How Much Should You Entertain Your Children?

Picnic in the sun

Picnic in the sun

It’s the weekend. The sun is shining and it’s warm outside for the first time this year. The children are in shorts. Hubbie and I are not at fighting strength and the desire to spring clean house and garden are being decimated by an overwhelming need to curl up and read a book (me) or get back to stripping the engine in the garage (hubbie).

Saturday saw a whirlwind of sorting from hubbie, in response to a plea from me that the lounge had disappeared under weeks of accumulated detrius. I do cleaning, he does sorting, that’s our skill set and division of labour. I was still feeling sick and disorientated from the tablets and the kids were slightly flummoxed by having a whole weekend without children’s parties to go to.

Grandpa came round to put the world to rights and help tinker with the engine. The children were told to shush, go play and mostly they did. But promises were made that today would involve more games and attention. Then Grandad called late to say he’d pop in for coffee in the morning. So Sunday started with a frenzy of cleaning (as he comes less often I make more effort to maintain the illusion that his son married a clean and tidy person. My stepdad knows this is a lie – my mum won’t even come round anymore because the clutter in our house drives her bonkers.)

By 10am this morning (his anticipated arrival time) we’d cleaned and hoovered and found the house under the filth and clutter. The children assisted by cleaning dust with wet wipes. But still, they reminded us continuously about the request for attention and games. Grandad spent half his time looking at the stripped engine and the rest imparting typos to me that he found in Two-Hundred Steps Home. When he left at 12 o’clock the children had been left to bounce on the trampoline and play in the playhouse. They were quite happy, but still asking for games.

Playing with the hose

Playing with the hose

Hubbie finally managed a game of chess with our daughter while I baked cookies with our son. I then played dominos with them both for twenty minutes. But that was the extent of our attention, as I went off to iron school clothes (and ended up writing this post!) and hubbie mowed the lawn.

They’ve been happily (mostly) playing with the hose and trampoline for the last hour (hurrah for early spring sunshine!), but I still feel a bit concerned.

After all my reading on The Five Love Languages, I suspect that Quality Time is important to both of them. But they do also need to learn to play by themselves. Weekends can’t always be children’s parties and trips to the farm. I at least get time during the week to myself but hubbie needs downtime at the weekend. I used to take them to lots of places when I had them both at home, because they’re easier to manage at the zoo or the park than in the house, but I worry that they had so much fun and mummy time it is why they both cry when being left at school and nursery.

They’re not neglected children, but parental attention can be pretty thin at times. They have each other and are expected to find solace in that. And mostly they used to do that. But more and more, since my daughter started school, they’ve been demanding adult attention at home. Assuming I had the patience to offer it, is it still wise? I don’t remember our parents doing much in the way of entertaining us as kids. We were taught to ride bikes and taken to gym classes, but we also played with our dolls and books and colouring. We sat in the car eating crisps while they went to the pub to play darts, or while they did the supermarket shop.

Parenting these days is all about quality time and enjoying every moment, but what if we’re raising kids that don’t know how to be and play by themselves? What if school becomes harder and harder because being with mummy and daddy is such fun? But what if they need my attention to thrive? It’s a pickle. I’m beginning to understand why people take their kids to ballet and football at the weekend. Wear them out and pay someone else to entertain them. We’re not quite there yet, we enjoy our relaxed weekends too much, but it might happen soon.

In the mean time hubbie is explaining rugby to them both while I cook tea. Somehow it’s only 4pm. Is it bed time yet?

9 thoughts on “How Much Should You Entertain Your Children?

  1. It’s heartening to read this. I have a second child soon on the way, but I currently have a 4yo only son. About a month ago, his teacher expressed concern about his inability working by himself. She said that it would shift naturally once our attentions shift between two kids, but I offered a commitment to look for opportunities for him to work and play by himself.

    That evening, I sat with him for a couple of minutes as he worked on his letters. I wandered away to his protests he wanted me to sit with him. “I’ll come back after you’ve finished a row, OK?” I told him. It was a little uncomfortable, but paved the way for the next evening’s exchange.

    He was working on a different letter and had a question to ask me. I hovered after he’d asked the question, which caused him to look at me almost crossly and admonish me to “go do [my] own things.”

    Since then, we’ve tried to be mindful about the benefits of time with us and time with himself. I don’t know what the right balance is, but I believe it’s right to consider the importance of both time together and time solo.

    • I imagine it is much harder when you have a larger gap between siblings (or an only child). There is only 19 months between our children (we wanted them close together so they could entertain each other!) so they have been play mates for a good couple of years. It was hard when the eldest started school but I’m afraid I upped the youngest’s childcare so I didn’t have to figure out how to keep up with an energetic three-year-old!

  2. Great post. I think about this often–where is the line between being helicopterish and being simply present for them when they need it? It’s a tough question!
    Thanks for writing; looking forward to reading more.

  3. I struggle with this one too. My daughter has always needed a lot of attention, almost constant when she was younger. I could put this down to her being an only child, but I’m pretty sure it’s just her personality! I try to accommodate it when I can, but it’s impossible to do all the time.

    It is something that I think naturally changes as they grow older though, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Do what you can, and let the rest go! I don’t think there is any right or wrong answer, and it probably changes from day to day and week to week anyway!

  4. This post really rang a bell as I’ve always been very conscious of this, myself. McMini is an only and so I have definitely gone all out to develop his ability to amuse himself. I think I lucked out in the type of kid he is but I feel like a bad Mum often, but I don’t have the stamina to play with him that much, there’s no support, hubby works long hours and it’s just me and I need thought collection time, we both do. I guess, being human, we all have flawed parenting skills, we’re all imperfect parents. The way I alleviate my guilt is to remind myself that the space I give myself probably makes me a more patient and kind Mum in other ways and allows me to give some quality time every day. So yeh, it sounds as if your plan for some quality time every day is a good one.



    • I think giving yourself space to be a better, more patient parent is very valid (certainly it’s the excuse I use for why my kids have always gone to nursery even though I don’t ‘work’). We also emphasise that there are five people in this family (including the dog) and sometimes someone has to take a back seat. I’m not sure they get it but they might eventually!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s