Mutual Joy in parenting is at the heart of happy family life. Mutual joy is when both parent and child are enjoying the same activity together, both gaining pleasure, no one feels controlled or stuck or bored; things flow.
Of course, sometimes a child entering the child’s world and their interests on their terms can be a powerful parenting tool. It helps our children feel deeply seen. But if we are only doing this parents can feel fatigued by the idea of play, it can become something parents feel harassed about and begin to dread.
Getting Intentional about Mutual Joy
A better intention might be to find the crossover where both parent and child can flow together. It can be a really useful exercise for a parent to write down all the things that bring them joy and particularly including things that brought them joy as a child that they no longer do.
If we let them, children can give us a beautiful invitation to return to joy for the sake of joy. To sing because it’s joyful to sing, to draw because it’s joyful to draw, to craft because it’s cosy, to run, skip, climb and jump because they feel good in our bodies with no expectation of being “good” or “bad” at it.
Doing things for the Sake of Joy
So many of us have internalised the message that if you are not talented at something then there is no point in doing it, it’s not “useful”. But children care little for this idea, they paint because they want to, they dance because they hear music and feel the urge to move and as such, children are constantly giving us beautiful reminders that joy is everywhere should we choose to lean into it.
How to get playful
Intentionally entering the “Child ego state” can be a useful exercise for parents. The child ego state is playful, joyful, it’s the part of you that doesn’t care about time, responsibility, practicality (all parts of the adult ego state). The invitation in the child ego state is to, for a set time a day, let go and accept joy. It is to see the world through the eyes of a child and find fascination. Because life truly is fascinating. Nature is fascinating, humans are fascinating. Children naturally have this curious fascination and adults have it too but most of us tune it out.
Inviting your child to play with you
It’s so often that our children invite us to play with them but it can be a powerful experience for a child to witness you doing something creative just for the sheer pleasure of it. Sit down and start painting/ writing, put on some music you love and start dancing. Then wait, see what happens. When I do this with my kids they are naturally curious and want to join me.
The mutual joy will be very different depending on the child. For example, mutual joy with my eldest looks like dancing, playing football, jumping on our trampoline. Mutual joy with my 4 year old is crafting, painting and listening to music together.
Real joy can’t be faked
My boys love playing with lego. Does it bring me joy? No, truthfully I find it quite fiddly and frustrating! Do I play lego with my kids? Yes sometimes, but I know that because it doesn’t bring me joy it’s not the most bonding of activities for me. I can’t be open to connection if I am sat their stressing over finding that one particular piece in exactly the right colour. For lots of people Lego is their mutual joy and that’s fantastic but I know it’s not mine. If I’m going to put my play energy into something it needs to be something I’m not faking. Real joy and presence can’t be faked and kids can sense that.
If you liked this article, you might like “8 ways to connect with your child”.