Grandma Guest Post: Work & Play Are One in the Same for Kids


One of my favorite quotes is “How does a child spell l-o-v-e?  T-I-M-E.”  Lots of parents nod knowingly in full agreement. Did I take this to heart when my daughter was growing up? The sad truth is, not nearly as often as I should have. 

Through 30+ years of parenting advice I’ve sifted through, one common theme has stayed true throughout different parenting style fads I’ve seen come and go: Resilient kids come from families with strong bonds and come only when parents invest time. 

The next question is, who’s got extra time? Between the demands of work and sports, homework, housework and meal preparation, I found it so easy to see my child’s needs as an interruption when I was in the thick of motherhood in the ‘90s. And you know what, kids sense this, even when I tried to mask it. 

Moms and dads don’t always have the luxury of spending leisurely time with the kids for all of the legitimate reasons: work, cooking, laundry, shopping. How in the world can we squeeze in more time into each day? The truth is, and I learned this the hard way, we can’t. The only option is to do what parents have been doing for a long, long time and mix business with pleasure. 

I appreciated contributor Kristen’s recent article about toddlers needing responsibilities. Young children love helping with chores around the house. Older kids, not so much, but if they’ve been doing it from a young age, they’ll more readily accept it. And if you entice them with the promise of doing something they enjoy when the work is done, they learn that a family runs best when each member puts a shoulder to the plow and get those dishes washed before 7 o’clock (making time for a game of Chutes and Ladders or Jenga before bed). 

Boredom is a part of life — especially a child’s. Mom and dad can’t always provide entertainment and activities, but smart parents make an effort to teach kids to entertain themselves in a positive way. There’s a new parenting book that my daughter just mentioned to me called Let Them Be Kids: Adventure, Boredom, Innocence, and Other Gifts Children Need by Jessica Smartt that highlights the value of kiddos experiencing boredom, chores and more.

My husband seemed to know this instinctively and when our daughter was a preschooler, if she expressed an interest in something, he would immediately make an effort to foster that interest through tasks. Gardening? She’d plant seeds. Painting? She painted rocks. Building? He showed her how to glue random pieces of Styrofoam into fabulous structures on the garage floor. Never was an opportunity missed to let her experiment with topics and ideas that interested her. He often quoted Maria Montessori, “Play is the work of a child.” Because of this time spent “working,” she never lost her love of learning and trying and growing — and to this day, says she’s never bored. 

Whether working or playing, time spent together is never wasted. It is the best way, possibly the only way, to share our values with our little ones, build a close relationship, and prepare our children for life. 

And here’s the best piece of it: by doing so, I found that I raised own best friend. 


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