The fun mom” isn’t me. It’s just not in my nature. By nature, I’ve always been a serious person (or nurturer, who knows). I’m just not naturally inclined to be playful with my children. My spouse, on the other hand, sprang into the position of “fun dad” with ease. It’s like an episode of The Three Stooges when he and my 5-year-old get together (someone, save me).
When my daughter was a baby, I had no qualms about bouncing her on my knees, singing her songs, and playing peek-a-boo with her. A handful of those things continued over into toddler hood, but she became more interested in pretend play. With her squishy IKEA food, we’d pretend to go grocery shopping. With all of her plush animals lined up around the room, we would pretend to ride a tram around the zoo. And we’d reenact these scenarios until she’d wrung every last ounce of entertainment out of them.
But then we moved on to a new era of her upbringing, where her pals were cooler than her mother. Oh, how I wished for the days when she simply looked at me! I quickly recognized that this was a critical window of opportunity: now was the moment for me to learn to play with my child in the same way that she did with her peers. It would be fraudulent for me to pretend to be Larry, Curly, or Moe – and kids can smell “fake” a mile away. So I had to figure out a way to play while yet remaining loyal to myself.
This is how I learned to be meaningfully fun with my toddler. I hope it will work for you as well!
Including Playfulness in Your Child’s Routine
Make a list of everything you like to do now that you’re an adult. Playing the piano, singing, writing, reading, swimming, cooking, handicraft, card games, and other activities were on my list.
Make a list of all the things you used to like as a kid. Horseback riding, roller skating (even though I was bad at it), swimming, bike riding, Pogo stick, slip-n-slide, and other activities were on my list.
Make a note of all the activities that your youngster appears to like the most. Rock climbing, swimming, filming “how-to” videos, dressing up, acting, singing, drawing, and many more activities were on my daughter’s list.
Look over each list to see if there are any similarities. Swimming, singing, and painting/crafting were activities that we both enjoyed! Now choose the activity that appeals to you the most – I went with singing.
Make a note on your schedule to devote some time to being playful. It could last 20 minutes, an hour, or even a half-day. The amount of time you set aside will be determined by your child’s age, life circumstances, and the activity you intend to do. The idea is to schedule as much time as you know you’ll be able and willing to devote 100 percent of your energy and attention to your child. 5 minutes of undivided focus is preferable than 2 hours of distracted participation for these reasons.
If your activity necessitates preparation, try to complete it the night before. However, I recommend that you keep it as simple as possible. When they have someone’s undivided attention and an open mind, kids don’t need much to be entertained! And if you spend hours preparing for your time together, you’re more likely to have unreasonable expectations for your time together… which is typically a recipe for unhappiness due to missed expectations. That’s the polar opposite of what we’re aiming for. Our goal is to go into this with no expectations.
Simply be fully engaged, fully present, fully alive, fully cooperative, and fully open to new ideas and experiences!
Invite your child to join in the fun! It may appear goofy or odd at first, but it is an important component. Every parent has heard their child ask, “Mommy/daddy, would you play with me?!?!?” a million times. Now it’s your turn to take the lead.
I thought it quite vulnerable to ask my child if she wanted to play with me. What if she declines? That visceral experience made me infinitely more sympathetic to all of her future requests for attention, and I soon found myself saying yes to things I previously would not have said yes to. This one change has made such a significant difference in our relationship’s “playful” aspect. We’ve subsequently become inextricably linked in ways I never imagined imaginable.
So, on Monday morning at 10 a.m., I invited my daughter to join me for karaoke. Of course, she said YES!!! since she is an open-heated and fun-loving child. We both dressed up in outrageous clothes, turned on some 80s karaoke (which we both enjoy), and sang till our throats hurt. While a little USB disco ball strobes in the backdrop, we even did some dancing. It was 30 minutes long. 30 minutes out of a week’s worth of time. What’s more, you know what? Since then, she’s brought it up at least a dozen times!
I may never be known as “the fun mom,” but that doesn’t mean I can’t have fun with my child.
So there you have it, Moe!