It’s the long weekend, and I’m reminded of how much I love to play with my children.
With all that parents do to ensure their children’s success, it may not be obvious—this glue at the heart of the home. And yet the thing that seems to matter most to my children, the number one relationship builder is play. Not work. Not scheduling, logistics, or social convening. It’s play.
Play is the most important thing I do with my children in a day.
Whether it’s a game of ping-pong, or a bike ride, or a game of cards with a big bowl of snacks, we connect in a pure way. There are no power struggles: we’re all in it together. When we play there is an openness to possibility and an acceptance of each personality. There is no do this, do that, or have you done that yet? There is no battle of the wills. No deadlines, no clock ticking. We are simply having fun.
Play is simple. It’s fun. This means it can also appear—from the outside—as an inconsequential luxury. Something I don’t have time for, or really need, especially when I’m feeling stressed, overworked or overwhelmed. Play can require an energy I don’t have.
Yet, when people play they are at ease, self-forgetful. They de-stress as a matter of course. They tend to laugh. They can express emotions, including anger, frustration or exhilaration, that may be untoward in other settings. There is a healthy letting loose. Those with a competitive nature can figure out how to play with someone more cooperative; and vice versa. It’s all somehow acceptable and manageable. Perhaps because no one needs to be in control. There’s no set outcome. The only goal is to have fun and enjoy the people you’re playing with. In a game of charades mom can act silly. On a bike ride dad can take risks and go on adventures. In tennis, my son can hit a killer serve and feel great about it! When the blocks come out, my daughter’s talent for building is showcased.
Play is a great way to show off while staying real.
Play is also a very safe place for children: it does not put them at the center, but it does ensure their place in the circle. Play tells children that life is fun, and adults are interested in the same things they are. When adults and children play together they make memories that cannot be undone. Play (especially the low-cost kind) gives far more than it takes; speaks life to everyone involved, reaffirms the importance of touch, smiles and togetherness. It also tends to highlight the innate intelligence, humour and insights of children—the kind that tend to lay dormant in a week stuffed with other stuff. When adults are able to spot these particular gifts in their children, it reinforces mutual respect, commitment to care.
It refreshes awe.
It’s the rare child that doesn’t love when the adults in their life bend their schedule to make time to play together. And the rare adult who doesn’t feel better after playing with their child.
Play—although all about enjoying the moment—really is the great memory maker between adults and children: the kind of memories that take you back to the beginning when life was rich and full of possibility; and forward into a future made brighter for the strength of relationships forged over games and toys and bikes, in fields and on paths, around the table and on the sofa.
Wherever, however you like to play—I’d recommend playing. It’s simple and it’s fun. And, perhaps, it’s even essential.