I hope you had a good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast, because you need to be at your best for this. I’ve got a pop quiz for you. I can hear your groaning, you know. You didn’t study, did you? Don’t worry; it’s multiple choice.
Ready? Let’s go.
Question number one and only, asked by someone small(er than you):
Mommy, can you play a game with me?
- Maybe later.
- I have to finish ________, and then I can play with you.
- No hablo ingles.
1 or 4
Mandatory long-winded commentary on the options:
1. Yes. As parents, “yes” should be our answer as often as reasonable when our children reasonably ask for our time, attention, and love…but not necessarily for Legos, money, or car keys. It warms any child’s heart and gives children confidence in their worth when you truly enjoy playing with your children and enthusiastically take the time to do so. Just a note: a cheerful yes is not the same as a begrudgingly dutiful “I suppose.” Children can tell the difference between love and duty. (There is a lot to be said for children playing independently and respecting the time of others, so if your child is over-the-top about demanding you entertain him or interrupting your time unnecessarily, then this does not apply to you. But that’s a topic for another day.)
2. No. Heart crushed. Of course, sometimes the answer has to be no, like…when you’re…uhhh…skydiving or…in the final stages of labor, maybe. But, really, opt for number 4 instead of the “no.” A better answer would be “Sure, Son, after I land and regain my ability to breathe unassisted” or “Yes, but please wait until after the baby is born and napping.”
3. Maybe later. The problem with the maybe laters of life is that later never comes. Most children will tell you that “maybe later” (and “we’ll see,” by the way) means “never.” ‘Fess up. You know it’s true. “Maybe later” is too open-ended and abstract and will rapidly be forgotten by you, but not by your small(er than you) child who will subconsciously add it to an array of unfulfilled maybe laters that chisel away at your relationship and at his little heart.
4. I have to finish _________, and then I can play with you. This is great if, and only if, you follow through to the letter. Not only does this answer tell your child exactly when you will be available to play, but your consistent follow-through will instill trust in your child. Knowing you will be playing with them as soon as possible, your children will happily wait (and probably help you with whatever you’re doing). Take warning, however, that if you consistently tell them you will do something at a certain time, and you consistently let them down, your word will mean nothing to them…and that’s a tragedy. Better to say “no” and be truthful than to put your children off indefinitely until they learn your word has no value.
5. No hablo ingles. No commento.
How can I find time for playing with my children?
You’re busy; I know.
I have six children whom I homeschool, I run a business and assist with a music mission with my hubby who also enjoys a little attention, and I am considering installing a hammock and toilet in my kitchen since I practically live there, seeing as we buy almost no processed foods—nope, not even bread or cereal. This is on top of the normal tasks involved with being a wife, mother, homemaker, and writer/editor. Believe me when I say I too am busy, and I understand the lure of answers two and three (number 5 doesn’t work on my kiddos, since they’ve noticed a little ingles escaping from my lips over the past 15 years). Consider, however, that a family game does not have to be Monopoly. It doesn’t have to be chess. There are quick, fun alternatives for playing with your children.
A game of 20 Questions or I spy requires no supplies or set up, and can be played anywhere, even while you’re cooking. There are also family games that can be played in under ten minutes, such as some of the mini Lego games* and a few of the array of quick card games now available (some favorites are Dutch Blitz and Gopher It). Games can be played with a timer or altered to be shorter. Longer family games, like Apple to Apples, Clue, or your classic favorite from childhood, can be reserved for family game night, which you can schedule weekly, monthly, or sporadically by writing it on the calendar and sticking to it. You can even have an ongoing game that may take days, weeks, or months to finish, such as chess or Scrabble—of course, this has to be set up out of reach of the really smalls.
When you consider the monumental returns on the small investment of time that accompanies your enthusiastic “yes,” you may be the one asking your children if they want to play games instead of the other way around.
Hey, you did great, but next time study for the quiz.
* Our favorite mini Lego game is Wild Wool, which is currently rather pricey at Amazon. We bought it in spring for ten bucks at Wal-Mart, so check there first. It only takes about ten minutes to play…unless your sheep are named, get married, and have lambs—that drags it out a bit. Robo-Champ is also great; it’s faster (five minutes, usually), and is under ten bucks online. My children like some of the other lower-priced, less-time-consuming Lego games as well, but I haven’t given them the parent tolerance test.