I see you, Mama.
Sitting there in the dark scrolling on your phone through all the playdates, sensory activities and yummy recipes made with tiny, eager helpers. I know you’re replaying the events of your own day with each photo that passes. The tantrums, the boxed mac and cheese, the glaring red playdoh permanently embedded in the tan carpet (go invest in a new rug and call it a week.) It’s so easy to be discouraged, isn’t it? To believe the lie that we aren’t fun enough and are barely achieving good enough. I know, because I find myself there too.
We scroll and pin and save all of the things we promise ourselves to try out this week. At the grocery store we add all the ingredients to make elaborate recipes with food coloring and way too many steps to attempt with toddlers standing in the chair next to us. We set up elaborate sensory bins and stress over the extra mess being made and the tantrums when it’s inevitably time to clean up. Why do we do this to ourselves? If you’re like me, the answer is probably similar: To finally become the “fun parent” for once to our children and to enjoy being around them again. That last part chokes me up to type out. I love my children but somewhere in the quest to “become fun” I have compromised the joy that comes from simply being with my kids. The worst part is, I have had the wrong idea about fun the whole time. And I’ll bet you have too.
First of all, who says you aren’t fun? And what does “fun” actually look like? Is there really a perfect “right” way to do it? Feel free to pause and answer for yourself…or don’t. Honestly, I am asking myself a lot of these same questions and I’m not sure I have found answers to all of them. We just do the best we can with what we know, right?
Maybe you work outside of the home and carry some guilt about missing morning story time at the library or park play dates after lunch. Or maybe you stay at home but have a newborn and can’t imagine trying to pack up her and the toddler to go anywhere, especially around other people. I’ve been in both situations, so I understand the overwhelming guilt that creeps in. You want your children to experience the fullness of the world around them and when you can’t give that to them, it’s heartbreaking. I know, I feel it too.
Everyone has different ideas of what fun is. It can definitely be an afternoon at the water park, a weekend at Disneyland or a week vacation at the beach. But don’t doubt the simplicity of fun that can be had with a bubble gun, a water table or even a sprinkler. Fun doesn’t mean expensive or complicated or planned out. Fun can also be simple, free and spontaneous. Grab some blankets and build a fort in the living room or have a picnic in the yard (no crumbs on the floor for at least 30 minutes.) Read a book with funny voices, dance to Elsa in the kitchen, walk around the neighborhood and have a nature scavenger hunt.
There is no rulebook listing out what qualifies as “fun”. Your children don’t have a secret “fun assessment” they fill out at the end of each day with ratings based on how well you kept them entertained. I promise. Also, let me tell you a secret, a little boredom is great for kids! It encourages them to use their imaginations, get creative and practice some independence. So let go of the impossible notion that you have to provide entertainment every waking second of the day for them. Release and relax. They will be fine.
As far as the mom guilt goes, I get it. I haven’t arrived at a place where I can offer life-changing advice to make the comparison and guilt just disappear. However, I have learned to log out of Instagram and close Pinterest when I start to feel bad about myself as a mom. Instead of planning new activities and basically going bankrupt to visit every kid museum and trampoline park in town, I grab some crayons, stickers and paper and create art with my kiddos. We jump on the trampoline in the backyard and hunt for red tomatoes in the garden, kick the soccer ball around the yard or play hide and seek in the house. Focusing on my own children, hearing their giggles and getting to lean into my own imagination and creativity is the very best antidote to the guilt that comes from focusing too much on another mom’s life on the internet. I’m willing to bet it will have the same effect for you, too.
So, tonight when you’re tempted to scroll in the dark, pull up your camera roll instead and revisit the memories that YOU made with your own children. Study their gapped-tooth smiles, the unique way your daughter holds her paintbrush as a rainbow of colors streak across her paper, listen to the laughter of your son as he shows off his new trick on the trampoline. All of these are signs that you are doing alright. You are a fun mom because you are THEIR mom. They love you and delight in spending time with you. That’s all our children want…for us to be present with them. Just show up for them the best you know how and the fun will follow. I promise.
I’m sending you all of my love and support, from one Mama in the trenches to another.