Hide and Seek

What I learned about play.

I’m a little afraid to admit this, but I’m going to anyway. I think giving some light to this failing of mine, and how I plan to improve it, might help myself and others.

Here goes: I’m not particularly good at playing with my kids.

No-one tells you how hard the simple act of play can be. Or maybe they do, and it just doesn’t register, in the way that, “Get as much sleep as you can now, because there will be precious little given to you when you have a new baby,” didn’t register with me.

And just because I’m not very good at play does not mean I don’t do it. Because I do. A lot.

But I’ve recently realised two things about play:

  1. I put the “need to do” tasks first. Tasks like laundry, vacuuming, tidying the kitchen and folding clothes.
  2. When I play with the kids, I’m not always there. Sure, I’m there with them, squeezing the playdough or cutting and gluing and crafting. But often I’m not engaged with what’s happening.

Instead I’m thinking about the laundry that needs doing, or the emails I have to answer. I think about the process my afternoon will follow as I tidy up, get dinner ready, run through showers and books and bedtime rhythms. I’m not there.

And not only does this steal my attention from the kids, but it robs me of energy and joy.

For so long I would put off the kids’ requests for hide and seek, until I would eventually acquiesce and play half-heartedly for 10 minutes. But I began noticing the sheer joy they got from playing – with me, no less – and suddenly it no longer felt like an imposition. It felt like a privilege.

So I have renewed my effort to really be in the game, whether it’s hide and seek, snap, puzzle-playing or playdough-making. And the day that I asked our four year old if she wanted to play hide and seek? Well, that was priceless. It was also humbling.

So I think we need to learn to adjust our thinking on what needs to happen. Does the ironing need to happen? Or does your child need to feel like you want to spend time together?

And yes, the laundry does need to happen. And the dinner and the sweeping and the seemingly endless tasks involved in running a household. But what if – sometimes, at least – these happened after play? What if they weren’t the number one priority all the time? What if we said yes to play first?

Grow your account balance.

I can’t remember where I read it, but there is an idea in parenting that I have found incredibly helpful when making these sorts of decisions and working out my priorities for the way we want to live.

The idea that we have a ‘bank account’ with each of our children, and playing with them, reading and nurturing and reacting with kindness and compassion all deposit into this bank account. These actions help to grow your balance.

When things like errands or cleaning or phonecalls or work need to happen, even when the kids want to play? These are withdrawals, and they shrink the balance.

The idea is, of course, to keep the balance as healthy as possible, while also recognising that withdrawals are normal and something that our kids have to get used to.

How this affects my decisions.

Instead of going to the default way of thinking (ie. get the work done first so that the play can come later) I can instead picture what the balance of each bank account looks like and make a better, more well-rounded choice based on that.

So I’ve been saying yes to hide and seek so much more. And do you know what I’m seeing? The kids are happier not only when I play with them, but they are also more content to then play together for much longer. Part of that is simply the ages they’re at, but I also think it’s a reflection of our choice to engage more and to mindfully choose to spend quality time with them.

Side note:

I know the pleasure and the frustration that is full-time stay-at-home parenting. When your kids are at a certain age all they want is you and your company. They don’t care if you need to do the laundry. They don’t see that dinner needs to be cooked and that you’re the one to do it. But your role includes those mundane, house-keeping duties just as much as playing hide and seek with your little ones. This results in (I can only speak for myself of course) a deep frustration.

I understand this, and am saying so because there are days when you will not be able to play endless games of hide and seek. Nor can you bear the thought of pulling out the playdough and the ensuing cleanup, because you’ve just mopped the floor.

So I get it, and the last thing I want is for what I have said above to be misconstrued as criticism or a veiled attempt to shame anyone for not doing enough. You know what needs to happen in your own life, so please read this as a support, not a criticism.

To conclude, the core idea of this post is one that could really apply to most areas of our life:

On those days that we can, I think we should.


Can I ask, do you feel a tension between play and work? How do you manage it?

19 Responses to Hide and Seek

  1. I’ve been coming to a similar realization myself. All the necessary tasks used to take time away from the kids, but I have been trying to get them more involved with those necessary tasks now that they are a little older. They have begun to help me fold the laundry, do chores, and do some basic, supervised meal prep. Sometime tasks take a bit longer since they are still learning how to do things, but it is time spent together and the kids feel useful and are learning life skills. I’m hoping that once the kids get good at these tasks, it will free up more time that we can all spend doing other things together. :)

  2. This article feels perfectly timed as I have realised exactly this today; I need to make time for play! I have a gorgeous 8 month old baby and could spend all day playing with him… But it always feels like there’s something else that needs to be done. My baby plays alone while I go from one badly done job to another, not really doing anything well, but doing what I think I *need* to do. It’s so hard to get the balance right, as you say the house needs to be run but there must be a way to do both! Aiming to keep this in mind tomorrow, thank you for reminding me of what’s important. :-)

  3. This is just so true! I’m juggling parenthood with finishing my Masters and sometimes it is extremely difficult to strike a happy balance. One thing that seems to help is attempting to ensure that we have daily play time outside, completely separate from distractions. Simplifying our home has also helped immensely as cleaning and tidying now take significantly less time, freeing me up to genuinely play or study.

    Your comment about what needs to happen – laundry or kids feeling like we want to spend time with them is piercingly accurate:) Although it’s possible to make household tasks into a game, it is not quite the same thing as mindful play!

  4. This post hit me in the heart! I am often so hard on myself wanting to devote more time to play, whilst balancing my “to dos”.
    Playing with intention and presence is where it is at.
    Thank you Brooke, after reading (and mid school morning rush) I yelled out, “who wants to play hide and seek?” to which the 3 of them ran off to find a hiding spot. There face expression I will keep forever in my heart.

  5. Love these words Brooke. How good do we all feel when we just play? Playtime is priceless!!

    p.s. and no-one except us knows that the floor has been mopped…

  6. Your article totally resonated with me. I am a stay at home Mom to an 8 year old boy and 3 year old girl. My son is in school during the day and when he is home his wanting Mommy time seems to be less and less. However, my daughter is home with me and wants Mommy’s attention and rightfully so. Just the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about how to split house work and playtime with my daughter. For me what works is time for play and then time for house work, Generally, I play for a certain amount of time. It’s not like I put a timer to the play I simply play and genuinely have fun and 100% focus on her. When I’ve had enough I tell her its time now for Mommy to do Mommy work and we can play again in a little while. I take my time then to do what needs to be done while my daughter p,ate alone. Keep in mind children also need to learn and know how to play on their own. I do this kind of thing throughout our days and it works, for us. Every parent and child is different. I think it’s all about where your happy medium is.

    • I used to do this too when my son was younger. I found if I played with him first, he was happy to play on his own while I did some tasks. I even found this works when we had to go shopping. I would let him play on a kids merry-go-round (without putting the money in) and then would say we have to do some more shopping now, and he was ok with that. It is all about give and take a bit…then everyone is more happy and relaxed.

  7. Thanks so much for being vulnerable, I feel like I’m in a season of recognizing a lot of things that I need to change (decluttering challenge helping with one of them). I appreciate your analogy, balance tends not to be my strong suit, but it’s the key really for so many things. It’s easy to swing from one side to the other out of guilt or neglect of the house, or just escaping… so thanks for sharing!

  8. I’m way past the young children stage, but my 18 yr old just had surgery and wanted a lot of snuggle time while recovering. It was sweet! From a mom who has been where you are now, and I have 5 children now 18 – 32, I’d encourage you to involve the kidos in some of the chores. My little ones loved to help chop veggies for lunch and dinner prep. Sort and fold laundry. Sweep. My 18 yr old favorite childhood kitchen activity was helping with making bread. I’d measure, she would dump into the mixing bowl. The chores were together time and there was time to play too.

  9. Our family focus this month is getting our routines/systems for the “have tos” sorted so we have more time for the “want tos”. I definitely feel the tension and the associated guilt, especially as I work from home. I’ve set some much clearer boundaries this year so that time with the kids is time with the kids – no work!

  10. I don’t have kids myself, but the idea of balancing work and play you present here is definitely something I can relate to in my life. I have family friends and a boyfriend to give my time and attention to and there are times when I feel stretched and think if I get all my list of things to do first, then I’ll make time for my loved ones. Many times, I get caught up with my own mundane tasks that I put “play” to the back burner; hence, I miss out on moments I can’t get back. Kids or no kids, finding this work/play balance gets tough at any age. In my experience I have come to find that experience will trump work any day. The people in your life won’t be there forever and in the future I won’t remember the time I got laundry done on this one day, but I’ll remember the laughter and smiles I had with a friend over wine and cheese. Your kids won’t be kids forever, and I think it’s good that you make a conscious effort to be in the present moment with them. One day my mom won’t be here to share girl talk with just like your kids won’t be asking to play hide and seek one day. Thank you for sharing your post. :) I look forward to reading more.

  11. I wasn’t very good at it either. Now, with my grandkids (4 and 3), I really try to play. Of course, it’s easier since they’re my grandkids and not my kids. I find that I’m most engaged with them when I’ve been on top of my to-do list. If I have things I haven’t done and should have, I’m not fully there. If I’ve done what I’m supposed to, I enjoy it more. I’m still not very good at it, though. I mean – how many lego towers can I build????

    This morning I turned around to see that my granddaughter had retrieved the shredder can and dumped all of it (it was almost full) on the living room rug. She was really proud of herself. I would have been upset with my kids but I just let it go. It’s not that big of a deal to clean it up after we’re done playing with it.

    Everything’s different the second time around (with grandkids). You’re much more relaxed – probably the way you should be the first time around.

  12. Sounds like you’re doing a fab job to me! I read in a book (“How to improve your marriage without talking about it”) something about if we feel like compassion/nurturing is freely available to us from our partner, we will need to seek it out less. I imagine it’s the same with kids and nurturing and maybe playing aswell. So I think the deal is, as you say, if you give your kids a little play time, the’ll be content quite quickly in that area. I don’t have kids, but I can relate to it in terms of my partner. If I feel like I need a bit of cuddles or talking and he seems distant and reluctant(no one’s perfect so I’m not trying to shame him here), the urge to keep “pestering” him is so strong, and sometimes it can drag out a bit. But if he gives me maybe 10 minutes of undivided attention with what I need, I’ll be pretty much fine after that, and all in all I would say he ends up spending less of an effort in that last case scenario aswell. :)

  13. I love playing with my kids! I used to play and then start tidying as we played or exit early from games. I Like to initiate it at least once a day to connect first before they have a chance. I also find that when we go to the park and I hop on a swing, get pumping and lean back I feel like a five year old and the world is (for five minutes) a much better place and time stands still. When I am present with my kids at play, Nothing else matters, the worries and work will wait until we are finished.