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Why I sometimes choose chores over playing with my kids

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I plopped myself down in the middle of my living room floor, with my children’s toys scattered all around. A pile of unfolded laundry overflowed from its basket, screaming to be folded. Yet all I could do was sit. 

I sat because I was tired after working my 9-to-5 job and, in that moment, my twin daughters were just happy I was home. They wanted me to play or read “Brown Bear, Brown Bear (their favorite book) to them. I wanted to play too, but I was exhausted.

Their innocence pulled at my heart and tears began to well up in my eyes because I preferred folding the laundry to rolling around on the floor with my 15-month-old twins. Well, that is only partially true. I most definitely wanted to roll around with my daughters and hear their laughs coming deep from within. But I knew how to fold the laundry. That was easy. 

Saying your house is messy because you play with your kids is a privilege

Playing pretend with my daughters, or with my 10-year-old son, is much harder for me. And for the longest time, I felt ashamed of this. Aren’t good parents supposed to play with their kids? Aren’t good parents supposed to let their kids run around in the rain and run with them? Let them eat dirt as a means to explore nature? Pick up worms? Wear silly costumes and play pretend? I gag just thinking about that.

And most often, the refrain that plays in my head, is “What’s wrong with me?” Why can’t I do these simple activities with my kids, things that they will love and genuinely enjoy? The fact is, I can do all of it. And I’ve forced myself to do some of these things, at times.

But I am not in touch with my inner child. I have vivid memories of playing outside all day as a child: getting dirty, chasing the ice cream truck, running in for lunch and back out to play, intruding on my friends’ dinner time because I was not finished playing. I was in touch with my inner child . . . when I was a child.

As a parent, some 30 years later, I want my children to enjoy the same sense of wonder I had as a child, the same love for life. But I don’t remember having anyone other than my friends (who were the same age) play with me. No parents. No aunts or uncles. No adults. 

The only way I can give them a reality filled with wonder and awe and freedom, it seems, is to play with them myself. I must get down on my hands and knees and be silly with them. That means letting the laundry and dishes and cleaning go, because those things will always be there. There will always be things that need to be washed or folded or dusted. But my kids will be 15 months old only once, for a very short time. If I keep turning them away and not playing with them, not singing song after song (“The Itsy Bitsy Spider” or “The Wheels on the Bus,” anyone?), or if I keep telling them “later” and later never comes, they will stop asking it of me.

This mother’s guilt follows me even more intensely because I missed out on this aspect of my son’s toddler years. He wanted to play with me constantly, and I supported those endeavors in my way. When he wanted to jump off the top step, I spotted him. When he wanted to climb a big tree, I stretched out my arms and caught him. When he wanted to go swimming in the bathtub, I gave him toys to play with. But the “toy” was never me. Not because I loved him less, but because he was my first child. He was the one I was trying to figure it all out with.

So now, many years later, I may be close to figuring out how to be a better parent. Not simply because I can get down on the floor and play with my kids or read “Harry Potter” because my son loves it, but because I recognize where and how I need to grow and be better for them.

Nikkya Hargrove is a wife, mother and writer based in Connecticut. Find her on Twitter @Nikkya1128.

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