Comments 2

When Work is Play and Play is Work

Dylan sweeping
Tonight my son found his little toy laptop in a basket of toys. He pulled it out and started typing “letters” to his daddy. After a few minutes, he prompted me to ask him to play with him.


Me: Will you play with me?
Son: I have to work.
Me: (stifles a giggle and a sob at the same time) Ok, will you play with me when you’re done?
Son: (types furiously for a minute and then closes laptop) Ok, now I am done with my work, I can play with you Mommy.

I had such a reaction to this. Being a single, working parent means that sometimes I have to say no to playing because I am (insert activity required for daily existence) and then I have to make myself stop and just play with him, which feels hard, like I’m working at it. So of course the guilt starts in strong when he’s showing what I am modeling as not being available to him…

IMG_6151But then I thought that maybe modeling working and then stopping to play is a good thing. Maybe I’m not abandoning him and “scarring him for life” in doing so. Maybe instead what he is learning about how to amuse himself – and learning that sometimes we play and sometimes we work – is positive?

Aye yay- it’s all just a guessing game, this parenting thing. I often ponder that it must have been much simpler when we were in small villages or tribes and the kids literally “played” at what the adults were “working” at, there wasn’t much difference between the two activities then. Children learned how to do the things required in life because they played at doing them from the time they were old enough to hold something in their hands. They mimicked their parents work until they were able to start helping, between the ages of 3 and 4.

In a lot of ways, I think the expectation I have on myself, as a parent, to always be available on my children’s schedule to do what the they want to do is an unrealistic expectation and may set my children up for not being able to be resilient and resourceful when they are in need.

How do you handle your child’s playtime requests? Are you always available?



  1. Great thoughts Iris!

    I work at home. As such, sometimes a naked 3 year old bursts into my room in the middle of a customer facing video conference demanding attention.

    That situation is tricky.

    As with all such situations, and with unrequited requests for play. The best answer I’ve found is to redirect. “No” doesn’t get me far in Toddlerland. However, “Here, please take this toy to (insert whoever is in the house), she’s been for it to play with you.” That seems to work pretty well.

    As for single parenting, I’ll admit I’ve had the fortune not to be faced with the challenge enough to have specifics. All I can say there is I never set up a video conference when I know I’m the only adult with my child in my house.

    Thanks for the thoughts to chew on Iris!


    • slickiris says

      Thanks, Peter! And you make a good point. Somehow, the naked 3 year old bounding into the middle of the video conference just isn’t as cute to the person on the other end of the conference as it is to us parents!


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