Am I bad mother if I don't spend hours playing with my children every day?
How much parental playtime is enough?
And will my child's brain eventually rot because of all the times I've let him watch TV instead of indulged him in improving games and stimulating conversation?
Those are questions guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of mothers everywhere, especially those of us who attempt to eke out an income in between ostensibly caring for our children.
Elizabeth is 35 weeks pregnant with her second child. "I don't play with my child enough, I know that," she says. "I have an electronic baby sitter which looks after him for me. So far this morning he's watched a Toy Story DVD on repeat, probably about 4 or 5 times. That sounds so terrible. I will drag him out to the library this afternoon to make up for it, even though it'll take me about 40 minutes to walk there. In my defence, I swear I'll be a better mother once the baby arrives."
I don't have the heart to break it to her that playing with her toddler will very likely slip even further down her list of priorities once her baby is born.
Research showed that in the last half term British children spent over half their waking hours watching TV and playing games consoles during next week's half term holiday. While last week another report claimed 10 per cent of parents only played with their children for six minutes a day.
Figures like this do paint a picture of parents and caregivers too busy to entertain their children. But is it the whole picture?
Mum of one, Sonja, thinks mums give themselves too hard a time when it comes to measuring the minutes we spend playing with our children. "I actually think most parents today play with their kids too much," she says. "Parents seem to either feel disproportionately guilty about it, or they go to the other extreme and put their kids on a mad schedule of activities so that the kids end up over-stimulated with no spare time to just watch the world go by.
"Of course it is great and beneficial for you and your kids to do things together, but parents should chill out a bit these days. Your child is constantly learning from everyday activities - watching you cook, work, talk - anything. In my opinion, one of the best things you can do for your child is to talk to them - all the time - even and especially when they are babies. Children are just little people - and I think that often gets forgotten."
Mum of two, Tahlia, jokes that she, too, is a bad mother due to the fact that she has little time for building Lego towers with her sons. "In my defence I work full time and work for myself at home during the evenings and at weekends so yes, I am a bad mother - but there's little I can do about it. I have no choice but to work, work and work. It's either that or live on a diet of dry bread and water and wear clothes with holes in. Guilt is part of parenting. But on the flip side my children are very self-sufficient, so maybe not having time to play with them has done them some good in that respect."
Sonja agrees, and argues that a mother's primary role is not to be her child's playmate anyway. "We are there to care for, guide, love, feed, dress, educate, talk, listen and discipline when necessary - playmate is right down in the list for me. Spending time with them is another matter - of course that's vital. But if all you have time to do is cuddle up and read a book together or talk about what they did and how they feel then your child will love you for that. You are a Mum, the most important person in their world - not a playmate. That's what friends, siblings and nursery are for!"
Shannen, mum of two, agrees that sometimes it's a lack of time - not willingness - that prevents her from spending more time playing with her daughters. "I'll admit to not playing with the kids enough," she says. "But to be honest after work, tidying up, making dinner and giving help with homework and everything else that needs done, I find there just doesn't seem to be that much time left for play."
As I write this my children are playing an elaborate, imaginative game in the next room. I've no doubt that they'd be delighted if I decided to join in but they know I have to do some work first and they accept that. I've already smothered them with kisses when I picked them up from school, not to mention fixed them healthy snacks and made a home-cooked chicken soup for dinner.
I could give myself a hard time about the fact that I'm not in there re-enacting scenes from Disney's Cars with them but instead I think I'll make a cuppa and pause to recognise, just this once, all the things I have done with and for them so far today, instead of the few small things - like playing - that I haven't.
What do you think?
Do you play with your children?
Do you feel what you do is enough?
Or is your role more than playmate?