Are You Suffering from Playground Fatigue Syndrome? There's Hope for You!

Are You Suffering from Playground Fatigue Syndrome? There's Hope for You!

I have a confession to make: I don’t like going to the playground with my kids. Over the past eight years, I have logged in some serious time at playgrounds. Hours upon hours of monkey bars, ladders, merry-go-rounds, rings, rock walls, slides -- of the twisty, straight, bumpy and tunnel varieties -- swings, zip-lines, you name it. When the girls were younger, I loved going to the park because it was a way to get out of the house, get fresh air and Vitamin D, and let the kids burn off some energy. Not to mention the fact that I thought it was the cutest thing ever to see their smiling faces come down the slide or swing back and forth on the baby swing with their little legs kicking happily like a puppy’s tail. But then, somewhere along the way, maybe five or six years in, I came down with Playground Fatigue Syndrome (PFS).

PFS starts slowly and the symptoms often go unnoticed until the condition becomes more severe. For me, it began with my getting tired of our neighborhood parks, the ones we went to five or six times a week. I decided we just needed to explore new parks, and went on a quest to visit every playground in Seattle. Seattle has something like 240 playgrounds listed on its parks website, so this was a very ambitious goal, but with PFS I wasn’t really thinking very clearly, so it sounded like a fun idea. I got to around 49 or 50 parks when I finally came out of denial and came to terms with my condition: Like millions of other Americans, I have PFS.

Are You Suffering from Playground Fatigue Syndrome? There's Hope for You!
Credit: oparrish.

Now, each new playground actually was exciting, to the kids and even me -- but for only about five minutes -- ten max. Then, after the kids had excitedly tried out each piece of new and thrilling equipment, my fatigue would start to creep in. It didn’t matter how many new parks we went to, in the end they were all the same. “Mom, can you help me on the monkey bars?” Oh, how tired I am of carrying a two- or three-year old child across the monkey bars back and forth and back again. They are dead weight; they do none of the work at all. They kick you in the face, and they scream at you if you rush them. It’s twenty times worse if you happen to pregnant and thirty times worse if you are carrying a younger sibling in a Baby Bjorn/Ergo while doing this. I’m SO glad those days are behind me. The trouble with playgrounds is that you are done within ten minutes, but your kids never want to leave. Ever.

Then there’s the fact that playgrounds are prime locations for kids to yell the dreaded “Watch me, Mommy!” phrase on repeat (see Five Phrases My Kids Say that Drive Me Crazy). It’s fun to watch them at first -- until the fatigue sets in. I remember feeling guilty when I read that blog that shamed moms for looking at their iPhones at the park. Heck, I wish I were the mom on the iPhone. My kids have some kind of sixth sense where if I so much as glance at my phone to check the time, they will scream from some far corner of the playground, “Watch me, Mommy! Put down your phone!”

Here’s a solution I just thought of that might help parents out there who worry about other parents judging them for using their iPhone at the park: Pull out your phone and open whatever app you want to look at -- Facebook, email,, whatever -- then hold up your phone toward your child as he does whatever trick he wants to show you. In a cheerful voice say, “Great honey! Now smile for the camera, I’m taking a video!” and continue to read whatever it is you want to read while pretending to capture this moment on film. Now, I haven’t tried this out myself yet, but I’m sure it could work. It’s kind of the reverse pedophile trick: Pretend to video children when you are actually reading something on your phone, instead of the other way around. Be sure to take some footage though, because your kid will most definitely ask to see the video playback, and you can only pretend you hit the wrong button so many times.

So why do I still drag myself to the playground even though I dread it so much? Because the kids love it, and I know it’s good for them, and we have some quality family time together even if I am faking it the last fifteen minutes. All those things I said about not liking it and wanting to check my phone? That was the PFS talking, not me. I want them to be outside, and I want them to push themselves physically to master new things, and -- for the first 15 minutes or so -- I really do enjoy watching them have fun. So I go to the playground, and I smile, and I help them on the monkey bars, and I play chase, and I take photos -- yes, real photos and not reverse pedophile ones -- and I power through my PFS.

For anyone else out there who is also suffering from PFS, let me tell you that there is hope. For me, the best thing is to go to the park with another adult. Today it was my husband. On weekdays I arrange to meet a friend, or better yet, a group of friends; it’s like going to a PFS support group meeting. And for those times you just have to get out of the house and you find yourself taking the kids to a park by yourself, just look around you, I’m sure you’ll find another mom or dad who is also suffering from PFS who could use some adult conversation.

To spot someone with PFS, look for the parent who keeps checking her watch or smartphone every five seconds and who keeps yelling hopelessly, “Five minute warning!” every two minutes -- these are classic PFS symptoms.

Playground Fatigue Syndrome: You are not alone, and you don’t have to suffer in silence any longer under the shadows of the twisty slide.


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