Ready for this?
I don’t actually enjoy “playing” with my kids*. I want to be one of those mothers who jumps into the middle of a pick-up soccer game or spends hours on the floor playing Barbies. But I’m not. *a game of hide-and-seek can be fun every few months.
Some of this is because I’ve gotten used to the sensation of time scarcity – I’m so accustomed to feeling an unrelenting pressure to be producing or accomplishing. I like checkmarks and gold stars and filling white space with “play” can seem wasteful and, in a weird way, daunting.
Some of it is also that parenting, for all its rewards, is a very challenging endevour.
When I’m struggling with parenting, or life, it’s important to remember what I do well. I enjoy reading books with and to my children; I like cooking healthy(ish) meals; I’m excited to explore God’s creation, exposing the kids to beauty and culture and the wonders of the world around us.
I also enjoy long walks, especially with my daughter. We have great conversations and it’s a nice time of exercise and bonding. But whether it’s on a walk, a long drive in the car (I hear this is one the best times to corner – I mean connect with – teenagers), or at bedtime, it can make life so much easier when there is a topic (or, even better, multiple topics) that everyone enjoys.
I think it’s natural to want to fill time with purpose. We look to have deep and meaningful conversations, deal with problems or discuss priorities. Even with kids, I think we spend a lot of time talking about self-help or self-discovery.
We do plenty of this in our family too, but it can be refreshing to have fun conversations. To remember – oh yeah, this kid is pretty awesome and we don’t actually have to keep talking about how much the wet towels left in a pile on the bathroom floor are slowly driving me crazy.
I’ve written about this before but it’s very common for us to discuss plans for a birthday party or a summer vacation months (and months) prior to the actual event. Before COVID brought things to a halt, we were scheduled to visit the US to see family. For weeks we talked of nothing else on our morning commute to school.
Earlier this summer, before we knew if borders would open, Abby was obsessed with planning, in excruciating detail, our summer trip to see her grandparents. Guess what. I love this topic, too. Within a typical conversation, we might rank our favourite memories from Grand Lake, discuss our packing list, or itemize our top-10 meal choices.
Recently she came up with a game where we shared our favourite sense from the lake: our favourite taste (Grammie’s meatballs), favourite sound (waves lapping on the shoreline and cicadas), favourite touch (splitting wood with Grampie + the hand-cut sticks we use for roasting s’mores), favourite smell (Grammie’s meatballs, again + campfire smoke + ATV gas smell), favourite sight (sunsets + lightning storms). We’ve planned our perfect day – from the weather to the menu and activities. We’ve described what clothes we’ll take, where we want to go exploring, and who we might see.
The topic doesn’t matter, per se – it’s about finding something that is mutually enjoyable and running with it.
For Levi, it’s discussions of fishing and sports and Star Wars and Indiana Jones.
With your child (or, spouse, parent, friend…) it could be food or books or Baroque music or antique cars. Having a go-to topic is not the sign of a rut, it’s familiarity. It’s like pulling on your comfiest pair of relationship jeans.
I don’t always see eye-to-eye with my kids, a dynamic that I suspect will only intensify with time. As it should. As they age they’ll develop their own opinions, dreams, and way of doing things. But it’s nice to settle into a conversation that brings us both joy. We might dream up a vacation that never happens, or spend hours and hours discussing a birthday cake that only takes an hour to make and looks nothing like the 3-tiered masterpiece of her imagination. But it’s all good.