Why Do My Kids Insist on Playing with Me?

I tried to dig deep into my memories and pinpoint moments when my mom played with us. There were rainy days at the heavy oak table in the middle of the kitchen where we melted crayon wax to create abstract art. There is a memory of her filling water balloons at the kitchen sink while we ran screaming between the yard and the house with the neighborhood kids. There were evenings spent at her side while she sewed impossibly tiny Barbie clothes. Overall, though, when I think of my childhood, I think of the various ways my three sisters and I plotted to avoid our parents.

Spending time with our parents inevitably meant a chore of some sort: weeding the garden, hours helping her turn flat after flat into jam, washing windows, stacking firewood, dusting — always dusting. Besides, our parents had an annoying habit of saying no to our genius ideas, like climbing out the second story window and up over the pitched roof.


During the summers, my sisters and I spent hours outside, hiding in makeshift forts created from blackberry brambles and morning glory vines. We rode our bikes around the island, eating wild berries and coming home when the sun began to set. On rainy days, we read books, played epic Monopoly games, and endless make believe games where we pretended to be my mom and her best friend or school teacher and students.

The other day, while scrubbing the sink, Joseph came up to me and begged me to play with him and Elizabeth. I realized that somehow I’ve become their playmate as much as their parent. Somehow, they’ve come to depend on me to be the master of board games, the creator of craft projects. In other words, their entertainment director.

Don’t get me wrong. My kids are a blast and there are times when I’d rather do nothing else but play with them. But let’s be honest here. Kids have far more play time than moms because, for some odd reason, kids need to be fed, bathed, clothed, and housed, which creates an amazing amount of work that must be done. Even with their help, my chores never seem to be done before theirs. Some days, I throw all responsibility to the wind and jump in for fun. Other days, things just need to be done.

“Why do you want to play with me?” I finally asked, while chopping vegetables for dinner.

“You’re just like us, only bigger,” my son said.

His comment gave me pause. I’ve known for a while my kids don’t entirely think I’m an adult. I console myself with the thought that perhaps that means I’m young at heart. I also know I live in a parenting world where the way my own parents raised us would be considered borderline neglect. I want them to have those wonderful memories of exploration and discovery beyond the eyes of dear ol’ mom. I feel like I’m doing them a disservice if I wander too frequently into the world of children although an equal part of me grasps on to the “live in the moment with your children” mantra so prevalent in my generation of parents.

Like so many of my parenting cohorts, I’m trying to strike a balance. I encourage them to learn to play two player board games. I send them outside with science experiments that don’t require parental supervision. I ooh and ahh over their creations and finds. And some days? Some days I let the dishes pile in the sink and join them in their fun.