Reimagining Creative & Joyful Play

I had lunch with my friend Ana today. I've known Ana for almost 7 years now. She was my doula trainer, my IBCLC when I had my daughter, a wonderful mentor, and has turned into a dear friend. She's one of those women who has experienced so much, and so listening to her insights and questions to different topics brings you a bit of clarity, which is something that is greatly needed for me right now.

Ana was sharing her stories of returning to movement. She had some struggles over the past few years, and I've been amazed at her commitment to herself to overcome the pain and get herself to a place to enjoy life. And in her 50s continuing to dream about how this ability to move better is bringing new opportunities to her life - like conquering Machu Picchu. I love it.

I love it because this is the kind of spark that I want to see in more women. That excitement for life and the adventure that many lies ahead of us. Ana and I also talked about the freedom that comes when we hit our 40s and 50s. Working out often isn't as much anymore about gaining that six pack or perfect body, but instead about moving in ways that make us feel strong and ready to attack our dreams. We can see through the BS that stood in our way when we were in our 20s and 30s. You might be drawn down a path to miracle promises, only to realize that you've already been here before and it stunk. You can choose to turn back and follow a path that leads to actual joy. There is a sense of clarity and strength that is unique to our age, and personally, I am flourishing.

But back to our conversation about movement. As we chatted about they adventures that we hoped to embark on, our conversation moved to the obstacles that many of us face on that way to midlife that slow down our ability to move well and without pain. The circumstances that lead up to be more sedentary than the generations before us.

As I mentioned, Ana is an IBCLC and she spends a lot of time in groups of new moms and is see the change in the how our children are developing. Often our babies are becoming more sedentary in their early years - lacking in tummy and floor time, moving directly to walking without spending any time crawling. We tend to wear them in carriers, strapped in with little movement, instead of carrying in arms and encouraging them to stabilize themselves. We are introducing sedentary practices when they are only a few weeks old. And I am totally guilty of practicing some of the same behaviors to my own children, and am trying to undo some of that now.

Some of the sedentary behaviors are coming from the shift in our society that no longer allows children the freedom to roam and explore without constant adult supervision. This effects us in two ways - 1) children are no longer able to spend time in organic play with each other to develop the social skills that will bring them into adulthood. They are not forging their own relationships, managing conflict and resolution, and engaging in cooperative and exploratory play without a parent whispering in their ears. I grew up in a time when we were encouraged to leave the house and spend hours with friends by ourselves. We kept to the neighborhood, but build forts, established clubs, and generally worked together to decide what the adventure would be. When we disagreed, we worked it out. Then we came home to tell our parents about it. I look at my 8-year-old right now and he doesn't have these skills. The 20 minutes of recess is not enough and there is the constant fear of neighbors calling CPS on me if I let him out of the neighborhood alone to play. That, and the lack of friends to explore freely with, because none of the parents are letting their kids out.

Which then leads to the second effect that I mentioned - on the adults. We are also constrained because we are tethered to our children. We have to be nearby or else we are "bad". Even when my kids play in the driveway, I feel the need to be outside with them for fear of being judged by others. How is it possibly that my kids will learn what is good and bad without experiencing both decisions for themselves, without my running interference? I am constantly "on". We know as parents that our kids need more movement, but we are too tired to be orchestrating the play they need and being there all of the time. So we look to outsources this. We sign them up for sports and clubs most days of the week, and often double booked. And while this is good, we end up with kids tired and broken because now they are engaging in only one form of play or sport, and are still following rules that an adult has set up. The creativity is gone, or is at least constrained by defined borders of what is "OK". When will it be OK to just let our kids be wild and free and playing again? Let my kids have their freedom to explore without needing me to supervise the process. Or give me an outlet where I'm not ending up sedentary while watching my kids be active, because it's rare that there are opportunities for children and parents to move simultaneously. It's often one on the other. I'm trying to figure that out.

So now, fast forward to adolescents. This is a time when kids should be coming into their own and finding themselves. A time where the foundation to adulthood is being poured and our kids are shaping their path to who they want to be. In my 20 years of working with this age, I've seen a really disturbing trend, and that is preteens and teens are being forced into more sedentary activities because they have no choice. When they were younger, we enroll them in these sports and activities to fill their days. This is great until they hit late middle school/early high school. Our kids have defined an identity around being a part of a certain group - a sport, activity, etc. However, around this time our kids start aging out of these activities. They are not good enough to get on the team. They've specialized for so long that they get burned out or hurt. Suddenly the tribe that they clung to is slipping away and there is no option for them to continue participating in the activity - you either move onwards and upwards or you stop. What I see is the kids who don't move forward plummet down. Instead of after school sports, they come home to after school Fortnight sessions with virtual friends. Community is gone and there is no reason to leave the couch. They don't "hang out" after school with friends, because this has not been encouraged when they were younger and they have nowhere to go. This kills me. I don't want the kids roaming the streets and getting into trouble, but there should be more opportunity for kids to form a community and still engage in the activities that they have adored without the pressure of performing or becoming elite. Play groups for teens. Where are these resources?

I'm scared for my kids right now.

They are already tired from activities and lacking friends though play. I desperately want to give them the freedom of exploration, but I need to find more parents like me who want this for their kids. In my perfect world, we would do it together - bring the kids to get out and play, explore, collaborate, and build a community among themselves while the parents do the same in their separate areas. Flip the rolls - the kids make the rules of play and the parents follow without suggestion or criticism. The kids see the parents moving and playing as much as they are, and that will give them a wonderful model to follow as they age.

What it comes down to is that I just want kids and adults of all ages to find a way to move that allows for joyful and meaningful play. And if they can't move well enough to do this, I want to give them the tools to move better so this is possible. I wants kids to be kids, and parents to support their development through play.

Maybe a "playdate" where we get outside and let the kids go wild, while the adults engage in movement practice to help us move better and pain-free. Then engaging in a game that our kids design for us. What do you think?

Image courtesy of Whole Earth Nature School in Eugene, OR. My brother is co-owner of this awesome program. Be sure to check it out!

Want to help make a change? Join the Midlife Moms Adventure Club Community to bring your ideas to like-minded women, find local events (or host your own), and reclaim your active life of play.

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