What do you do when the answer to the question,
“Play with me, Mommy!”

Lately, few phrases fill me with guilt more than this one. I love my four-year-old more than anything, and I absolutely adore spending time with her. But sometimes the answer to, “Don’t you want to play with me, Mommy?” is “no.”

Perhaps it would be different if I had a more traditional work schedule and saw her less because of it. But I’m fortunate to have a flexible arrangement that allows my children to spend more time at home when they aren’t in school and I’m not in meetings or racing a major deadline. During the summer, they spent a few days with a sitter and a couple of days with me. I did my best to block out time for the girls, and especially for playing one-on-one with the youngest, but then, eventually, I had to pull away. I had to work. Or make dinner. Or pick up the house. Or just spend some time NOT taking care of somebody else.

It’s harder right now because my youngest is going through a needy phase.  She doesn’t like to play alone. She whines about most anything. She expects to be entertained. And she seems to have decided that I’m the VERY BEST ONE in the family. That’s flattering. She’s adorable. I’m thrilled she loves me. But after awhile it starts to feel like too much of a good thing.

I feel guilty telling a child, “No, I really don’t want to play right now.” I am fully aware of how quickly they grow, and of the fact that there will soon come a day when my daughter won’t want me around much at all. I know I need to take time for myself, and I know I need to encourage her to be more independent. I also know that she probably just needs reassurance that her Mommy is still here for her as she gets ready for a second year of preschool.

Plus, I know I’m fortunate to be able to spend as much time with my daughter as I do. Many working moms with less flexibility would probably take my place gladly.

I know all of these things. I do my best to find that right balance. But sometimes I still feel really, really guilty. Even after spending an entire morning walking with her to the store, baking a cake together, reading, doing puzzles and playing Squinkies, it’s hard to hear that plaintive, “Don’t you want to play with me, Mommy?” and have to answer, “No, honey, that’s enough for now.”

I’d love some advice on how other mom’s handle this. Play dates seem to help a lot. But what about days when it’s just you and the kids and you need to get stuff done? How do you deal with the mommy guilt?