"No I didn't. You're just a poopy head sore loser."
"MOOOOOOM!!!!!! He called me a poopy head!!!"
"He called me a cheater!"
"You ARE a cheater!!"
"Well you ARE a poopy head!!"
Sound familiar? When my boys were little that was how nearly every game between them ended. Being young and dumb, I attributed it to normal kid behavior that I could do nothing more about than to put up the game and make them go do something else. Separately. As hard as I tried, I could never really get them to play nicely together. Now, looking back, I realize that there was one key ingredient missing from their playtime: Me.
Don't get me wrong, my kids weren't neglected in either the legal or the moral sense of the word. They were clothed, fed, educated, disciplined, hugged up, smooched on, and told every day of their lives how very much I loved and cherished them. I just never knew that I really need to play with them, too. And that makes me sad - for them and for myself.
I think I've mentioned before that I was adopted at the age of 10. Prior to that, I'd pretty much raised a younger brother on my own because my biological mother was an alcoholic prostitute who usually only came home when she had “work” to do, or she needed to sleep off a bender. Having become a mommy at the tender age of about 3, I missed out on those very important early developmental stages of my childhood. I didn't experience the joy of having a mother to play with, so when I had children of my own I had nothing on which to base that part of their raising.
Until they were around 10 or 11, I really didn't know how to relate to them. By the time I finally started figuring it out, they didn't want to play with me. I was MOM, for cryin’ out loud – not somebody to have fun with! It hurt me deeply when they'd come home laughing about all the great times they'd had at so-and-so's house; how that person's mother was so fun and cool. The first time one of them referred to a friend's mother as "mom" it broke my heart. I just didn't understand why my house wasn't a fun place to bring their friends to play. I didn’t realize until years later that I hadn't set myself up as someone who was fun to play with, so they found more enjoyment in others.
And the saddest part of the whole saga is that by me not playing with them, they never learned to play with each other. I didn’t know how to help them be close because, again, thanks to my own upbringing, I’d never been close to a sibling as a playmate. I was adopted as an only child, so I didn’t have any brothers and sisters to play with. I never learned that lesson that larger sibling groups are taught: get along, play nice, or else. And because I didn’t know, I couldn’t teach.
My guys were very different types of boys from the get-go. Bug was the brainy kid. Twig was the brawny one. Bug wanted to be inside reading, doing puzzles, or playing computer games. Twig loved anything outdoors and could jack a ball off a t-ball stand over a two-story house by the time he was 5. My thought process revolved around allowing them to be their own person. After all, you can’t MAKE people like each other, even if they are brothers. And since they had nothing in common, I thought it was best to just let them do their own thing.
That’s a great idea for building strong, independent, self-sufficient men, but a rotten idea for building strong, connected, close-knit families. No, you can’t MAKE people like each other. But how will they know whether they actually like each other if they don’t ever truly get to KNOW each other? And the only way to really get to know someone is to spend time with them. And for kids, a big part of that has to be parent-involved play time.
Looking at life from the far side of Hill Five-O has given me a whole different perspective on things. I wish I’d spent more time thinking about how to build relationships and less time worrying about how to build wealth. I understand more about the need to slow down and make memories as well as hurrying up to making dinner.
How about you? When was the last time you had fun with your children? About now you may be thinking that that means stopping everything else and focusing 100% of your attention on them. Well, sometimes it does. And those times are important. But those day-to-day fun ops are so much more important. Those times when you have them together and can turn some everyday moments into Wow, whattaday! memories. For each family those opportunities are different. You have to be creative and attentive if you are going to find them. It could be something as simple as letting them fold their breakfast napkins into hats or as elaborate as a Super Bowl party that includes you throwing all the normal rules out the window and just having fun.
One of the coolest examples of these kinds of fun-teaching, memory-building, bond-strengthening games I’ve ever seen is the Dessert Game that Allison over at A Mom Thing has devised. In her words, they have used this game to teach their kids... “To share and help each other out. To have fun no matter what...And to realize that oftentimes the gamble just isn't worth it.”
I have a feeling that Allison’s kids will be close in a way that mine never will. Please don’t be like me and reach this stage in life with regrets born of ignorance. Now that you know, you must act like you know. SO GO PLAY!
Peace, Blessings, and Strong Bonds to all.