On a recent family vacation to the Okanagan, my husband (who clearly felt our marriage was on solid-footing) squirted me repeatedly in the face from his bumper boat. As I laughed hysterically, I had an epiphany: I need more play in my life.
As parents, we cultivate incredible lives for our children. We put time and effort into making sure they have activities and experiences that make them happy.
Personally, I get no kick out of watching my children bounce in a kindergym bouncy castle, swim in pee-filled public pools or go door-to-door selling Girl Guide cookies. I’m not complaining—I signed up for it. But when the focus of your life centers around filling their buckets, it can leave your own feeling a little empty.
There are several stages for reclaiming yourself after having kids. You start with the smallest act of self-care when you have a newborn. Then, as the kids become more independent, you restore a few hours for yourself; a hobby resumed, books read.
But there’s another layer to reclaiming your old self and engaging in play is an important part of that.
Play is different than what we typically think of as self-care. People throw around a lot of euphemisms of self-care; a candlelit bath, a girls weekend getaway, some leisure time watching Netflix. While these things can relax you and relieve the pressures of daily life, they don’t typically elicit the feelings of vitality and aliveness. Play can do that.
Play comes in many forms: creative play, social play and just silly play. In his book, Play, Dr. Stuart Brown calls play a “state of being, purposeless, fun and pleasurable.” I know that in our home, just the simple act of turning the music up and having an impromptu dance party can elevate our spirits, erase the stressors of the day and foster connection.
Growing up, our blended family included children ranging from ages six to 16. There weren’t a lot of activities we could do together that would please everyone. But we had a small boat, and cruising and waterskiing created some of the happiest memories of my childhood. It was a way of engaging in play as a family. It connected us in a way that nothing else could.
During our vacation, we spent a day at the waterslide park. The cashier asked if I was buying two or four tickets and my first response was two because, after all, we were there for our kids. Like most of the other activities in our lives, our goal was to provide fun and excitement for our children. If we were planning the day around my idea of fun, we would be childless, driving from winery to winery in a convertible.
But we were a long way from that dream. We were at the waterpark kiosk. That was my reality. I told the cashier to ring us up for four tickets. Might as well enjoy the waterslides too, I thought. Even though I couldn’t remember the last time I did something for the sole purpose of having fun.
I slipped and slid down those waterslides and when it shot me out at the bottom like a rocket with my hands in the air, I laughed and felt a familiar pang of joy that I hadn’t felt in years.
It’s never too late to develop your playful side. It’s the joke that you tell your child when they’re mad at you. It’s the game of frisbee in the park. It’s squirting each other on bumper boats.
Playfulness reminds us that we are worthy of pleasure and joy. I’m learning that play is the best antidote to an empty life-bucket.