Keep Your Playfulness

Your household should be full of joy and laughter. That means you should be able to laugh at yourself.

If you don’t take yourself too seriously, everyone else will follow suit. A sense of playfulness should be part of the atmosphere of your home.

According to Edwin Friedman,

…the relationship between anxiety and seriousness is so predictable that the absence of playfulness in any institution is almost always a clue to the degree of its emotional regression.

By emotional regression, he means systemic anxiety in search of a trigger, overreacting to any perceived hurt, and taking disagreements too seriously.

Our society has an obvious lack of playfulness. It’s hard to find approved subjects that are allowed to be funny anymore. One symptom is labeling those with whom we disagree: homophobic, mysoginstic, ethocentric, etc.

The most trigger-happy label thrown around today, at the slightest questioning of accepted orthodoxy, is transphobic. Use the wrong pronoun, and you are doing violence to someone’s identity.

An overly serious person is thin-skinned and takes offense at anything. They are highly reactive to everything around them and take no responsibility for their own feelings. Forgiveness is rare and everything is personal.

If the father is this way, it will cascade down to everyone.

Eventually, all of this dire intensity has nowhere else to go within the home. It bleeds out. Members start acting out violently or sexually.

And you need to be able to distinguish the immediate trigger of a symptom (an angry reaction or tantrum) from the true cause. A spark is not dangerous in a benign atmosphere. A spark inside an environment of anxious fumes will cause a flare-up.

This is why the exact same problems can cripple one family, but for another family, it is just another thing that happened last month.

One of the greatest gifts you can give your family is that of a non-anxious presence.

That means you have a sense of humor.

You laugh easily.

You roll with the punches.

This doesn’t mean you roll over. Your position must be clear. You must never compromise your own integrity.

But you have warts, too.

The easiest way to do this while maintaining your frame is to agree and amplify.

“You’ve been working too much.”

“You know honey, you’re right. I’ve been thinking of quitting altogether.”


“Yeah. I’m just going to start a small garden in the backyard, focus on that. The kids can help. I know you want me to spend more time with them. We’ll open a stand by the side of the road to sell our kumquats.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Kumquats are delicious. But we can certainly discuss what fruit we want to focus on. Of course, you’ll need to find a job.”

This is much better than being defensive and entering diagnostic mode, where you weigh her down with facts and figures until her will breaks. “Actually, if you calculate all the hours of a given month…”

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