So God Made a Mother Collection ➔

As I sit here, I am listening to my older daughter color by herself in another room. Of all of the sounds of young motherhood, the self-chatter during play is my favorite. Innocent and honest, it’s a chance to hear her thoughts. “What should I draw next? Owelette. Yes, that’s good.” Self-chatter is a chance for me to understand how her internal dialogue is shaping.

If I was coloring with her, things would be different. She would be working to direct me and impress me at the same time. She would feel my attention shift from her to dinner, back to her, back to dinner. But in her solo play, she is making her own heart happy. She is being creative, she is working to grow without realizing it.

We’ve heard that play is the work of childhood. It’s such a beautiful sentiment.

And sometimes, if we are being honest, I feel like I mess play up.

Because for kids, play is magical. It is an institution, both a verb and a noun, a language for them to process how their little selves fit into a big and changing world. I am a boring adult, restrained to the confines of schedules and taxes and knowledge of gravity. I am certain I bring my boringness to play. So why do my kids always want to play with me?

No matter if I am dull, my kids want to play with me because I am Mom. I am their beginning, their familiar, their protector, their problem solver. I can solve the riddles of play. I can cut and tape, I can sew beads onto almost anything, I can control all the switches in the house with ease. At this age, they don’t think I ruin play. They think I enhance it with my mad skills.

They always want me to play. And in this, I consistently feel the stab of guilt when I have to say no to the innocent voice saying “Mommy, will you play with me?

Play is not the work of my world anymore. And although I know this, and I can justify it, I still scold myself for missing that chance. I recall the internet memes and chatter reminding me that someday, they will no longer ask me to play. I’ve been warned countless times at the grocery store that someday, I will miss this. I know that, and it terrifies me. But dinner must be made, clothes must be washed, work emails must be sent—my role in life is multifaceted. I’d love to drop everything, every time they ask.

But what would that teach them about give and take, about patience, about boundaries?

Practically speaking, in a moment where play isn’t an option for Mommy, sometimes just our brief but genuine attention is enough.

If we get on their level, make eye contact, and let them know when we can play, this effort goes a long way. In this, our children know they are important to us. We model for them respectful boundaries. We show them how to ask for what we need. Kids have a one-track mind, and they can’t be expected to honor boundaries we don’t set.

As moms, we are teachers first. We teach our children about the world, about their faith, about themselves, and about others. In this, there is a lesson to be learned by waiting, by entertaining themselves, by watching Mom respond to the stresses of life with grace and humility. Our kids don’t notice that we can’t always play, however, they do always notice our reaction to the question. They notice our reaction to everything. In motherhood, our reactions are as important as our actions.

We cannot cheapen all we do for our kids by lamenting what we don’t.

Play is sacred to childhood. Distracting ourselves from a present moment by mourning a moment lost to the past doesn’t bring anything back. This guilt trip is not helpful, it is not practical, and it does no good for anyone involved.

Our kids don’t always need us to be involved in their play for it to be memorable; instead, we can help by observing from a distance. We can encourage without hovering. Kids are masters of play, they will outdo us every time. Yet, the ability to self-regulate and a strong sense of self-confidence are things our children will gain with opportunities to practice.

Through intention, my daughters will learn the role of a mommy has many layers.

Through direction, they will learn how to respect boundaries.

Through attention, they will rest confidently in the fact that they are critical to my world, but they will have to cope with the fact that I can’t always do what they want when they want it.

And they will remember the times I did play. Because when I play, I make funny voices. I chase, I pretend, I wrestle, I laugh for real. I love them so fiercely and fully, I can’t help but be captivated by them.

Because when I play, I do it presently.

I do it well.

This post originally appeared on the author’s blog

You may also like:

My Kids Are Bored and I Don’t Care

My Mom Rarely Played With Me as a Kid and I Turned Out Just Fine

Dear Son, Sorry I Suck at Playing Cars

Kristine Western

I am a writer based outside of Boston. I blog at www.mywesternnest.com, and I love to connect on Instagram at @my_western_nest. I am an imperfectly eager storyteller. With a soul wrecked by grief and rebuilt by grace, I am a willing voice for the hurting, the forgotten, and the restless hearts.   I am blessed to be called mama, wife, and friend. I have carried four babies: I lost my first daughter Darla in 2013, I had my daughter Gracie in 2015, followed by my youngest daughter Avery in 2017, and I lost my son Cooper in 2019. I am a lover of all the words, an eater of all the foods, and a runner obsessed with building endurance. I am always up for a cozy campfire, a venti americano, or a fresh page for doodling.   I am not one thing, but I am saved by One thing: grace.

My Little Girl Has Big, Brave Dreams

In: Kids, Motherhood
School paper with little girl's handwriting, color photo

My 6-year-old daughter wants to be a soldier.   When we heard from the ultrasound tech that we were having another girl, that was not exactly the career path that popped into our heads.   There’s something absolutely terrifying knowing your child wants to do something big like this. I’m sure I’d be petrified if I had a son with the same ambition, but there’s something extra scary about it being your little girl. There’s something weighty about raising a daughter who wants to be a soldier. But honestly, it’s not a surprise at all. RELATED: God Has Filled Your...

Keep Reading

As My Children Grow, I Miss It All—Even the Sick Days

In: Kids, Motherhood
Toddler on mom's shoulder

I whisk my daughter through the doors of urgent care and cradle her head as I stand behind three other mamas clinging to their babies. We’re each rocking in different ways but moving nonetheless. The silent, comforting rhythm of motherhood. I see sad, sick eyes from the babies with their heads nestled into the necks of their mama. I’m tired from the sleepless night, and I shift from foot to foot. There is hushing and humming and back-patting. A pacifier drops to the floor. All of a sudden my daughter feels heavy. A vague sinking feeling comes over me, like...

Keep Reading

Life with Autism Is Full of Ticking Time Bombs

In: Kids, Motherhood
Mother, father, teen daughter, color photo

Many of us who live with autism are familiar with the comings and goings of the ticking time bomb—one that disappears for periods of time, so much so that we might forget about it. Then, suddenly, this bomb drops at our doorstep in the form of a returning or new obstacle, so intense that it causes us to pause our lives, alter our plans, maybe even change our current paths. For our family, the new challenge has been sudden, piercing, sporadic screams. Not constant, not even often, thankfully, but jolting nonetheless. So here we were, in the midst of our...

Keep Reading

Youth Sports Build Strong Kids

In: Kids
Young girl with gymnastics medal, color photo

My kids are heavily involved in sports. My son plays for an elite basketball team and my daughter competes on an Xcel gymnastics team. It takes up a lot of our time and a lot of our money. Even though prioritizing youth sports seems to be an American norm, we still sometimes receive criticism and judgment as to why we would spend so much of our time and resources on it. (“Don’t you know the chances of your child going pro is less than 1%?”) As I sat at my daughter’s gymnastics meet, listening to the parents cheer so excitedly...

Keep Reading

Don’t Let Anyone Rush You, Mama

In: Kids, Motherhood
Mother with two kids at home relaxing

From the moment our children are born, other people make it challenging to stay in the present moment—they start asking questions that look forward instead of at the now we are in. Can you believe how big she’s getting, where did your newborn go? Oh my goodness, he’ll be walking any day now! Are you thinking about preschool? What will you do when they’re both in school? What will you do when your baby goes to college? While these questions may come with good intentions, they’re not helpful at all. We moms need to be allowed to be fully in...

Keep Reading

Dear Child, God Sees All of You—And So Do I

In: Faith, Kids, Motherhood
Mom and young son painting together

Math has always come easily to him. Even from the beginning stages when we counted wooden blocks on the living room floor, the numbers just came to him. “How many blocks are there?” I asked him, pointing to the scattered row of blocks. I expected him to count them. He was only three or four years old. “Six,” he answered promptly. “Yes . . . but how did you know that?” I asked hesitantly. He had not taken the time necessary to have counted them. “Three and three are six,” he replied. And on it went. The math came easily,...

Keep Reading

Kids Crave Your Time, Not Fancy Things

In: Kids, Motherhood
Dad and daughter with basketball smiling

I have four kids, and like most parents, I’m doing my best to give them a happy childhood, but we’re not really an activity family. Don’t get me wrong, we love a good day trip to the local water park or a night out at the movies, but with several different ages and a tight budget, activities or outings are rare for us. Sometimes I end up feeling bad about it, like our kids are missing out, but then I take a deep breath and realize that some of the best moments come from the simplest of things. Lucky for...

Keep Reading

Dear Kindergarten Graduate—Wherever Life Takes You, I’ll Always Be Your Safe Place To Land

In: Kids, Motherhood

I cried on your first day of kindergarten. Did you know that? I held it together through the getting ready and the goodbyes—but once I had waved one last time and was pulling out of the parking lot, the lump in my throat poured out as hot tears down my cheeks.  How could you be starting kindergarten? You, my precious firstborn baby. We had some growing pains as we adjusted to a new routine. The school days were so long. I spent my days missing you and you spent yours missing me. We were apart from each other more than...

Keep Reading

The Secret to Slowing Down Time Is to Notice the Moments You’re Living In

In: Kids, Motherhood

Dear current self, You’ve heard a lot of mothers admonish you to slow down and enjoy every moment with your children. They’ve warned you with phrases like “before you know it,”  “in the blink of an eye,” and other cliché’s that haven’t really hit you, but they will. Soon, they will. I am writing you now because I’ve seen you trying to wrap your mind around the how-to—as if holding time in your hand is a skill anyone has successfully mastered. I’ll save you the suspense. It can’t be done. It is inevitable. Your kids are going to grow up....

Keep Reading

You Don’t Have to Celebrate a Holiday Just Because It’s On the Calendar

In: Kids, Living

I switched on the computer, adjusted my chair, then quickly swiveled back around again toward my husband, “Are you sure? You don’t mind?” “Me?” he made a swift waving motion as if swatting a fly. “Psht. Yeah, I’m fine with it. You?” He lifted his head and locked our eyes a little more securely, “Are you sure?” “Yes,” I said firmly, without hesitation. “OK, good,” my man turned back to his phone, “Love you.” “Good,” I confirmed. A rush of relief swept through me as muscles I didn’t even know were tense suddenly relaxed. A bubbling surge of energy had...

Keep Reading

 5 Secrets to Connect with Your Kids

FREE EMAIL BONUS

Proven techniques to build REAL connections