One of the most powerful things we can say to a child is, “I’ll play with you.”
I’ll never forget the advice an older, wiser mom gave me when I was a new mom with a perpetual look of exhaustion all over my face. “I wish I had spent more time on my knees playing with my children rather than picking up dustballs.”
At the time, I politely smiled at her and tucked that away in my younger, frazzled, sleep-deprived mind… because I didn’t grasp the weight of her words, until now.
Caring for our kids tells them we love them. But playing with them says we like being with them.
Only recently have I been letting this sink in. It has taken my kids to need me less to understand how true this is.
The first months and early years of motherhood inch by so slowly. That first night home with your baby feels like an eternity. We watch their little chests rise and fall and their bodies grimace and squirm every ten minutes. We are overwhelmed by their total dependence on us. The nights are long. Sleep is broken. Our whole lives revolve around diapers, feedings, trying to get the baby to nap. For better or worse, we feel like all of this will never end.
But slowly and surely, it does. My kids are clearly growing more independent each day. Now 10, 8 and 4, they can pour their own orange juice and make their beds. I am loving their autonomy (mostly)!
Still, there are many moments when they come to me, wide eyed and hopeful, asking me to put down what I’m doing to watch them do something or join in. Sometimes it’s easy. Other times I am literally mustering energy from thin air.
Because I can’t always shake the reality before me…dust balls, dishes piled high, meals to make, a leaky sink, fatigue, life.
Sometimes it feels like work to play.
But I know this shouldn’t be the case.
We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing. ~ George Bernard Shaw
I am still learning how to live more freely and fully appreciate this motherhood journey for all its joys and messes. But thankfully, there is room for grace. Our playing doesn’t have to look like someone else’s. It is not a crazy obsession where everything falls to the wayside because we are so utterly consumed. It doesn’t always have to be something physically daunting either. It can be as simple as a state of mind.
It’s just, I think, taking the time to say to someone, “I like being with you, just because.”
When I look at it this way, it suddenly quiets me.
This is what we all want to be told.
So the other day, my 8-year-old and I had this rare one-on-one time together. We were settled on our living room floor playing a board game.
The dustballs glared at me.
Wayward pieces of play food and other such randomness under the couch seemed to taunt me, too.
I thought of all that unfolded laundry in my bedroom and wondered, “Will the kids even have underwear in their drawers by the morning?”
I reminded myself of that phone call I should be making.
But then I saw the happiness on my son’s face, his two brand new permanent teeth emerging from a quiet smile, as he moved his pawn across the board game.
So I kneeled closer to the floor, letting this truth sink in…take time for these moments.
Some things can wait.
Because dustballs are forever.
But these moments… moments like these are not.
Check out the top five benefits of play for children according to www.livescience.com.
And you don’t have to be a parent to benefit from play! According to www.helpguide.com, here are the top five wellness benefits of adults taking the time to play:
- Relieve stress. Play is fun and can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
- Improve brain function. Playing chess, completing puzzles, or pursuing other fun activities that challenge the brain can help prevent memory problems and improve brain function. The social interaction of playing with family and friends can also help ward off stress and depression.
- Stimulate the mind and boost creativity. Young children often learn best when they are playing—and that principle applies to adults, as well. You’ll learn a new task better when it’s fun and you’re in a relaxed and playful mood. Play can also stimulate your imagination, helping you adapt and problem solve.
- Improve relationships and your connection to others. Sharing laughter and fun can foster empathy, compassion, trust, and intimacy with others. Play doesn’t have to be a specific activity; it can also be a state of mind. Developing a playful nature can help you loosen up in stressful situations, break the ice with strangers, make new friends, and form new business relationships.
- Keep you feeling young and energetic. Playing can boost your energy and vitality and even improve your resistance to disease, helping you feel your best.