Playing is a normal part of childhood, and it’s a big part of how children learn about the world. Whether it’s make-believe in which they pretend to be a parent, or playing a board game in which they have to follow rules and take turns, or sitting down with crayons and paper and creating whatever comes to mind, playing is important as a child.
It’s important as an adult, too, but we don’t always see that. For me, “play” was usually something I did alone as a child. I created elaborate worlds and used my dolls to act out roles in stories I wanted to write. Sometimes my dad played board games or card games with me, and very occasionally I had a classmate who was willing to be friends for a while. But mostly, play was a solitary activity for me.
As I got older, I learned that play wasn’t a good thing. I should do my homework, try to get good grades so I could get into a good college, clean the house, etc., instead of playing “make-believe” games that I was supposedly too old for. I learned that I couldn’t draw or color well, so I shouldn’t even try. About the only thing I continued with as far as playing were the stories I created.
Then I became an adult, and other things were more important. Things like making money. If I wasn’t earning anything from an activity, it was a waste of time.
That was the downfall for me with writing. I started earning money with it, but didn’t earn enough. It became a waste of time because it was something I was doing instead of working a “real” job. And I’d already long since lost touch with the playful side of myself, to the point where I didn’t usually even play with my own children, I just watched them.
I didn’t only lose play. I lost joy.
Playing as an adult isn’t a waste of time, though. It’s part of self-care. Whether it’s playing board games with your kids, or mucking around with markers or paints, anything that brings you joy and creativity helps to recharge and relax you.
That’s something I’m trying to shift my mindset about, and it isn’t always easy. I take things too seriously sometimes, and I have a lot of years of “don’t waste time, earn money” to get past. “I don’t know how to play and shouldn’t anyway” has become an ingrained part of the story I tell myself, and it isn’t as easy to rewrite as I would like.
But I definitely want more joy in my life, so I’m trying.