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ParentingHow Embracing Play Encourages Creativity

How Embracing Play Encourages Creativity

Motherly Collective

My daughter Presley loves to pretend my phone charger is a stethoscope. “Mommy, look! Imma doctor!” She holds one side near her ear and puts the other side on the chests of her stuffed animals, listening to their heartbeats.

I can’t help but stand by and watch, in awe of the magical world she’s created for herself.

Creativity cannot survive without an active imagination, but this is where so many of us mothers get stuck—in the humdrum of our days. How do we keep our imaginations alive in the throes of scrubbing toilets, prepping for work presentations and cleaning puke out of the carpet?

Could play be the answer?

I was raised with a “work hard, play hard” mentality—in that order, and only in that order. First, you work hard. Then, you play hard. This rhythm led me to view play as a reward: something I can only enjoy after I hit the word count, clean out the inbox or do x, y, z on the to-do list.

In other words, play is something to be earned.

This system worked fine for me as a kid. Once I finished my math homework and completed all of my chores, I could skate in the cul-de-sac or choreograph a dance routine to the latest Spice Girls song in my bedroom. As a kid, my responsibilities had a clear start, and a clear end, each and every day. Homework, chores, play. Reset the next day. 

But then I grew up, got a job, got married, had three kids and acquired a mortgage. My once simple, daily cadence of homework-chores-play morphed into a new, more complicated rhythm, one with layers and nuance and a plethora of grown-up responsibilities. 

These days, there is always more work to be done, rarely a clear start or end to anything. I am perpetually behind on opening the mail, folding the laundry, scheduling dentist visits. There is always another email to respond to, another deadline to meet.

As an adult, my simple “work hard, play hard” mentality fell by the wayside the minute I realized I couldn’t ever see an end to the work. I stopped giving myself permission to play because, try as I might, I never hit the end of the to-do list. I have yet to live one day when I am fully caught up on everything—a day when the essay is finished, the inbox is zero, there is not one dish in the sink or a single sock in the hamper. A day when every single task has a glorious check mark next to it.

Which raises the question: if there is always more work to be done, when, exactly, are we allowed to play? If we never get off the hamster wheel of working hard, what happens to our ability to play hard?

Last summer, I read one line in “The Artist’s Way” that made me question everything I believed about work and play. Julia Cameron writes, “Creativity lives in paradox: serious art is born from serious play.” In one simple sentence, she flipped the script I’d been reading my entire life. First, serious play. Then, serious art.

Everything in me wants to fight against that order. The idea of playing as a precursor to engaging in my creativity feels unnatural to me, wrong even, like eating dessert before dinner. But what if the act of play could propel us forward with more energy and imagination for the serious art we want to make?

As mothers and artists, sometimes we need to shake things up. There is magic to be found in the mundane, absolutely, but there is also magic to be found outside the four walls of our homes. 

This is your reminder to go outside this summer. Jump on the trampoline. Throw water balloons with your kids. Get in the car and turn the radio all the way up. Roll the windows down, feel the breeze on your face. Step away from the inbox. Step away from the vacuum cleaner.

Play unlocks us, loosens us up. Play grants us permission to try something new for the sake of delight, not mastery. Play brings us back to the little artists we were as kids. 

Presley often begs, “Play wif me, Momma!” My boys pull me away from work and chores with desperate pleas to judge their Hot Wheels races. While I can’t always drop what I am doing, I’m noticing the more I say yes to them, the more I say yes to myself. 

The more I enter their imaginative worlds, the more I am able to enter my own. My children are teaching me that play is not a waste of time. I’m slowly learning to embrace the idea that play does not have to be earned.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you’re interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.

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