It may surprise you that the author of a blog called “Greatfun4kids” might pretty much suck at playing with her kids, but it’s sadly true.
Getting down on the ground and playing wooden trains is not much fun for me once I’ve built the track.
Playing FIFA Match Attacks or Barbie dolls is not my idea of a good time.
I’ve told myself, it’s OK. You’re good at other things. Hosting parties and theme dinners, reading stories and taking photos to make sure we capture the memorable moments.
But last year this mindset was challenged and my comfort zone smashed to bits after I signed up for a parenting course. I was challenged about the importance of engaging with my kids, to be really present and to “enter their world”.
If I don’t, I run the terrifying risk of missing the best part of their childhood. In five years time I’ll be looking back with regret wondering where the years went and wishing I could have it all back to do over.
Of course I’ve sat through seminars before, watched Super Nanny and read parenting books aplenty, but my parenting approach was hit-and-miss at best. I’ve struggled with consistency and remaining calm under pressure.
But worst of all I’ve also struggled with being distracted.
My kids would come looking for me and more often than not, find me hunched over the computer.
Since I began blogging four years ago, there has been a tug-o-war for my attention, and for the longest time the kids weren’t winning.
Something inside me was pulled towards my online space where things are ordered and neat, not chaotic like my house or demanding like my kids.
How many times did I overcook the dinner as I slipped into the sunroom to “just quickly check my emails”?
How many times in the past has my toddler shouted at me, “Mummmmeee! Get off that choopid ‘puter!”
It wasn’t good and I knew it.
Oh, I’m sorry. Have I shocked you with my honesty?
I figure I’m not the only mum who counts down the hours ’til bedtime, or sneakily checks emails while the kids watch TV.
In fact, new technology has made it even easier to be distracted and disconnected from our kids.
Smartphones give us the chance to be online anytime, anywhere.
Apparently it’s pretty common for mummies to be distracted these days.
Read what a professional Nanny of thirty-five years wrote to a blogger called HandsFree Mama:
“I can recall a time when if you were out with your children you were really with them. You engaged in a back and forth dialog even if they were pre-verbal. You said, ‘Look at the bus, see the doggie, etc.’ Now I see you on the phone, pushing your kids on the swings while distracted by your devices. You think you are spending time with them but you are not present really. When I see you pick up your kids at day care while you’re on the phone, it breaks my heart. They hear your adult conversations. What do they overhear? What is the message they receive? I am not important; I am not important.”
Handsfree Mama’s story was about how easy it is to be distracted by our gadgets and let our kids’ childhoods pass us right by. It struck a nerve with hundreds of mothers and the comments were pages long.
Since I didn’t have one of those fancy phones (until recently), it was tempting to pat myself smugly on the back. But I know that given half the chance I would be that mother Facebooking while pushing the swing.
Instead of feeling smug I felt challenged.
My vice may not be my cellphone, but I can be just as distracted by the computer in my sunroom or the book on my nightstand.
With that in mind, and because my kids are important to me and I don’t want their childhood to pass me by, I signed up for a Parenting Course.
I have more free time now that my youngest is in kindy, and knowing how my attention tends to wander unless focused, I thought it would do my kids good if their mum spent some time learning how to be a better parent.
What did I learn on the very first day?
I learnt that I need to PLAY. Get down on the floor and engage. Take ten minutes to be young and silly again.
We learned all the ways children benefit when we play with them; they feel valued because we make the time to do something that matters to them.
We learn what goes on inside our child’s head; we enter their world.
All kinds of good things happen when we play with our children.
What are the things that prevent you from playing? we were asked.
I wrote: My boredom, interest in other things, busyness.
Playing cars is not my idea of a good time, I admit.
My husband is the one in our family who is a play genius. He can turn anything into fun, like a walk to feed the ducks which turns into bush commandoes.
Me, I am the sensible one. The one who sees trouble brewing in wrestling matches and warns: “This will end in tears!”
I am good at reading stories and having deep-and-meaningfuls, but the playing? Not so much.
For the first few days, this new “Play” thing was not happening. To be honest, I felt a bit silly and awkward.
Finally one morning my preschooler had a day at home with me, nothing planned in.
That day was the turning point.
I followed his lead like I learned on the course, and didn’t try to impose my grown-up logic.
Simone Graham of Great Fun 4 Kids comes to us from DownUnder, New Zealand. For those of you geographically challenged types, that’s down near Australia in the South Pacific. Her blog is a treasure trove of mothering gems, as she tackles a variety of mothering topics, from depression to party tips. She is the author of An Unexpected Christmas and mom to Joshua, 9, Abby, 8, and Jono, 4, otherwise known as Scrag, Miss Fab and Dash.