Playful Parenting in the Age of Uncertainty

Of all the capacities we have for managing change and chaos, play, the one we knew so intimately as children, still serves us best

If there is one thing parenting teaches us, it is that whatever worked yesterday, won’t work tomorrow. “Sorry. That thing we were doing? We’re not doing that any more.”

Our children are always changing. Their shifts in perception, physical capacities and social engagement can be dramatic, upending our carefully planned process for completing the daily lists of family life. Kids are a demolition derby for predictability. They are the living breathing embodiment of change.

Meanwhile, we are also changing, aging, our lives are shifting, the future marching toward us, implacable. It’s as if change is designed to come at us from multiple directions. Seemingly alive, change hunts us daily, tossing our little card houses into the air. It can all be deeply unnerving were it not for the superpower we have for dealing with the stress of constant change.

We can stay playful.

Although we might typically think of play as being silly in childlike ways, play represents a much broader and more intentional mindset. We can seek to hold our ideas or beliefs lightly, adopt a not-knowing position, be curious about the emergent, and seek to co-create new and different ways to look at the world in collaboration with our children or partner.

In choosing to be more playful, we can agree to explore and perhaps redesign our ideas or beliefs about life, relationships, parenting and more. When we look closely, we notice that even our most deeply held ideas and beliefs are not static. Context, relating, along with our own daily growth and change, constantly evolves our beliefs and ideas.

Choosing to be more playful doesn’t make ideas more flexible, it simply acknowledges that they already are.

Beliefs and ideas are, in fact, the emodiment of change as well. In the moment we share an idea or belief, something new is already emerging. Think of a song performed by two different singers, or a dance step by two different dancers. We are performers, too.

In relationships, we each perform our distinctive versions of the ideas we share. This distinctiveness is deeply human and it is linked to why play is such a powerful creative force.

In play, we welcome the generative nature of coordinating divergent ideas. And in order to be playful, we intentionally hold our stories or beliefs more lightly. This expands the relational space as we allow ourselves to stay open and notice what is emerging.

Play, in partnership with curiosity, transforms us into joyful learners and makers of our interconnected lives. It is the source of a wider range of options in how we go forward in life.

Children at play understand how this works. They know that that their ideas are meant to co-exist with the ideas of others, giving rise to new ideas. In this way, the possibilities for play become endless. The source of our creativity isn’t located in our ideas, but in the conversations they give rise to.

This is the central power of conversations, that they embody the process by which we co-create something new.

It is somewhere in the thousands of small daily conversations with our children that the eureka moments that grow our relational and emotional intelligence emerge. When we, as parents, ask instead of tell, hold uncertainty instead of seeking to fix, explore instead of insist, we expand the process by which young minds ask and answer many of their own questions, express and explore many of their own emotions.

And at the same time, we stand not in opposition to change but in celebration of the generative and creative power of it.

So, make the choice. Embrace uncertainty. Play.


Photo by: Amila Pradeep

This article incorporates excerpts from The Relational Book for Parenting, by Mark Greene and Dr. Saliha Bava.

The Relational Book for Parenting uses comics, fables, articles, and games to help families’ grow their relationship superpowers in the daily back and forth of parenting. It’s a joyful, accessible, parent-friendly cure for what ails our isolating culture, helping us to raise a generation of young people better able to connect, collaborate and innovate across differences. The book is available here:

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Pages from The Relational Book for Parenting