We are finally beginning to understand the importance of play for children, but how many of us recognize that it is essential to keep playing throughout our entire lives? Recently, I started a series of conversations with our Melissa & Doug community. The idea behind what we’ve been calling “Play-Full Life Chats” is to explore as a group what brings us joy and makes us more play-full, and then how we can incorporate those activities into our lives — and the many benefits of doing so.
In the most recent chat, we shared ways in which we would like to play, the obstacles we face in doing so, and most importantly, how to overcome those obstacles and play more! I hope they will encourage you to bring more play into your life! Read on to discover the six fixes for what prevents us from playing!
What “Play” Means to Us as Grown-Ups
Play means different things to different people, but here are some of the more common ways our Melissa & Doug community is looking to play:
- General goofiness; acting playful, uninhibited, and finding more laughter in the day
- Simple family activities, such as game nights, movie nights, baking, holiday decorating
- Physical activity, especially unorganized sports, and active outdoor play
- Walking, bicycling, hiking, running — especially outside without a particular goal or destination in mind
- Pretend play with kids or grandkids
- Crafting or other artistic pursuits
- Music, whether listening to it, playing it, or going to a concert
- Experiencing the outdoors and nature, including fishing, alone or with others
- Connection with like-minded people
- Exploring (new places, activities, ideas, ancestry)
- Travel to destinations where one feels transported
- Reading, creative writing
How We Can Overcome the Obstacles to Play
As fast as we could list all the ways we’d like to add play to our lives, we could just as quickly list all the reasons for why we couldn’t seem to make it happen. After some brainstorming, we were able to come up with some solutions.
THE PROBLEM: Too Busy For Play
Being “too busy” and “swamped” is seen as a badge of honor in our society. It makes us feel important and indispensable to have no time for self-care and play. Our lives feel rigid and over-scheduled and we are continually stressed, leaving little time for spontaneity or joy.
THE FIX: Make play a priority. It’s a proven fix for one’s mental health, so think of it not as an indulgence, but a necessity for a happy, meaningful life. If you’re part of a couple, support each other in time to pursue individual play, and also make time for activities you enjoy together. If children make personal play time challenging, consider enlisting a babysitter, relatives, or another family to free you up for more play. In addition to making play goals for yourself and as a couple, make a list of family play goals.
THE PROBLEM: Afraid to Let Loose
Many of us have a fear of letting our guard down and/or a self-consciousness about loosening our inhibitions and getting playful. We worry that we will look silly and be ridiculed by others. This not only prevents us from feeling joy but also from inspiring our kids, grandkids, and other to not take everything so seriously. Ever hear the saying, “Dance like nobody’s watching”? It’s great advice!
THE FIX: Do it for your kids! Show them that you, a grown-up, can still act like a child and get a kick out of the lighter side of life. Take small steps toward occasional goofiness. Leave a silly note in someone’s lunch box. Jump in a puddle. Talk in a funny accent. Make it your goal to make someone laugh each day!
THE PROBLEM: Always Prioritizing the Demands of Others
Couples often not only lose focus on themselves as individuals but also as a couple and fixate instead on the everyday responsibilities and needs of their kids. We often feel guilty or selfish for not spending time with our families or being “productive.”We have become so enmeshed in the lives of our kids that we worry about missing out on their childhood if we take the time to indulge our own passions.
THE FIX: Try to understand that when kids witness you enjoying your passions, it provides an important lesson for them. They are able to see you as a real person, with a life outside of your shared life, and they can begin to internalize the idea that pursuing individual passions is necessary for fulfillment. This will encourage them to pursue passions and fulfillment in their own lives, rather than simply robotically checking off boxes of what they might assume is expected of them. It will make them look forward to becoming an adult, knowing that they don’t have to give up what they love to do!
THE PROBLEM: Inability to Be in the Moment
Sometimes we become so focused on “what’s next, the goal and the future”, that we begin to experience everyday events and people as mundane. We are so focused on the destination that we miss the beauty of the journey. Or we may miss out on fully being in the present (enjoying the subtle flavors of a meal, a concert, a moment of natural wonder) because we are too focused on chronicling our experiences on social media for proof or validation.
THE FIX: Stop and smell the roses. Literally! Put down your phone and avoid recording every moment on social media. Even if just 15 minutes at a time, take moments to engage fully with your kids or grandkids by playing a game with them, interacting with them outside, doing crafts, imaginary play, or even calling their attention to the wonder around them (stars, nature, etc.).
Lack of Connection
Many of us experience some social isolation and find few opportunities to connect with other like-minded adults. Meaningful communication has been replaced by shallow text interactions and perfectly edited photos. We rarely pick up the phone anymore for fear of intruding or interrupting.
THE FIX: Seek out like-minded people and help create or find opportunities for human connection. Maybe join an activity through MeetUp.com, a parent group, or volunteer group, or join an organized walk at a park, or take a fun class. Take the leap and reconnect by phone or in person (not just via text) with old friends from the past or people in your present life with potential for more face-to-face connection.
Play Became Work
Activities that we enjoy as play and that “light us up” lose their pleasure when they become about performance or expectations. For me, learning was a passion until it became too pressure-filled and all about studying, test-taking, and pushing myself to be the absolute best. It wasn’t until I was able to separate myself from the “achievement” part and measuring my progress that I could truly enjoy acquiring knowledge as “play” again.
THE FIX: Try to spend some time each day in your heart and not just in your head. Reframe those activities in your life that have become a source of stress but that was once a source of play and joy in the past. For example, maybe you always loved to run, but ever since it became part of a weight-loss regimen, it has lost its joy. See if you can enjoy the activity for purely the experience of it without focusing on the secondary results (how many calories you burned).
Finding time to play as grown-ups is never going to be easy. But it can only happen when we make a personal commitment to doing so and prioritize it for ourselves. We have to give ourselves permission, occasionally, to put ourselves first in order to play. Ultimately, it will make us happier and more productive people all around – and that will benefit everyone in our lives.
Don’t forget to share how you played as a child by tagging your videos with #ThrowbackChildhoodChallenge