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The Way We Used to Play

They also had video games. A luxury my siblings and I were denied until I went to college, and my younger brother convinced my parents to buy an XBox. He learned to read by playing Zelda; I learned by reading the Bible.

My children play on iPads. First it was animal sounds, then coloring on apps, and music and math games.

Once I took them to a creek and my daughter, then 6, told me we could be eaten by germs.

My children, like their peers, had very little unstructured playtime, and I always knew where they were. I was afraid to look away, for just one moment.

Modern mothers today are not looking away, they are barely even pausing to breathe. Even with more mothers working outside the home, moms spend twice as much time interacting with children as they did in the 1970s, according to a 2012 study. Modern motherhood is a relentless requirement to engage, educate, inform and care for your children. This intensive monitoring of their health and welfare is necessary for future success. How can we afford to look away for a moment?

Because I controlled play and activities and outings and researched apps for their tablets, my children had little unstructured time. And when they did, I played with them, something my mother rarely did, for she always had a baby with her; someone always needed something cleaned or something cooked or someone needed to learn to read. The parenting philosophy that raised me was one of benign neglect. And I still don’t think my mom knows how many times myself and my brother, who is a year younger than me, climbed onto the roof of the house, or how many times I fell off.

With my kids, I laid on the floor and invented games for them. First, I was an alligator and they were a frog, and the pillows on the floor were the rocks they had to hop on to get to safety. Other games included where I would be a sheep that they needed to get inside a pen (or under the table). My favorite was spa day. I’d lie on the couch and my children would pretend to minister potions to my aching back until I was fully “wewaxed.”

When their father and I divorced in 2017 and began a split-custody schedule, they were only 6 and 4 years old, but I lost control of part of their lives.

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