also reading individually which each of us every school day).
We went to the park a lot.
For a year or so, my mom and I ran four miles together nearly every morning and I loved that time with just her.
She loved homeschooling and we spent lots of time together doing homeschool things over the course of more than a decade.
We had so many wonderful experiences together throughout my growing up.
But there were plenty of things she DIDN’T do.
I can’t remember her once ever playing with paper dolls or our American Girl dolls with us.
She never played imaginary games with us or joined in with our elaborate lip-sync dance videos.
And I never felt for a moment like she was neglecting us or that she wasn’t involved in our lives.
There were just some things that parents did with us and some things that were just for kids to do on their own.
Now as a parent myself, I feel like this is the MOST brilliant thing.
If you want to enjoy time with your kids, it’s a whole lot easier if you’re doing something you actually enjoy.
For me, some of those things are card games, jigsaw puzzles, cooking, going for walks, bike riding, gardening, and reading.
Tally loves playing card games and so we spend time nearly every morning playing a few rounds of Gnomin’ Around or Cover Your Assets together. And it’s a great time for both of us.
All four of my girls love snuggling up on the couch with me while I read aloud and it’s terrific quality time for every one of us that no one is dreading.
On the other hand, I DESPISE playing imaginary games – an hour in the backyard playing “magical animal island” sounds like a nightmare to me. It’s incredibly exhausting for me and not fun at all on my end. So I don’t do it.
If they ask, I always say, “I don’t play those kinds of games, but I’m happy to play Azul with you or read a book together.”
Or I suggest that they play that game with a sister or a friend instead. (Why do you think I had four kids?)
This doesn’t mean I NEVER do things with my kids that I don’t particularly love (I have eaten many a pretend hamburger at 6:30 a.m. with a toddler), but I definitely steer away from them and instead toward things that can be enjoyable for all of us.
And, of course, the older they get, the easier it is to find things we like doing together as they become more capable. But even when they were babies, I loved reading to them, dancing around the kitchen to music, pushing them on the swings at the park, or going for a walk with the stroller.
Because when everyone is enjoying it, it happens a lot more and it creates the connection with my kids that I’m looking for.
And I’m always on the hunt for new things that I can enjoy with my kids – as Ella’s gotten more and more into skiing over the past few years, I’ve been taking ski lessons so that it’s something we can do together every winter.
I buy games that look fun to me and then teach my kids them so that we have more games that will be fun for all of us.
I don’t feel guilt about the things I don’t do with my girls because I’m spending plenty of time doing things that I DO want to do with them in a way that makes me want to spend MORE time with them.
And what feels like parenting drudgery for me might feel fun and engaging to you!
You might LOVE pretending to be a tiger but hate playing Dutch Blitz – there’s no right answer.
But hating building with LEGOs and feeling guilty about not doing it isn’t doing anyone any good. Let your child build their complicated LEGO creations on their own and then spend some good quality time together doing something that brings BOTH of you joy.
I’d love to hear what kinds of things you love to do with your kids, big or small!
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