I hate the word meditate.
When I was feeling depleted postpartum, I went down the traditional lists of self-care and self-help recommendations. Meditation was on every single list.
When I thought of meditating, I forced myself to dismiss the idea because the perfectionist in me hated that there was something that I just couldn’t do. There was no place for the practice in our current lifestyle; we lacked the quiet alone time prerequisite.
The word kept coming up on every podcast, Instagram story, self-development book, etc. The more I tried to avoid the word, the more it seemed it appeared in my life and the more annoyed I got.
How would I ever find the time to start, let alone follow-through on the actual practice?
I always pushed meditating to the back burner and justified all of the reasons why it wouldn’t work, instead of focusing on perhaps the few reasons it could.
That changed when I heard Derek Sivers speak about playtime with his child being his formof meditation. I thought, “okay, now I’m interested.”
That overachiever in me had a lightbulb moment: he’s saying I can hack meditation to achieve 2 goals at once. If I could be mindful for myself and be present with my child, I’m in.
These are the steps that I’ve used to shift playtime as dual meditation time.
1 — Repurposing Time in Your Daily Routine
Instead of trying to find the time to meditate, I was now looking at the times that playtime already existed in my days. Playtime, by default, was a nonnegotiable appointment I kept with my daughter everyday.
If I was going to use playtime as meditation time, suddenly there were multiple opportunities every few hours. Meditation could be ample if I looked at my daily routine this way.
Our first playtime session of the day is my dual-meditation session because I find that’s when my daughter is most capable of playing independently.
2 — Stop Trying So Hard
This is actually the hardest step for me.
We’re taught that the more effort we put into something, the more we get out of it. But sometimes, no matter how hard we try, that’s not the case.
Take sleeping, for example. You can prepare in the right way, put yourself in the right positions and get yourself comfortable, but after that, you can’t force it to happen, right? In fact, it works exactly the other way around. The harder you try, the less sleepy you become.
It’s only when we stop trying that we finally let go and drift off and before you know it we’re waking up the next morning feeling refreshed after a good night sleep. It is the same thing with learning to meditate.
Set some environmental helpers — a comfy position on the floor or chair, essential oils diffusing, and/or a guided meditation (I’m loving the Headspace app lately) — then stop trying to check off all of the boxes and just let your mind go where it goes.
Then do the same with playing. Stop researching everything. Stop considering more or less wood toys, screen time, germs on the playgrounds, or physical development from a bouncy seat. Just follow your child’s lead and play.
Quieting your mind for you might mean that you need to let the noise in your head flood out first. I never let myself believe that because it felt like I wouldn’t be doing meditation “correctly”, so then it just shouldn’t be done at all.
But just because you can’t play “perfectly”, does that mean your child should go without playtime?
No, of course not! You continue to play and you figure it out as you go, because your child still deserves the connection and happiness and development that comes with playtime.
Just promise yourself that you’ll continue and figure it out as you go — forgiving yourself for whatever preconceived rules you have in your head about meditating — because you, the parent, the provider, the role model, the everything — deserves the connection and happiness and development that comes with quieting your mind.
If you can’t stop trying so hard for yourself (I’m with you here), then stop trying so hard for your child. Do you want them to grow up believing that self-care is difficult and exhausting and demanding?
We’ve been conditioned a certain way through our life experiences, but our littles haven’t had that much conditioning yet. Self-care doesn’t have to be as grueling and guilt-ridden for them as us adults make it out to be for ourselves.
3 — Zoom In, then Zoom Out
After play begins, get super specific about the first detail that comes to mind. Don’t question it, just roll with it.
When you’re playing, feel the toy in your hand. Appreciate the eye contact your child makes with you. When you’re in the dress-up clothes and feel your character needs a British accent, don’t stifle it, just follow it. Genuinely meet your child where they’re at in thinking about the task in front of them.
Be a child again and allow yourself to remember how you used to think about new things.
- What did you explore first?
- Did you love the sounds it played? The colors? The texture?
- What you could build with it? What you could dissect from it?
- What story you could tell with it?
- How might those early childhood play times inform the person you are today?
It’s pretty eye-opening.
Then watch your child. What might those play patterns mean about who your child will become? Appreciate the observations and feel simply grateful that you’re apart of your child’s growth in this intimate, fleeting way. This is likely one of the reasons why you work — to provide happy and healthy experiences for your children, and for you to enjoy growing a family.
For Example — A Story from Courtney’s Vault
As I’m writing this, I’m thinking of the time in kindergarten that we were doing arts and crafts for the holidays. The teacher wanted to make a giant construction paper Christmas tree out of upside-down hands for one of the door decorations. Each child was to trace their handprint on green paper, then cut it out, and write their name on it.
I agonized over cutting my hand out for probably an hour. In kindergarten time, that’s like 3 days.
The teacher was frustrated with me that I wouldn’t move onto story time with the rest of the class, but I was frustrated that I couldn’t have a perfectly smooth cut-out hand like her example.
The teacher ultimately just came over and cut my paper hand out so that we could move along, and she told my mother how stubborn I was, and the little kid in me still beats myself up for not having aced that activity and having a less-than review given to my parents.
Fast-forward to today, and that sums up my perfectionism to a tee. It took 30 years of build-up for me to realize that unrelenting high-standards like that aren’t healthy. It’s something I’m working on everyday as a CEO and parent.
Today, when I’m playing with my daughter, I can see some of those natural perfectionist tendencies in her. I don’t try to change that about her + I don’t want to, but me being presently aware of her habits now will only help me to guide + support her better later.
4 — Start Immediately + Document It
Ride the momentum of your curiosity from this post and start today. Just try it. You don’t need any assisting apps or devices. To quote Dr. Seuss, “You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” Meditation literally only takes the brains in your head + you’re equipped.
However, if you’re feeling like you need more than that, I’d encourage starting meditating with Headspace because it will send you notification reminders and help you track your progress. YouTube has great free options, too.
I keep a Moleskine notebook near me. As playtime wraps up, I jot down a few bulletpoints on the people/places/things/ideas from the “session”. If something kept coming up to me repeatedly in different ways, I note that. If I’m trying to write this bulletpoint list and mom brain kicks-in and I forget what I wanted to write down, then I move on and say “it must not’ve been that important yet” and just bypass it.
Writing down some “debrief notes” helps me to feel like I’ve gotten something tangible out of an activity that isn’t that. When I’m planning out my days/weeks/months ahead, I use those bulletpoint notes to smartly inform my choices. Be sure to leave the notebook to the side until playtime is nearly done, otherwise, you’re likely to deviate over to start writing plans for something else and the goals of this activity are to be present in play with your child, and to give your brain the space to make those other ideas best come to life.
The Gift That Keeps on Giving
Children do not need to be entertained with constant conversation or movement. They will actually thrive with independent play and tend to do better with independent play when they feel their parent is nearby watching them. This is an added benefit for parents who work-from-home and would appreciate their child playing independently nearby as they work with fewer interruptions. You can slowly start to move your meditation time away from your child, or include them in the meditation time as they grow and get curious.
Or, dare I say it, you stay exactly where you are — in the present moment — and realize that this time with your child is fleeting, that someday, you’re gonna miss this, and that you’re giving a gift to both of you in the times that you do play-and-meditate near each other however it happens to happen.
Your child will learn from your example how to reset, calm themselves, stay in the present moment, how to prioritize self-care… The list goes on. Playtime meditation is the gift that keeps on giving.
Will You Update Me?
I’d love to hear about your playtime meditation. When did you try it? How well did it work for you? How great were you feeling during and afterwards? What would you advise like-minded moms as they try playtime meditation for the first time?
Would seeing playtime meditation in-action be most helpful to you? Let me know in the comments.