Play With Me!

Editor’s Note: Mother’s Day’s behind us, but columnist Claudia Apfelbaum has some insights about moms and their children that apply year-round.

Mother’s Day is a complex day. How do we honor the person who birthed us and/or who raised us? What do we feel toward this human being?

What I do know is that lifelong relationships are not simple. There is pleasure, angst, anger, disappointment, resentment, sadness, and moments of joy. From a child’s perspective, one of the experiences of joy comes when a parent is able to join their child in his or her play. Can you remember when your dad went outside with you and helped you learn to ride your bike or played basketball with you? Can you remember when your mother let you help decorate the Christmas tree or try on her lipstick? Or, do you remember when your friends’ parents did those things and you were left “in the cold”?

Alice Miller, a Swiss psychoanalyst, in The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self, talks about the critical importance of helping children remain true to themselves.  Joining our children in their play is a way of connecting to the personhood of the child because play is where children are their true selves. They do not yet have many words and they are not ready to ‘talk about things’ like we adults like to do. Their way of learning and expressing is largely through play.

How they want us to play with them varies from child-to-child, and from moment to the moment. Sometimes doing just as they say is the right thing to do. Sometimes enhancing their game with new ideas is just what they want. Sometimes playing hard and yet letting them win is the right thing. Sometimes playing hard and being the winner is the right thing. Sometimes not worrying about the rules and letting interpretation and creativity determine the direction of the game is the right thing.

It is not easy to know what is the right thing to do with your child, but if you watch your child’s expression, of open-eyed enjoyment or of protest, you will get clues about your interaction with your child from your child.

And playing is not only for young children, it is a wonderful way to relate between people of all ages.

Recently, I took a walk with my thirty-four-year-old daughter. It was a wintery day and the ground was covered with glistening ice that sat on top of the frozen snow. We could not walk far or fast.

Walking on a less used path, we came upon a shelter. Dead branches had been leaned against a tree, creating a tepee-like structure. We found an entrance and crawled inside. We sat and looked at the sky through the branches and a song came to mind. The song was by Sarah Pirtle and goes like this:

My roots go down, down to the earth.
My roots go down, down to the earth.
My roots go down, down to the earth.
My roots go down.
I am a pine tree on a mountainside. Etc., etc.

My daughter and I created new verses, which are lost to my memory, but we had fun! And we felt warmly connected to each other.

After a while, we got cold and we had to leave the shelter.

We had another moment of fun, or at least I did. My daughter has an erect and graceful posture; I less so. I asked for a suggestion of how I would walk more like her. She gave me two simple suggestions: one to tuck my chin in and two, to walk like I had a basket of produce on my head. I found a stone and placed it on my hat. With tucking my chin in and with the stone on my head, I felt a change in my posture immediately. I walked all the way back to the car like this and I thought to myself, “There was so much magic in our simple walk.”

We can offer our loved ones the joy, the magic of joining them in their play. Our mothers, our fathers, our brothers and sisters, our partners, our friends and our children. All of us hunger for contact and connection and play is a wonderful way for that!

Claudia will be offering a workshop on June 12th, 3-4PM, called “Play With Me.” (The optional Part 2 of the workshop is June 19th.) For more information and to register, CLICK HERE

About Claudia Apfelbaum 6 Articles
Claudia Apfelbaum, LCSW, offers individuals, couples and families a protected space to talk about their lives and feel heard. She helps people who feel stuck, unclear, in pain, depressed or anxious in the current moment to become unstuck and create a life they feel good about. Her website is She can be contacted at

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