A mum's heartfelt plea: Take time to just play with your kids
Do you find yourself trying to meet some kind of objective even when playing with your kid? If so, read on to find out why it's so important to forget about everything and just play with them at times.
I was playing the piano while my 5-year-old son was playing with his tennis balls right behind me. It was the June holidays and he didn’t have to go to school.
Out of nowhere, I turned and used my hand to intercept the ball that he threw and it went bouncing back at him. He paused infinitesimally before his eyes lit up. He probably didn’t see that coming. He flashed the trademark smile that spelt mischief. He threw another ball my way.
After humouring him for a minute or so, I got up from the piano bench and said,
Ok, so remember your tennis coach wants you to practice catching the balls. I’m going to…
He interrupted me with a deep sigh. He looked crestfallen.
Oh mummy, can you please just play with me for a while? He asked. I could almost hear the desperation in his voice. I realised that he wasn’t asking, he was pleading with me to play with him.
I gave in, albeit reluctantly.
That night, as I tucked him into bed and watched him drift off to sleep, I ran my fingers through his hair and felt guilty.
You see, just like you, and many other mums where we come from, I always use how much my kids get done in a day as a yardstick of my parenting success. It’s always about spending time productively.
And if time permits and I allow my children to play freely, I don’t usually join them. I am there watching them play but doing something of my own. I’m essentially just keeping an eye on them.
When I do things with them, it’s always with an end in mind. An end that suits what I believe is best for them. An end that complements my grand plans for what I want them to achieve.
To read better, to spell better, to play tennis better, to swim better, to play the piano better, to be the best version of themselves that is never the best because the best can only get better.
Not that it’s a bad thing because that’s the very core of Singaporean parenting isn’t it? To raise successful children. And how do we define success? Good at everything la! Ace examinations, win medals, get awards, be polite, respectful and well mannered. Successful child. Successful parenting. Everyone’s happy.
And this has extended to us conditioning their happiness. Knowingly for some and subconsciously for others, we have manipulated our children into defining their happiness by how many boxes in our checklist they tick every night.
Of course, this is necessary. We all know that life in Singapore is pretty much a rat race. You can’t help but get caught up in the rat race and want to push your children to always be two steps ahead.
We all have our eyes on that ivy-league school admission, those medals and those awards. And when you see your hard work in raising them coming to fruition, the happiness is beyond what I can describe.
But let me also remind you, that the fondest memories that remain etched in your children’s hearts are not of the times that you fought to keep your eyelids open while teaching them how to spell or how many times you made them play that piece until they perfected it.
When they remember painting with you, they won’t necessarily remember the day you helped them to carefully craft that masterpiece painting that now adorns your living room wall. Instead, they will remember all the times that they messed up and you laughed with them, at the mess. Because that made them happy.
When they remember swimming with you, they won’t remember the day they perfected their stroke and you patted them on the back for it. Instead they will remember all the fun they had aimlessly splashing around in the water with you. They will remember you swinging them around and throwing them into the water. Because that made them happy.
When they remember the times you sent them to school, they won’t remember the times you said good job for how many countries they could name in a minute.
They will instead remember laughing with you at the lady yawning in the car next to yours or singing at the top of your voices to that Justin Timberlake song on the radio. Because that made them happy.
So I urge you mama, do what you must to groom your kids for the future. But do also be present in the moments that they are just being kids. Roll with them on the floor, pretend play, kick that ball, jump into that pool. Enjoy those moments to the fullest.
Sometimes you just have to seize the moment and live that moment. Fully. With all that you’ve got.
Because one day you’re going to walk into a home that’s pristine and silent. And trust me, you’re going to miss that priceless feeling of a Nerf gun bullet flying your way and your child bursting into peals of laughter. You’re going to wish with all your heart to bring back the moment in time when your children would beg you to play with them.
But it will be too late then. Once they grow up, there’s no way that you can go back in time.
So don’t feel guilty about those two hours you spent playing with your kids and got nothing in particular done. Don’t feel guilty about that one night your kids slept a little later because you were all up pretending to be pirates.
You are in fact getting a lot done. You are building precious memories that you will smile at in the last hour of your life. You are writing the pages of the novel that you will leave behind for your children long after you are gone.
Life is about moments not milestones. Do what you must to make your children reach those milestones. But never forget that all those little moments that exist between getting from one milestone to another are the most precious bits of life.
Those moments make life worth the living.