The Art Of Play

Raising children is not for the faint of heart. Experts upon experts have researched the most effective methods and strategies for families and professionals, giving us tools to use when raising children from their most dependent state to their most independent selves. Along with the extensive amount of literature available, opinions are spoken from every side, inviting us to consider what we believe and the convictions we hold when it comes to raising children.

By the time we are adults, we are skilled in the art of multitasking. I was 31 years old when I became pregnant with my first son. Responsibility and hard work were instilled deeply in me from my childhood. Expectations from others and eventually myself had taught me that free time was a luxury to be enjoyed only after the work was complete.

Even as write this today, I struggle to remain seated. My house is quiet, and I am alone. The laundry has stopped and is waiting to be transferred to the dryer. Fortunately, there is not an alarm reminding me of that fact! The sun is shining on my back, and I am curled up in my husband’s comfy leather chair. The couch next to me is covered with pillows and blankets that are beckoning me to fold them and put them away.  Papers, books, remotes, DVD’s, headphones, and cups are splattered across any horizontal surface while my husband’s shoes and workout equipment take up residence on the floor. My eyes see the messiness of the room, and my body feels tension as I am tempted to clean before allowing myself the privilege of enjoying the quiet space to do something for me.

This tension is not exclusive to me. My guess is that most of us feel this to some extent on a regular basis.

We are trained from an early age that in order to get, we have to give.

Becoming a first-time mom rocked my ideas about responsibility and hard work. Suddenly, the most important task at hand was providing and sustaining life for this precious little one who had been given to me. Along with meeting basic needs, my highest priority was connection. I wanted to know everything about him, and I wanted him to know me. Although I tried to sleep when he would sleep, I struggled to rest completely, knowing that there were tasks to get done if I wanted to fully enjoy the moments he was awake.

As with everything, the seasons change, and our focus shifts. It is impossible to remain in that space with our children, and yet some days my heart longs for the simplicity of the early weeks and months of their lives. Today, they are their own little people. They still depend on us for basic needs—for safety, for connection—yet they are independent as well. Life demands that we all be somewhat productive if we are going to manage work, school, and the activities of our days.

As a family, we recently began therapy together. Some of the sessions are just for my husband and me to talk about parenting while other sessions involve separate time with each of the boys. Darin and I sat there during the initial intake while the counselors asked their questions. Tears often filled my eyes as we talked about the scenes and the stories of the last eight years for Wyatt and the last five for Sawyer. So much is revealed in our storytelling, and my heart could hardly contain the emotions as we recounted all the moments that added up to bring us here.

Here—a place where we need help to address the disconnect we have as a family. We have been living in a combat zone for so long that we need caring eyes and ears to come in and teach us how to re-engage.

Walking out of the office on that first day, we were given one simple task: Set fifteen minutes aside every day for each of us to have one-on-one time with the boys. We were told to label it “special play time” and to let the child direct whatever we play. Sounds easy enough, right?

Although not a difficult task, finding the time between work and school, homework and meals, cleaning and cooking, baths and nighttime has been rather tricky. My body has grown accustomed to working nearby on separate tasks while my kids play, and though it is sometimes necessary, I am disconnected by my responsibilities. I struggle with an inability to be fully present as they direct a play time with me. I have begun to realize how we, as parents, lose the simple art of play with our children.

Connection is said to be the key to greater emotional regulation. Connection. Oh my goodness, how simple. I’ve made it about so much more. I’ve made it so complex. I wonder…What could happen if I set aside my need for productivity to really play with my child? What would I learn about him if I let him have all of my attention and creativity for at least fifteen minutes a day? What will it do inside of him? How will it change our family? Where else do I need to be reminded of the value of true connection?


DSC_0533Bethany Cabell is a Texas transplant, residing in Michigan with her husband and their two young boys.  A lover of beauty, she lives life chasing after wide-open spaces: sharing her heart with others, in relationship with Jesus, and through music and photography. She tells her story here. &