Balancing Nurture, Play and Structure


My friend Phillip Bass, a therapist at Riverstone Wellness Collaborative, bases his work with clients on the idea that all humans need a balance in their lives of Nurture, Play and Structure. 

When our ratio of these three things are out of balance, then our life feels out of balance.  


Our need for nurture is met by love, coziness, and connection. 

Building relationships with trustworthy people is an important part of nurture.  Having physical space in our lives that are comfortable and welcoming are part of nurturing ourselves as well.  Knowing we are lovable, loving others, and allowing others to love us are all a part of nurture.  This blog post is full of ideas related to nurture.


Play is the embodiment of joy. 

It is bone-deep engagement with things that make you feel alive.  Psychology Jean Piaget said that “play is the work of childhood.”  And yet, the need for play does not go away as we mature.  We all continue to have a need for play in our lives.  There are serious studies about adult playfulness, including this one which offers four types play: Other-focused, Lighthearted, Intellectual and Whimsical. 

We don’t all play in the same way.  Do you prefer goofing around with friends (other-focused)? Or maybe you more often see the silly side of situations you get into (lighthearted).  Do you love puns or finding rhythm in complexity (intellectual)? Or maybe you’re more whimsical and have a desk full of oddities that bring you joy.


Structure is about both the big ways and the small ways we make sense of our life. 

It is having a moral code, and it is also the way we track our hours and our to-do lists.  Structure is what gives you a sense of accomplishment, as well as a plan for the future.

One important aspect of structure is the boundaries we put in place in order to define ourselves and stay in healthy relationships with others.  

Being Out Of Balance

As adults, it is easy for us to get out of balance with Nurture-Play-Structure.  We all have one area that is our default, something that we can lean into when we’re feeling a bit out of sorts. 

Some of us like to crawl into our bed and stay there for days when it feels like our world is falling apart (Nurture).  Others end up falling into making light of everything, overspending, or worse as they try to use Play to anesthetize the discomfort in their lives.  And the third type of person begins micromanaging their own lives as well as the lives of their family members as they begin to feel more and more out of control (Structure).  

These ways of being are so natural to us that we might not even notice when we begin to increasingly rely on them.  Sometimes, a brave and kind friend may be willing to point out our behaviors to us.  These are friends to keep close!  They love us enough to risk awkwardness  in order to help us come back to ourselves.

Reclaiming Balance

When we over-rely on any of these three modes of being, simply noticing that truth is half the solution.  

If you’ve sunk into your cozy bed, binge watching Gilmore Girls for the 4th time, and have a kitchen full of comfort food, it is time to make a plan to get a bit more Play and Structure into your life.

Maybe bump up your Structure by following some prompts from The FlyLady, or commit to getting dressed and do a 4-minute workout by 9am each morning. 

Add in some Play by signing up for (and DOING) an online art class, sending a silly meme to your work team each morning, or planning a games night with your friends.  

Any time you notice yourself out of balance, take a few steps in the direction of the other two areas to help you regain your Nurture-Play-Structure balance.

Nurture Play Structure at Work

It’s easy to see how Nurture-Play-Structure affects our life at home, but we can also apply this theory to work. 

Work is general centered around Structure for most of us.  But making sure we, our co-workers, and our direct reports also have elements of Nurture and Play in our work lives makes for much more satisfying work. 

When we feel safe at work (Nurture), we are able to take risks, say hard things, and trust others to support us and the work we do.  When we are able to laugh with one another and have fun (Nurture), that builds connection between us and makes us a better team.  

Yes, And…

For many of us, simply getting back into balance with Nurture, Play and Structure will help us get back to a stable place.  

But if you still are struggling, please reach out.  Find a local therapist to work with, contact your EAP (Employee Assistance Program) for help, or try online therapy or support groups.

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