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My children had a play date recently; it was surprising to see how excited the children were to see the mom and me take part in the games. I knew this column needed to be about something that I feel is missing in so many households — playing with our children.
As parents we can get stressed and overwhelmed by our busy schedules. From working full time trying to cram in after-school activities and homework, it seems to leave only the weekends to spend quality time together. Our weekends are pre-booked months in advance with birthday parties, sports games and family dinners. With all of the planned activities, we have to remember to play with our children!
Imagine when you were a child — be the playful parent that you would have wanted growing up. Get outside and run in the grass with your children. Sometimes the time spent outweighs the extravagance of the activity. My favorite playful parent memory thus far is camping with the kids in the back yard, making s’mores and running back into the house at 11 p.m. for bed because my husband was terrified of sleeping outside. We still laugh about that night and the fun memories we shared as a family.
The simplest things go a long way with children when you are committing your time. All kids love going to a amusement park or being taken to a sporting event, but a child cherishes the memories of when a parent gives all of their attention to their child. I have to remind myself constantly to put my phone away when I am playing with my children. It has gotten to the point where my son has said, “Mom, you’re always on your phone, I gotta tell you something.” Now, his story probably isn’t nearly as important as my time-sensitive email, but to him it means the world. Put your phone down and play for a while, back away from the computer, and focus on their bright eyes full of excitement that Mommy is playing.
Let the kid be the guide
Try to pick activities that they want to do. As parents we tend to lean toward events that are easier on us. I find myself taking my kids to the movies, not because they want to go, but because this is an activity we can all do together and it’s in a confined area — and Mommy can rest her eyes. Do what they are interested in, not what you are interested in. Our 4-year-old loves to bowl. Growing up in a baseball family you would think he would have his first swing down right after his first steps… but if you ask him his favorite sport, he will tell you bowling. We find ourselves at a bowling alley at least once a month as a family.
After our backyard camping attempt we decided last summer to actually do it the right way. We went camping as a family for three days and three nights. I’m counting the nights as well because this was the hardest thing I have ever done — sleeping in a tent in only a sleeping bag for three nights. We packed minimal clothing with only old tees, cotton shorts, and flip flops. We rented a camp site for $7 a day and put up three tents. We cooked all meals over a camp fire for three days and the kids ran barefoot in the dirt and climbed trees. Each night we took quarter showers in the communal bathrooms (the showers required a 25¢ deposit for 10 minutes of hot water)… it is still, to this day, my children’s favorite vacation, over Turks and Caicos and Costa Rica. This three-day vacation during the summer was in no way in comparison to the amount of money spent in one day at an amusement park. As a family we have done the larger trips to other countries and the big mouse ears in Florida, but I’ve shared our camping trip with you to prove that being the playful parent is priceless. It’s not about the amount of money spent or extravagance of the vacation. It’s about the effort given and amount of time spent with your child.
Amber’s column was originally published on Huffpost Parents, on January 22, 2016.