Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Truthful Tuesday: Play and Parenting

I know folks who do a Truthful Tuesday series, so I thought I might try it, mostly because I've been thinking about this post where I need to be totally honest with myself and my 5 readers (who I appreciate so much!) about how play fits or doesn't fit into my parenting.

I've always loved to play.  I'm a playful person.  I went to summer camp as a camper year after year, worked there for summers, and then got a masters degree in camp.  Sure camp (and outdoor ministry which is really what my degree is in, that is Theology for Outdoor Ministry, fancy eh?) is a lot more than just play, but play is a big part of what we do at camp.  It is play with a purpose, even holy play.  But you can't work at and be invested in the camp community without being pretty passionate about play - games, laughter, silly songs, and so much more.

In the years where I couldn't work at camp because of where my husband's church was, I found myself as the Director of a My Gym Children's Fitness Center.  Uh, have you seen the place?  It is all about play!  Games, gymnastics, sports, silly songs, and creating an exciting Walt Disney World feel for fun right there in the gym every day.  I got to wear sweatpants and funky socks to work, jump on a trampoline, and flip upside every single day.

But at camps, I quickly went from being a cabin counselor to a leadership staff person.  I found myself drifting from group to group or wrapping myself up in paperwork, hiding in the office.  By being in charge of so much, I was able to avoid engaging in much of it.  (Clearly, not the mark of a good leader, I know that.)  At My Gym, I did similarly.  At my best as a director, I was in almost every class the gym had, connecting with every single child, parent, and staff person constantly.  But before I knew it, that got harder and harder and I found myself buried under administrative tasks, behind a computer doing important things to make sure everything ran well which allowed to me to disengage.

Somewhere along the way, I learned how to hide from the play, and well, I felt a need to hide to begin with. I became quite good at 'checking out' of an experience.  I am a really passionate person so maybe it's a reaction to the intensity of my experience of the world or maybe it's my way of dealing with stuff I haven't dealt with.  Maybe it's the introvert/extrovert stuggle I have.  You see, once upon a time, when I was good at play and engaging, I was an ENFJ on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).  These days, I am an INTJ.  As an "I" which denotes Introvert, I draw energy and renewal from small intimate groups of people or by myself.  It does not mean I am not capable of working with large groups or doing much of the extroverted things I used to do, but it does mean that those things drain me.  I love them and hate them at the same time.  So maybe, it's that I was always an "I", but when I was younger I had more time for that refuel and so I didn't notice my desperate need for "I" time.  Instead, the refueling happened so I could enjoy and thrive in my "E" side. I don't know; I am full of excuses.

What does this have to do with parenting? I am doing it with my kids. I am hiding behind my household responsibilities, my volunteer commitments, my need to be oh so busy that too often when asked "mama will you play with me?" the answer isn't yes.  I am 'checking out' and simply going through the motions too often.  Play is painful these days.  Seriously, I dread those hours of imaginative play with my preschooler in the playroom.  (hides in the corner). 

Why is it so hard to play?  We can certainly agree that when we are exhausted and our tank is on empty, it's a lot harder to invest in play.  So we need to be diligent about refueling our tank so that we can give more to our kids.  Yes, it's a "put your own oxygen mask on before helping others" instance.  But there's something else.  Giving up the to-do list, the phone, the computer, the t.v., and the responsibilities leaves us raw and unguarded.  It is opening ourselves up to truly engage and connect with others, children and adults alike.  Our kids need and deserve this. This is so much more valuable than the overscheduling of activities, classes, sports, and more that fills many families' days that allows them to disengage as they race from commitment to commitment. 

Play is so important for children.  It is where they process, explore, learn, create, and connect.  Because of that, it is crucial that we as adults in our children's lives enter their world of play, fully engage in it and explore it.  By doing so, we validate their work and are able to connect with them in a way that cannot happen anywhere else.  It is in play that we discover who our children really are.  So, this is me, *that* mom, the one who preaches about what we think about Santa Claus and how we try to live a natural lifestyle for the good of our kids and the earth, coming totally clean about my inability to just play with my own kids.  And this is me deciding to put all the crap that separates me from other real live people (as much as I love those friends that live in my computer as my husband refers to them), especially kids away every. single. day. for just a little bit.  Baby steps and all.  It's going to be ridiculously hard for something so simple, but my kids are worth it.

1 comment:

  1. I can really, truly relate to this post - thank you so much for letting me know you wrote this; its just the reminder I need.

    It IS so easy to disconnect - to "check out" like you said. I'm an INFP, and I hadn't even thought about what that means in terms of interacting continually with children who - at least one is well on the E side of things. It CAN BE work to reconnect, to come out of my shell, away from the "safe" world of the computer & my office to fully engaged lively and often needy child-directed play. But you are right - it is well worth it.

    And I KNOW this; its just putting it into action - going from thought to action. Baby steps, like you say...

    Let's encourage each other! :)


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