How I Realized I’m Not the Fun Parent — and Why That’s Completely Okay

Before I had kids, I had pretty high expectations for the activities my future kids and I would do together. I imagined myself whipping up delicious, Pinterest-worthy concoctions, picking out elaborate, super-chic matching outfits (which I’d hashtag #OOTD, of course) and getting YouTube messages from to the mothers who ask me how I did it all. Unfortunately, I forgot a few things: I hate crafts, don’t dress up often and I’m not one to stand out from the crowd.

One of the first real signs that I wasn’t destined to be a happy parent was when I volunteered for an organization as a mentor for a young mentee (similar to Big Brothers Big Sisters). My mentee is a 6 year old from a single parent home whose siblings are also in the program. Three visits into our relationship, he told his mom that I was boring and that he wanted to do activities more like what his siblings were doing with their tutors. Apparently, the trips to the park and reading in the library I had planned were not his style.

As I watched him leave, a part of my heart broke.

Even though my mentee was not my child, I was hurt by that experience. I wondered how I could effectively be a happy mother to my son, who was 5 months old at the time, if I couldn’t find something fun for a 6-year-old to do. It confirmed what I already knew: No matter how carefully I tried to plan events, I had no hope of being traditionally happy.

However, I soldiered on. I thought I had to be everything my child needed, and in the process, exhausted myself trying to be the “happy” parent. But in no time, it occurred to me that I am not alone in my caregiving responsibilities: My husband is more than capable of filling that need in our household — and if I had been paying attention, I would have noticed that he is still doing it.

Their natural father-son dynamic made him the perfect “happy” parent. Long before I was comfortable standing in shock as my husband tossed my son in the air, the foundation had been set.

Even though I dreaded when tosses evolved into arm swings, I knew it was important for them to have their own “thing.” My father wasn’t around in my early childhood, and it was hard to build that kind of relationship as a teenager. Seeing the real growth between them was strange but beautiful. It means a lot to me that my son will not be forced to navigate the experience of cultivating a parent-child relationship as a pre-teen or teen.

Once I realized this, I began to feel noticeably better. After a long day of working from home with a 2 year old, it’s nice to know that my shift ends when the door opens. While my son and husband roughhouse, I get my first break of the day. Keeping a child happy is a full-time job. And after a day of working and taking care of my son, I have no energy.

The time they spend playing is the time I spend taking a shower or decompressing after a long day. It’s often the first time all day that I get quiet enough to hear my own thoughts. When I realized how much I could reduce my emotional workload by outsourcing, I was shocked — I didn’t realize how much time I spent trying to be everything for my son and how stressed I was. I love him, but it’s not healthy for him or for me to try to provide for all his needs.

As mothers, we do more than enough. We carry, give birth and tend to be responsible for most of our children’s needs. I spend 24 hours a day with my son. I do the background work, like preparing her meals, styling her hair, and making sure she has all her basic needs taken care of. During that time, we practice learning with activity books, watch the occasional movie together and just spend our time together. It wasn’t as much fun playing airplane, hide and seek, or tickling as he was doing with his father, but it was still meaningful.

It’s okay to pick and choose which responsibilities are important to you. We deserve a break, and I think we can lighten some of our emotional load by stopping putting pressure on ourselves to be happy all the time. Actually? It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.

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