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Low-Effort Ways to Play With Your Kids When You're Running on Empty

Photograph by Twenty20

“Today, I’m going to be the best mom ever!” I tell myself right after the first cup of coffee hits my blood stream. Then reality gets in the way.

There are the meals I cook that the kids reject and/or throw on the floor, the screaming fights over who is the rightful owner of a rock from outside and the homework battles. By 4:00 p.m., I’m contemplating running away from home and wondering if Netflix will babysit my hellions until my husband graces us with his presence in another three hours. Three hours. Kill me now.

Is it just me, moms, or you can you relate?

The thing is, I really want to be the mom who orchestrates enriching sensory play and creative crafts. But I’m a flawed, tired human with too much on my plate and not enough energy in my tank. Sometimes, a compromise is necessary.

Here’s how I play with my kids when they're craving my attention but I’m running on empty. Try one of these laid-back play scenarios the next time you’re tapped out. Like now!

Be the audience. Their job: Entertain their mama. Your job: Sit and watch. Encourage them to sing, choreograph a dance routine, act out a favorite movie or anything else that involves them being really active and you being really stationary.

Officiate a race. You hang out on a bench with a stopwatch. They run back and forth. Now, faster. Now, backwards!

You hide. They find you. Spoiler: You’ll always be under the covers.

Play doctor. You are the patient in the hospital bed, preferably in a coma. Your child can take your fake blood pressure, check your fake heartbeat and poke you with fake shots to their heart’s content, as long as you never have to sit up.

Let them baby you. Little kids love playing family, and what’s more fun than a little "Freaky Friday" role-reversal? In this scenario, the small people are parents and you are the newborn baby who sleeps all day. Oh, look, it’s nap time again.

Play hair salon. Grab a brush, comb and all the hair accessories, and let them make you "beautiful." If you’re lucky, someone will brush your hair until you fall asleep.

Hold a read-a-thon. Stack every kids book you can find on your bed, leaving room only for a few fluffy blankets and extra pillows. Corral the kids under your arms and get to reading. Maybe somebody, besides you, will accidentally fall asleep. Either way, you're laying down.

Play hide and seek. You hide. They find you. Spoiler: You’ll always be under the covers.

Throw a bathtub tea party. Pile everyone, including mom, into a warm bubble bath and bring the plastic tea set for water play inspiration. A random afternoon bath may not sound like your, um, cup of tea, but trust me, when you’re not struggling to scrub off marker or detangle anyone’s hair, it can be fairly relaxing.

Be the Christmas tree. Feeling tired, but also brave? Supply your kids with stickers, tinsel —really any art supplies that aren’t permanent markers—and let them decorate you. It will be hilarious for them, and you’ll be sitting down doing nothing. Win-win.

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