Without question, my husband is the fun parent in our household. When he’s cracking everyone up with his hilarious bedtime stories, I’m trying to remember when we last changed the kids’ sheets. When we’re hopping into the car to head to the pool, I’m slathering our daughters with sunscreen and checking that we remembered a change of clothes. When we visit a big city, my husband is pointing out the best restaurants and museums, while I’m scanning the surroundings for overzealous souvenir hawkers who might be within range of our kids.
Recently, when I traveled out of town for a long weekend, my husband threw a few clothes into a backpack and surprised our daughters with an overnight trip to their favorite amusement park. Seeing the photos my husband texted me during the trip, I smiled, knowing my kids were having a blast, but I also felt a familiar, stinging mix of jealousy and guilt. Why can’t I be more fun and spontaneous like that? I wondered. When I’m flying solo with the kids, our activities are decidedly more low-key—maybe a trip to Target or a treat at the Starbucks drive-thru.
I know I’m not alone. Lately I’ve noticed that many of us mothers view ourselves in a rather negative light: we are the boring, get-the-job-done parents, not the fun, lively ones. That’s not to suggest that moms can’t be fun and dads can’t be task-oriented; indeed, my mother and father were, by turns, skilled in both areas.
Yet for many of us, having fun with our kids goes on the back burner as other competing priorities—namely, our strong biological inclination to nurture—take center stage in our decisions. Our brave new world of 24/7 internet connectivity has made it all too easy to immerse ourselves in researching the latest threats to our children’s health and safety, from chemicals in food and toys to the risks of too much screen time. On top of this, we’re consumed by the day-to-day tasks that regularly fall on our shoulders—things like making sure permission slips are signed, remembering the birthday gift for a classmate’s party, and coordinating summer camp carpools. It’s no wonder our mental capacity for lightheartedness and spontaneity is often tapped out. If you struggle with anxiety like I do, the prospect of being a fun, go-with-the-flow parent feels even more daunting.
For all of these reasons, having fun with our kids isn’t always as easy as it sounds; the reality is that it can require a lot of work, energy, and planning. I’m not suggesting we give up on trying to have fun; creating those memories is worth the effort. I am, however, starting to question my own arbitrary, restrictive definition of what it means to be a good mother. Too often, I hear my inner critic scolding me, telling me I must be organized, calm, loving, creative, patient, and to add a cherry on top, I must always be fun.
How many of us have convinced ourselves that if we’re not circus ringmasters—on top of fulfilling our daily responsibilities, which might include everything from making sure the lunches are packed to holding down a full-time job—we are not enough? While constantly comparing ourselves to other parents can fuel this anxiety, I think on a deeper level, we also worry about disappointing our kids and the impact that might have on them.
It’s time to stop this, because we are enough.
Ironically, it was my daughter who made me realize the flaw in my thinking.
As my kids and I were getting ready for dinner one evening, and I silently ticked through all the things that needed to get done before bedtime, I sighed. Out loud, I uttered the thought that had been swirling around my head all day. “Dad is way more fun than me, I know.”
Then my youngest daughter piped up. “But Mama, you are fun! You make cookies with us and let us play with slime and we watch movies together.”
Maybe fun is truly in the eye of the beholder.
If you ever feel like a non-fun parent, let yourself off the hook, because your kids still think you’re a rock star. The best parenting style is the one that works for you and your family. And whether you’re riding rollercoasters, making messes in the kitchen, or sorting laundry on the floor, what matters most is that you’re spending time together.