In becoming an adult, and especially since having children, I’ve been shocked by how bad we adults are at play. For children, play is everything and everything is play. For adults, play is compartmentalized. We work now in order to play later. But oftentimes, this means play never really happens. It’s the American stereotype. We get addicted to the progress of work so much so that we forget the point. To get out of this cycle of work takes a great deal of surrender. In order to re-learn how to play, we must become childlike and vulnerable. We must be willing to be a little bored and a little unsure of ourselves. And this can be very intimidating. It sounds crazy, but play can actually be scary.
Making time for good play has been one of our family goals over the past few years. Because my husband and I are not children and play is not our life, we have to be more deliberate about it. The best way we’ve been able to do this is by setting a weekly “Sabbath” (for us it’s Sunday, as that fits in appropriately with our faith,) and mini daily sabbaths (beginning around dinner time.) This habit has tremendously transformed our lives, but we have to stick to some rules to make sure it really happens:
1. Figure out what your “work” is and don’t do that during your Sabbath. I like to ask myself, “is my doing this activity primarily driven by a sense of duty/desire to be productive or primarily driven by the fact that I find it enjoyable?” Of course, there will be overlap and hopefully most of us do enjoy our work. But we all need a break from the productivity cycle. So make a list of the things you know are work and then set cutoff times daily and weekly for those things. (Obviously, some duties can’t be avoided like childcare and basic household upkeep but certainly, we can all find something to cut.)
2. Play how you like, not how you feel pressured to. Play doesn’t have to be extravagant or elegant or sophisticated or thrilling. Play might mean a hike or a bath or a book or a movie or a nap or baking cookies or a party or just sitting outside. The important thing is that you enjoy it and that it restores you— not how it compares to other peoples’ play.
3. Allow for overflow. For a long time, we felt anxiety creep in on Sunday nights because we knew the fun was coming to an end but we also felt bad beginning our work. So we decided to ease back into the week slower and let the Sabbath extend into Monday morning. This means we try not to plan too many things for Monday mornings, we sleep in if we can, and generally ease up on expectations. (It also means we focus on having more productive Saturdays.)
4. Loosen up. Some household and personal rules and standards are non-negotiable. But there are spectrums with things like food and cleanliness. We eat a pretty healthy diet but on Sundays we have a lot more cheats and sweets. Our three year old is responsible for cleaning up all his toys at the end of the other days but on Sundays he doesn’t have to. We all leave the mess for Monday.
5. In general, low tech is best. Yes, good play can happen with technology (movies, shows, games, music) but I’ve found that too much technology often distracts from the types of play that really restore us. The smartphone is probably the biggest culprit as it often sucks us in and away from the world and those we love. During our Sabbath times, we don’t use social media and we mostly keep our phones plugged into the wall.
6. Push through the Sabbath slump. Breaking the cycle of productivity often leads to a feeling of boredom/uselessness/full blown existential crisis. When you feel this– DON’T GIVE IN. Just take a deep breath, say “what sounds like a nice thing to do right now?” and do it. The anxiety will begin to fade once you start enjoying yourself.
At the end of our daily and weekly Sabbaths I always feel that existential crisis resolved. I feel more connected to those I love, more at peace, and more aware of who I am and what it is I actually live for. The added bonus is that restorative recreation seems to reset my mind and body so that I end up being far more productive when it’s time to get back to work. And finally, Sunday has become, far and away, our three-year-old’s favorite day and gives a center to his whole week. On Sunday mornings I wake up to his big face smiling at mine, what day is it today Mommy?? and then he begins to list out all his wonderful plans for what we’re going to do. That never fails to remind me what the point of all this is.