MidLife

Play Connects Us to Our Inner Child

Recently I wrote a guest blog post, Thriving Requires Letting Go of the Lies, for Sue’s Over Fifty and Thriving series. The idea for that post was inspired by the book, Girl, Wash Your Face, by Rachel Hollis (my review here). I have since decided to turn the subject into a new blog series: The Lies I’ve Believed. 

In the original guest post, I introduced Delilah, my harsh inner critic who constantly reminds me I am not good enough, brave enough or smart enough. Her loud, commanding voice tells me I am better off alone than out in the world pursuing my dreams. She is quite convincing.

But I’m tired of living this way. I’m merely existing rather than embracing an abundant life. It is time to replace Delilah’s lies with the truth.

This week’s lie: Play is childish.

In 2012 my sister-in-law and I enrolled in a Spiritual Journaling class. After the first morning session, we broke for a two-hour lunch where we were asked to write about our childhood. More specifically, what we enjoyed doing as a child. As the two of us walked to a local cafe, my sister-in-law innocently asked Did you have the opportunity to play as a child?

At first I was dumbstruck. Of course I did. Don’t all children play?

But the more I considered the source, she is after all married to my younger brother, the more I wondered if she was right. Did I experience a playful childhood?

I remember the neighborhood four-square games.

I remember lining up my stuffed animals for pretend school.

I remember coloring within the lines and reading the Bobbsey Twin mysteries.

But I’m not sure I remember spontaneous play just for the sake of playing.

In preschool I had two imaginary friends, Jimmy and Deke. When I reached kindergarten, however, I instinctively knew it was time to let them go. After all, I was old enough to know better.

In fact, this was a common refrain throughout my life. I was told either You are too young to know … or… You are old enough to know better. I often wondered at what age that distinction became viable.

As I grew older my parents insisted on homework before play. I would typically have an after-school snack at 3:30 and then go directly to my room to study. Piano practice would follow. Then, if time allowed, I could go outside for a while before dinner. Reading was the usual evening activity.

I never thought this schedule as harsh or punitive. I enjoyed homework and reading continues to be one of my favorite past times. But I think somewhere along the way I interpreted this daily routine as an unbreakable rule.

As an adult, I became a perfectionist workaholic. My motto: If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Consequently, I rarely found time for play. There was always one more thing to do. I measured the quality of the day by how much I accomplished. High productivity was always the goal.

But in this semi-retired, empty-nest phase of life, I find I have more free time to pursue personal interests. Unfortunately, my creative muscles atrophied after decades of inactivity. I’m not sure how to create without a deadline. I’m not sure what to create without a job description. I love to write but become paralyzed by the blank screen.

I’m convinced these atrophied muscles can become useful again. A little practice each day helps. Lowering expectations also helps. Refusing to compare myself to others is essential. I am slowly relearning the value of creative fun.

Picasso once said: Every child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist once they grow up.

He speaks the truth: Play connects us to our inner child.

 

35 Comments

  • Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond

    I used to pretend to be a ballet teacher and school teacher when I was growing up Molly. I would set up the living room as a dance studio and teach imaginery students. I also had a large blackboard where I held my school classes. My other favourite was on the swing. I would swing for hours and sing (my poor neighbours). I could spend hours on the swing and I still enjoy that. It is important to keep ‘playing’ but life can certainly take over as we become adults. My grandchildren have taught be to take time to play and use my imaginations. It was a delight to have you as my guest on Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond and also as a valued member of our #MLSTL community. Have a beautiful week. xx

    • Molly Totoro

      Oh swinging! Yes, I did enjoy swinging and trying to go as high as I could (or until the set lifted off the ground) 🙂 I must admit, I do enjoy taking the grandchildren to the park and swinging next to them. Perhaps I should plan more park dates.

    • Molly Totoro

      I do like Picasso’s words. It pairs well with a study I read about once (perhaps via Brene Brown?) Researchers asked a group of kindergartens how could sing well… paint well… dance well, etc. Every single hand was raised for every activity. The researchers then asked college students how many could sing well, paint well, dance well, etc. Very few hands were raised – and only for a single talent. If only we could maintain that joyful innocence of childhood what might we all accomplish?

  • Donna

    Hi, Molly – Your creative muscles are already soaring in your posts. I agree with you that a little practice each day, lowering expectations, and refusing to compare yourself to others are the way forward. The sky is the limit for your creativity! #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      Thanks so much, Donna, for your kind words of encouragement. It’s difficult to let go of old habits (setting unrealistic expectations and constantly comparing my beginning efforts with someone else’s mastery) … but I’m determined to right the wrong thinking 🙂

  • Jennifer

    Play is so important as a child and as an adult. The truly sad thing is that most children nowadays do not get play time at all. They are “helicoptered” by their parents from one supervised activity to another. It sounds like you did have a lot of supervised time, but also a lot of early play time. Being able to have imaginary friends, having tea parties with your toys all stimulated your imagination. Better yet, playing with neighborhood children allowed you to also learn important social and problem-solving skills. Something that is very much lacking in the younger generation whose parents plow all the problems out of their way for their children. Stopping by from #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      You do raise a very good point, Jennifer. My parents were not helicopter parents. I was allowed to make mistakes which helped me learn valuable life lessons. I think they were proponents of Love and Logic long before its time 🙂

  • Agnes

    I think I was allowed a fair bit of freedom as a child but a disciplinarian father kept me on the stright and narrow. Your article reminds me of a saying I use often enough now – I’m old enough to know better, young enough to do it again!
    Keep working on those atrophied muscles – I have complete faith you’ll revitalize them in time! #mlstl

    • Molly Totoro

      I LOVE that expression (it is new to me). It is nice to know that I am still young enough to right those wrongs – and enjoy the process 🙂

    • Molly Totoro

      It is difficult, Debbie, but I know I am blessed to have the time and financial means to pursue the fun in life. This is not something I take for granted, which is maybe why I feel so compelled to learn this valuable lesson before it’s too late.

  • Janet Mary Cobb

    Another great post, Molly!

    I think I always found a balance in being playful and getting things done — and I encouraged it with my children -two of whom were very serious by nature — until we hit really tough times financially and I needed to stay serious and focused to keep my head above water. With life a bit less stressful, I tap into the things I enjoyed as a child: biking, rollerskating, coloring, cooking – and even though we aren’t debt free, I make sure that we leave a little room for life’s pleasures so that we don’t totally lose sight of how important relaxation and fun are.

    • Molly Totoro

      You are SO wise, Janet, to realize your serious children need to learn to let loose every once in a while. And I admire your willingness to use hard-earned money for a bit of fun. I was taught the axiom “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” but somehow I never applied that one to my life. I’m trying to rectify that oversight 🙂

    • Molly Totoro

      Christine, can I admit to being slightly envious of your playful personality? Truth be told, I think I am afraid if I let my playful side out, she will never come back inside. And I have to ask myself… what would be so wrong with that?

  • Pat

    Molly, so intriguing. You make me think about how I played as a child and when that stopped. I recall building forts with my sister in our bedroom, playing with dolls and making clothes out of scraps of fabric. Then at some point it all became controlled – music lessons, 4H club, art class. Color in the lines, follow the rules. I’m not a fan of most games because I don’t like the winner/loser outcome. So how so I find fun at this point in life? I like the idea of a little bit of fun every day! And just letting it happen. Thanks for making me think!

    • Molly Totoro

      YES… fun became controlled! I had a difficult time explaining that concept, but you expressed it so perfectly. Fun activities became tasks on a to-do list that came with a certain expectation for performance. As a result, the fun disappeared. I think I need to let go of the expectations and just do what sounds enjoyable for the simple reason that it IS fun 🙂

  • Leanne | www.crestingthehill.com.au

    Hi Molly – maybe your creativity is sneaking up on you unawares? I always thought I didn’t have an ounce of creativity in me – then I discovered blogging – and that takes some flair doesn’t it? Putting something together that looks attractive and is an enjoyable read. I am also thrilled that adult colouring in has become so popular – there are so many beautiful designs now to colour without having to be able to draw. I wish I’d learned a musical instrument when I was a child – but I still hold a vague hope that it’s not too late – I’m thinking of the ukele as something fun to try down the track. I’m tired of being the diligent oldest child – now I’m looking for fun, creative things to do too! #MLSTL and I’ve shared your post on my SM 🙂

    • Molly Totoro

      The diligent oldest child… this most definitely describes me too, Leanne!

      You are right, blogging is a creative outlet (and I’m planning to do even more in the future). I have several adult coloring books, but I can’t tell you the last time I just sat and colored. What is my problem?! Thank you for this suggestion. I will make the time to color a bit this afternoon. Who knows how that will inspire future creative endeavors 🙂

  • Victoria

    I have to say looking back play was not part of my life. I was the oldest of four and my parents were divorced so I picked up the slack at home because our mother worked. I am sure that at some point in my childhood that I did play but don’t remember. My play muscles have also atrophied from non-use.

    • Molly Totoro

      It sounds like you became an adult long before your age caught up. I’m so sorry, Victoria.

      I was chatting with a friend last night about this idea of play and she suggested I reframe my definition. For example, she asked if I might consider getting together with a good friend a form of play. I know you found great solace this summer at the pool with friends. Perhaps that form of play is perfect for you at this time in life. Just a thought to help us both overcome this deficit 🙂

  • Molly Stevens

    I played for hours as a child, but I can still relate to your inner perfectionist workaholic. There was always work to be done before play as I grew older, and I am my own worst taskmaster – insisting on doing that ‘one more thing’ before relaxing with a good book or doing nothing. If I do allow myself some ‘free time’ I tend to feel guilty about it. That is the logic behind Julia Cameron’s Artist Dates – a time to allow oneself to rediscover what it was like to play. I believe it is essential to all of us – not just children. But it is very sad if even kids aren’t allowed to do their ‘job’ of having time for free play. Looking forward to your series!

    • Molly Totoro

      Molly, as I read your thoughtful comment I realized… I even put perfectionist expectations on Artist Dates(!) I reason I have to visit someplace new – either a craft store or museum – and try to let these surroundings inspire creative thought. Why not just stay home and delve into fun?!

      Leanne suggested adult coloring books; someone else suggested I dance to a YouTube video (in private, of course) or perhaps hook up the old wii console and learn to play golf.

      Perhaps I need to treat “fun” like I treat my writing. Schedule a time to sit and brainstorm the many activities I would consider play. When I am stumped for something to do (or find myself deep in the weeds of a project) I can refer to the list, pick one, and exercise those stiff creative muscles.

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing this insight with me 🙂

  • Amy

    Great post. I’ve always “played” my adult life, mostly in the paper-crafting industry. But now I found a new play activity that kinda relates to paper-crafting: bible journaling and coloring. Every adult needs to find something they enjoy doing in their spare time.

    • Molly Totoro

      You bring up a great point, Amy. I love to journal – but I have never considered that an act of play. But I enjoy it and it relaxes me. Perhaps I need to relax my definition of play 🙂 I also enjoy paper-crafting (making cards and scrapbooking) but I fall under the spell of comparisonitis – which robs me of the joy. I’m trying to find time to pursue those interests without giving thought to how they measure up to others.

  • Mary Lou Quinn

    Childhood, for me, was pretty unstructured aside from the church and school schedule. In the forties we didn’t even have TV in the younger years so there was very little comparison with what other kids did or had. I guess I really did have imaginative play and even boredom to sit around and daydream. Maybe that’s why I feel so content now as I age. I really cherish my alone time. I’ll be sharing this on FB and Twitter for #MLSTL. Thanks Molly!

    • Molly Totoro

      You know, Mary Lou, I don’t think there is anything wrong with boredom. It helps us learn to think, ponder, imagine. I wonder about those who grow up in this internet age with instant access to information … or cable television with 24-hour access to hundreds of channel options. I think that is one reason why we are a more impatient society. I, too, cherish my alone time 🙂

  • Denyse

    I was drawn to read your post because of its title. I was a K-2 teacher for many years and always enjoyed seeing the children learn through play. Until I became a grandmother I did not ‘play’ much as a child might and then I have no reasons not to. The past few years have taught me that those old rules can be ditched and I can play at what I choose. I used to go and have a swing at our nearby park, I dabble in many arts and I try to have a child’s curiosity when I am out in nature.

    Denyse #mlstl

    • Molly Totoro

      I love that image of a child’s curiosity in nature, Denyse! They find wonder in the ordinary and marvel at the simplicity of life. Now that the temperatures are cooler here in Kansas, I think I will treat myself to a walk through the local arboretum and try to see the changing leaves through the eyes of a child. Thank you!

  • Christie Hawkes

    I’ve always been a rather studious person. I loved to read–still do. I remember playing “house,” school, and secretary when I was young. I loved swimming, or more accurately splashing around in the water.

    • Molly Totoro

      Splashing the water… YES! I loved the pool when I was young. My mom said I was part fish. But I hated competition and I truly believe one of the few times I disappointed my father was when I didn’t join the local swim team. As I grew older, I was more concerned with well-coiffed hair than I was with the fun of the water. I don’t remember the last time I allowed myself the opportunity to cool off in the pool. I think I found my next summer challenge 🙂

  • Leslie Clingan

    I played ‘pretend’ a lot. Pretend I am living in living house on the prairie, or that I am Louisa May Alcott, or a runaway slave boy. I had paper dolls. Barbie dolls. We rode bikes, played kick the can and roller skated all over the neighborhood. I, too, loved to swing. And climb trees. And play dress up. I think I would still enjoy doing all of that!!

    I bet your creative juices will start flowing again if you pick one outlet…drawing, hand work, a painting event like I Painted That! with wine!!! Sign up for a class. I am taking a one day piano class in hopes of rekindled my ability to play the piano.

    Anxious to see what you come up with. I am also a recovering perfectionistic workaholic. There is always another piece of furniture to dust now, a rug to vacuum, a load of clothes to wash and a meal to cook, but I carve out time for crafting at least once or twice a week.

    • Molly Totoro

      Actually, Leslie, I was just thinking of doing a painting class. We have a “Pinot’s Palette” nearby. I bet I could find a class with a fun holiday painting. GREAT suggestion 🙂

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