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Why I Don't Play With My Children

I'm a parent who doesn't enjoy playing with my children. At least, not in the imaginative, pretending sort of way.

Are you a parent who doesn’t enjoy playing with children? At least, not in the imaginative, pretending sort of way? I’m certainly am! Many parents feel the same way and live with guilt about it. There is no need to feel ashamed- it’s the way we are, and that is just fine! We pretended when we were children, and now we’ve grown up, and it’s our children’s turn to play pretend.

Some people will think less of me for it, but I can’t do it. The times I’ve tried, I have hated every minute of it. If I were to force myself, I would not be a nice person to play with, and I would certainly not be a nicer parent for it! No, avoiding playing with my children means the time we do spend together is enjoyed by all.

Children are so smart. The last thing I want is for my child to feel that I dislike them in any way. I know if I were to force myself to engage in pretend play, they would pick up on my negative feelings about it. I don’t want to risk them thinking it is in anyway directed towards them.

So how do you spend time with children if you hate playing?

Make it a point to be with your children and do activities with them that you both enjoy! Just because you don’t like to participate in pretend-play, doesn’t mean you avoid spending time with your children. It does mean that you have to be more intentional about spending time with them. Often when kids play, they will invite you to join them… and if you don’t participate in their play, it will remind you to take time out to be with them doing something else. Plan quiet afternoons with nothing on the schedule so you can take time out and do things together.

You don’t always have to say “no” to your child, instead try redirecting: “You go ahead and play by yourself right now, let’s go for a walk together this afternoon.” This advice was given to me and has helped me from feeling like I’m always shutting my children down.

5 activities we enjoy together:

1. Games

Do you enjoy board games and card games? If so, then it’s a great way to interact together! We start young, currently, our 2 year old is learning how to play UNO. We progress to Guess Who? and card games. As the kids get older, we play Monopoly, Risk, Sequence, and Settlers of Catan. When we get to the teen years we bring in the more difficult games: Sculptivity, Catch Phrase, Scrabble, and RummikubMonopoly is how my children have learned to count money and Risk has helped them ace geography quizzes. Through games, they have learned how to strategize, barter and persuade. And after they have learned how to play, we all enjoy playing together.

2. Puzzles

Puzzles are nice calm activities. Lay it out at the table, sort the pieces, build the edges and then work on sections until it’s complete. Working on puzzles is a beautiful way to tie together generations. The great-grandparents in my children’s lives, are no longer with us. But when they were, they often had a puzzle laid out on the table and when we visited, we would work on it together. Doing puzzles with my children reminds me of the time I spent with my grandparents, and my husband’s grandparents, the stories they told and different character traits they had. I end up telling stories as we work- stories from past generations, stories from my childhood and stories about my own children.

3. Crafts

Many adults enjoy crafts and the kids are happy to jump in. Browse Pinterest for easy paper crafts and keep the supplies fairly minimal. We have paper, scissors, tape, glue, stickers and paint.  Although I enjoy crafts, when I have splurged on miscellaneous supplies it just ends up all over the house. So I’ve paired down to the basics. We’ve done paper trees, snowflakes, lanterns, chains, buntings and various pictures to hang in our hinged frames. Sometimes I can even get the teens involved and making something with us, which is a super win!

4. Coloring

I just recently discovered the wonderful coloring books for adults. My husband got me one for Christmas and I enjoyed sitting down to color in the evening. It didn’t take long before the kids would sit down with me, but their coloring books would frustrate them- most often, the ones they have received were activity books- with crossword puzzles and “complete the picture” pages. My book with animals and flowers was so much more appealing to them. I searched Amazon and the detail in the animal coloring books was so great, I had been hoping for one that would encourage them to use their imagination, but not frustrate them with tiny intricate patterns. Coming up short, I decided to make my own. I have enjoyed doodling and painting cute little creatures for many years, so I compiled my little animals friends into a coloring book: Simple Animals. The kids have been thrilled. They routinely sit down with me and color on pages. Keeping the pages simple (i.e. minimal) the kid’s creativity has exploded and it has been such a pleasure to watch. If you want to share the ones your children have colored- be sure to tag me on Instagram. 🙂

Sitting down to color with the kids has been so rewarding. I’ve been able to teach them shading techniques and encourage them to create their own patterns and designs. These are the colored pencils I recommend and here is a coloring book for moms. 😉

5. Outdoor activities

Does your family enjoy spending time in the outdoors? Then get out there and share with your children the wonder of nature. Not far from us are several large wilderness parks with walking/biking trails and fishing access. We’ve gone for drives in the country and had picnics in different places, we’ve been camping and fishing, hiking and wading (the fresh mountain spring water here is a little too cold to actually be fully immersed in!). We normally walk to the water, throw rocks, work on our stone skipping techniques, admire rocks and driftwood and then walk back to the parking lot. Closer to our house, we walk to the park, go for bike rides or have picnics in our yard.


These are all the things I do with my children instead of playing, but it’s not exhaustive by any means. We spend a lot of time together, and I am often reading with my children, we cook together and we clean together. Making sure that children have independent play is very important as well, so please parents, if you’re like me, and you really hate to “play” give yourself a break and invite your children to join you in an activity you can both enjoy.





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About the author, Rachel

Hi there! I’m Rachel Jones, and I founded Nourishing Minimalism in 2012 at the beginning of my minimalist journey. If you're looking for encouragement in your journey, I go live in my FREE Facebook Groups every weekday- feel free to join me there: Nourishing Minimalism Facebook Group


  1. Ari on 03/01/2016 at 10:30 PM

    I’d do imaginative play sometimes, since my son was an only child, but he liked the same stuff, over and over for a long while. We’d get variations going, but I was bored long before he was. So we spent more time at the library or park or reading or playing board games.

    If you like Monopoly but don’t want to take up hours with it, there’s a card version around, similar playstyle but very fast. We’ve been through 3 games in half an hour. They’d be slower with more people but 2 is average at our place.

    • Rachel on 03/02/2016 at 2:10 AM

      Good to know! Thanks Ari!

  2. Laura on 03/02/2016 at 11:14 AM

    Thank you! I don’t like to sit still to play, but I love reading to them or teaching them to cook. I am also due with another baby any time and needed a word of grace today about my other kids!

    • Rachel on 03/02/2016 at 2:14 PM

      Oh yes, reading is another great activity! Thanks Laura!

  3. Jan Elizabeth on 03/02/2016 at 3:06 PM

    This is a great post. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the title, but like the above commenter said, you are giving yourself a bit of grace.
    I don’t mind some imaginary play, but what I really don’t like are sports. My little grandson is passionate about hockey, soccer, basketball, you name it. I get bored almost instantly! Not to mention feel large and awkward in our small space. But I LOVE to read to him, play around on the piano, putter around the house working and chitchatting, and do crafts or quiet time activities.
    Very interesting and a unique perspective. Thanks for putting yourself out there!

    • Rachel on 03/02/2016 at 4:07 PM

      Thanks Jan. 🙂

  4. Debra on 03/02/2016 at 3:27 PM

    Great article. I wholeheartedly agree. You must be yourself, then everybody wins. :O)

    • Rachel on 03/02/2016 at 4:06 PM

      Thanks Debra! 🙂

  5. Jessica on 03/02/2016 at 3:50 PM

    Thank you SO much for this article…I have felt guilty for so long. The thought of sitting down to play pretend with my kids actually causes a knot in my stomach. I hold no negative feelings towards my parents for not playing with me but we live in such a different “Parent Guilt” world that I wondered if my kids would resent me. I love to read, play outside, go for walks, board games and color. Thank you for validating me!!

    • Rachel on 03/02/2016 at 3:58 PM

      That’s so true Jessica- My parents never played with me either, I think that was pretty typical for their generation and I never resented it, but we do have so much “parent guilt” surrounding us these days! My parents didn’t “play”, but they did spent plenty of time with me, teaching me about plants and animals, reading together, sewing and 4-h projects.

    • Felisha on 03/02/2016 at 4:32 PM

      Yes! I feel exactly the same way. Down with momma guilt! I’ve actually noticed my son asking me to play less as I’ve been far more intentional with other activities. We both win!

  6. Alison on 03/02/2016 at 5:51 PM

    I have seven kids, and one of them consistently asks me to play with her. I tell her that’s why I had six more kids for her to play with! 😆 I was the only child at home during that age/stage and played for hours on end alone. It’s great for their imaginations in this entertainment driven society. I am not my kids’ entertainment, nor am I a child. I am frank with my daughter about that and she runs off to play with someone else. One thing that is a must for me, however, is making sure I get a little one-on-one time with each. They take turns on my errand day and we pick a “secret place” to go eat. Some of the secret places overlap, but they’ll each have memories of our special time together.

  7. Karen T. on 03/08/2016 at 7:32 AM

    I’m totally with you, Rachel. I was not an entertainer for my kids, though I did read aloud to them every day (and really enjoyed doing it). We also played games, did crafts, went to the park. They played their long, involved pretend games with each other, and really developed a close relationship and knowledge of each other that they might not have had if I had always been involved in their imaginative games. I cherish the relationship they share!

  8. Lisa on 03/18/2016 at 4:21 PM

    Thank your for this. I came across your website last night and am really enjoying everything I have read. This post and the comments make me feel like I am not alone 🙂 I, too, would rather ride bikes, do puzzles, play games, or read. I just don’t like imaginative play! Thank you, by the way, for the 2016 in 2016 declutter chart. We all picked out our colors and this will help us continue on in minimalizing our lives 🙂

  9. Crystal on 04/19/2016 at 4:02 AM

    Hi! I’ve been VERY much enjoying all of your posts! I have been feeling like the house is caving in on me and I hate it! So I stumbled upon your website and love it! I read your posts about the kitchen and china cabinet (not ready for that one yet, but maybe soon 🙂 )… and I’ve been purging the kitchen! Feels so good, but hardly making a dent 🙂

    I see that you homeschool. Please tell me how you manage your school/office supplies, school books, curriculum, all of that 🙂 What do you keep? Can you share pictures or do a tour of your homeschool area/stuff? Thanks so much!!! I am so inspired and motivated!

  10. Lane on 05/05/2016 at 8:49 PM

    Thanks for putting this blog out. I never playaed with my children and they didn’t ask me too either. I felt guilty and so one day I told them I was going to play dinosaurs with them, which they were playing at the time. They actually seemed annoyed with me being there and everytime I would make the dinosaur do something they got kind of testy and said they were already doing something else. I quit playing because I figured they didn’t want mom interfering with their playtime. Unfortunately I still felt a little guilty because I thiught if I had been a “better” mom they wouldn’t have felt like that. This article is very freeing and now I see that it was OK that they wanted their playtime to be mom free. This will help with my granchildren too. I did plenty of other things with my kids and I also do with my grandkids. Guilt no more.

    • Lane on 05/05/2016 at 10:05 PM

      Ooooops sorry. I posted on the wrong blog.

  11. Swissrose on 10/18/2016 at 3:14 PM

    I also didn’t feel comfortable playing with my three daughters who are far apart in age. But I have always loved reading to them. They mostly didn’t enjoy art and crafting as much as I did! But we did a lot of other stuff together and now they are all adults we have a great relationship.
    I do find it easier to play with my grandchildren, though, interestingly. Perhaps I am calmer without so many distractions as when I was a young mom. I still find it hard with the sports stuff, especially as I had girls and now two grandsons who are very lively ;o I find it easier to play with my granddaughter, to be honest. But that’s just the way it is and different people they know do different stuff with them – it’s all ok.

  12. Christine Gayfer on 01/10/2017 at 9:53 AM

    This is the best article ever!!! I am a mom of 8 (9 in May) children and I hate pretend. I can remember one time, when I had three kids, my two oldest (7 and 3) came into the kitchen. “Mom, will you play pretend with us?” “No, sorry guys. I really don’t like Pretend.”

    7yo turns to her younger brother, “Okay, let’s pretend Mom is our Mom and she is making dinner.”


  13. careen lorenz on 04/05/2017 at 4:57 PM

    Thanks for this article. I have 4 kids grown and gone, but still harbored a new guilt when I realized that parents were supposed to “play” with their kids. It never occurred to me! We did all sorts of fun things together, we worked together, we talked and read and, and, and…and… they are awesome adults. We did life together and still do ..well I’m taking that guilt and flushing it! 🙂 thanks for the article.

  14. Briella's Mom on 06/14/2018 at 12:15 PM

    I made paper dolls as a kid so now with my 3 year old I print out cute pics I have taken of her in under clothes or a leotard and cute clothes similar to ones of mine she likes and we dress our dolls sometimes I play the dog while she dresses the dolls herself.

  15. Evelyn Gil on 05/04/2020 at 9:11 AM

    The problem with my son is that he has certain autistic features, he likes repetitive games, he doesn’t like to be suggested what to do In his games, and that makes it really boring. Besides that, he doesn’t enjoy craft or drawing because he has motor skills challenges and he doesn’t like to follow models, and if I give them free hands to create he makes a mess and makes again repetitive games with the materials. I get really frustrated…

    Playing outdoors is pretty much the same: he likes one or two repetitive games and barely understands rules if I suggest something knew. He doesn’t understand how to play Hide and Seek… so my only choice is to visit people with kids that will show him how to play, and I cannot do that all the time, specially now during quarantine time.

    I need help and I’m desperate!!

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