"Daddy, will you come and play the farmer and the mouse game with us?" my daughter called to me. My heart sank. This was about the last thing I wanted to do right now. I was bone-tired, had a million other things to do, and just didn't feel very "playful." But, I did manage to give myself a fair-sized dose of guilt.
"Sure," I heard myself say. "Let me just finish the dishes and I'll be right there." I had a few moments to get myself ready to play.
What makes playing with kids so hard at times?
One of the things we struggle with is allowing ourselves to follow the rules and agenda of our kids. Especially when we're tired. We'd much rather dictate the rules ourselves. But if you consider it, why wouldn't they want to make the rules? My kids, like most other kids, spend much of their life following the rules of others. Whether they're at home, school, or at team practices or lessons, they're expected to follow the rules. And they're expected to do this virtually every day. My job as an effective parent is to occasionally play with my kids. And when I do, my job is to follow their rules and agenda.
So, if it's so difficult for me at times to follow their rules and agenda, how is it for them to follow mine? When we think about how many times our kids have to follow our rules, can we be surprised when they occasionally resist us? When we think about how intensely they play, is it any wonder they get upset when asked to stop their activity and do what we ask? Can you imagine what that would be like, day after day?
I could hear my son and daughter talking excitedly about the rules of the game. Their excitement made perfect sense. Finally, a chance to "call the shots!" "Dad, you're in the kitchen, and I'm a mouse in the cupboard in a little car that's driving around and making noise. You get mad because you don't know how to get me!"
The rational-parental side of me wanted to question the possibility of a mouse driving a car in the cupboard. And I knew if I questioned the "validity" of this scenario, I'd be lessening the joy of pure play. Before long, the mice were tormenting me again, and I was helpless to defend against them.
So the next time your kids ask you to play, remember a couple things. Remember how often you ask them to follow your rules, and remember that following their agenda shows you value them and their interests.
Most kids do their very best in following their parents' rules. In fact, they show an amazing amount of tolerance and patience when we ask them to comply. So, the next time they ask us to play, we can ask ourselves a question:
Can we do as well?