There was a time when I considered myself to be a fun-loving person. A person who would never pass up a day at the pool, or a party, or a meal out. A person who thoroughly enjoyed spending warm days meandering through the park or exploring the county fair.

As I began thinking about having kids, I imagined sharing these experiences and more with my children. There would be summer days spent at the pool, and picnics underneath shade trees, and trips to the zoo. I imagined sledding down snow packed hills, and riding bikes as winter turned to spring, and braving thrill rides as we settled into summer. I could almost hear my future children’s shouts of glee filling the air and I expected doing these things together would actually be fun.

After my first child was born, I held onto that expectation. Those days spent splashing in the pool, and going to the zoo, and eating at whatever restaurant happened to be the flavor of the week. Riding carousels, and going to birthday parties, and picnicking at the park. I expected it all to be fun. But as my child has grown older, and another has arrived, I find myself saying no to fun far more than I say yes.

I often deny requests for fun with the excuse of having too little time or money, and sometimes this truly is the case. But more often than not, I say no simply because I don’t have the energy for fun.

As a parent, fun isn’t so fun anymore. Fun is work. It takes extensive planning, and huge quantities of patience and energy, both of which are in short supply.

Fun means packing a day’s worth of food just to spend an hour or two away from home. It means bringing three cups for each child in preparation for their unending demands for milk, juice and water. It means hauling around diapers and wipes and extra clothes. It means packing up the potty chair for the child who refuses to use a real toilet.

Fun means loading up the stroller and the baby carrier. It means lifting 60+ pounds of children in and out of the car repeatedly. It means physically forcing resistant children into car seats, children who suddenly seem to have the strength of a man twice my size. It means dealing with whining and crying before even leaving the driveway.

Fun means managing a kid who demands to go home as soon as we reach our destination. And it means managing a kid who refuses to leave when it’s finally time to go home. It means tantrums when somehow, I failed to pack the correct snack in the suitcase of food that I haul around. It means trying to use a public bathroom while my child rolls around on the filthy floor and tries to escape underneath the door of the stall.

You see, fun is just so.darn.exhausting. And the exhaustion is why I say no.

But after finally saying yes to a recent outing with my kids, I realized I’ve been saying no to much more than fun.

I’ve been saying no to memories that, for my kids, will only include the fun and not the work. And while I doubt they’ll remember me as a “fun mom” I certainly want them to remember having fun.

I’ve been saying no to quality time together, time when I’m not distracted by dirty dishes, piles of laundry, and computer screens. Time when my kids, for once, have my full attention in both the fun and the frenzy. Time when I really look at them, see them.

I’ve been saying no to the sparkle in my children’s eyes; the sparkle of adventure that can only be seen through the eyes of a child. I’ve said no to the most joyful laughter; the laughter that only escapes from the mouths of children who are experiencing the unencumbered fun that only childhood allows.

And while I’ve been saying no to them, it turns out I’ve been saying no to myself as well. No to a full heart that thrives on children’s laughter and delightful energy. No to the sight of happy children, and eyes that clearly see how blessed I am to have them. No to opportunities that will pass me by if I don’t start paying attention, if I don’t start putting in the work.

So while it’s true that fun has become work, it’s also true that in the middle of the work lies the wonder and fulfillment of motherhood. And it’s taken me just a little too long to figure that out.

Jenny Albers

Jenny Albers is a wife, mother, and writer.  She is the author of Courageously Expecting, a book that empathizes with and empowers women who are pregnant after loss. You can find Jenny on her blog, where she writes about pregnancy loss, motherhood, and faith. She never pretends to know it all, but rather seeks to encourage others with real (and not always pretty) stories of the hard, heart, and humorous parts of life. She's a work in progress, and while never all-knowing, she's (by the grace of God) always growing. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.