It’s difficult being a parent. For me, with a newly minted teenage son, it’s doubly challenging because while I am generally a serious person, my son is not. He is playful, loves to sing, prefers YouTube to Hulu, and the stage to sitting behind a laptop writing — my preferred pastime. We both like to read, except very different genres. At the end of the day, my son is just a normal kid in many ways. He enjoys hanging out with friends, telling Alexa to fart, teasing his sisters, and losing brain cells watching YouTube influencers.
I am grateful he has another parent, my wife, who understands him better. She plays around with him more than I do. She laughs at his jokes — the ones I just don’t understand. They enjoy watching the same television shows (except for YouTube) like Star Wars and the Mandalorian. I am almost forty years old and far from being in touch with my inner child.
This is something I’ve struggled with my entire life, but especially since his birth fourteen years ago. Getting down on the floor and playing with him using my imagination didn’t come easy for me when he was little, and I’m fully convinced there is a part of my inner child which needs healing. My childhood was spent saddled with overwhelming adult responsibilities, and not much opportunity to be imaginative. When it came to playing with my toys it was all about my Cabbage Patch dolls and my Barbies, alone.
While my son’s teenage years are vastly different from my own, there is a carefree approach that he has to life, one that I am still searching for myself.
Writer and motivational speaker Diana Raab has a few suggestions. In an article for Psychology Today, she says there are 10 ways to help get in touch with your inner child:
– Keep an open mind.
– Spend time with children.
– Look at old photos to bring back memories of your childhood.
– Spend time doing what you truly enjoy.
– Be playful.
– Engage in laughter.
– Write a letter to your inner child.
– Engage in creative play.
– Journal about special moments from your childhood.
Raab notes, “Being in touch with your inner child is a safe way to take a break from everything that’s going on in the world. The inner child thinks positively and believes in the possibilities in everything. If you put yourself in ‘child mode,’ you may find that you become more open to the magnificent opportunities that exist all around you.”
In The Genius of Play, Child Development and Play Expert Kathleen Alfano suggests carving out time in your schedule specifically for play — even if it’s just to daydream and decompress. Smiling and laughing throughout the day can go a long way, in case you needed an excuse to look at funny memes and videos. And, she says, “Cultivate a happy, joyful, positive attitude, full of gratitude for even the smallest, everyday things.”
In terms of being more playful with our kids, Alfano’s suggestion is: “Spend time with the children in your life, observing them as they play, listening to their conversation, and following their train of thought.” In my son’s case, that’s going to mean listening to his jokes and having a front-row seat to the musical theater that goes on while he’s doing his chore of washing dishes.
I focus on his ability to have and hold onto responsibilities, things that will make him (I hope) into a hardworking young man. He cannot live at home forever, so he needs the tools to make it — the real-life parts that will make him successful once he’s on his own. Yet I know there is a balance, a way in which I can teach him both. I can teach him how to cook a meal from start to finish and I can sit with him and watch his Saturday morning musical show without putting in earplugs. I can take a few weeks and read Harry Potter with him, or Concrete Rose, and have a discussion.
At the end of the day, I need to take a step back and out of the kitchen, or lift my head from my writing to hear his song from start to finish, including the accompaniment of his keyboard. When he breaks out into this John Legend cover every Sunday afternoon, I stand outside of his door listening closely. Maybe next time, I’ll open his door and act as his backup singer.