“Taco! Cat! Goat! Cheese! Pizza! Taco! Cat! Goat! Gorilla!” I watched my daughter fall onto the floor in a fit of laughter after her feeble attempt to be the first to bang her fists on her chest like a gorilla and slap a hand on the cards before us. A friend had recommended a new card game for our family, and after just a couple of rounds I had tears in my eyes not to mention a sore belly from laughing so hard. It was a simple card game. Not one that took a lot of time to play or required me to think deeply. It was a simple game played purely for fun. And I have to tell you, it felt so good to laugh hard with the people I love most. I also have to tell you, however, that laughing hard with the people I love most doesn’t happen as often as it once did. The busyness of life tends to leave me feeling hurried and exhausted. The life I’m choosing to live leaves little room for fun.
Fun. It can be defined as any particular behavior or activity done simply for amusement, enjoyment, or lighthearted pleasure. And, I must admit that fun is something that rarely makes it onto my daily to-do-list. Most days I get caught up in completing the tasks that I feel are vital for my family’s existence. Tasks like cooking meals, keeping the house tidy, and ensuring that all humans in the home bathe at some point or another. With only 24 hours in a day, I keep my focus on the work at hand and leave little room to deviate from that. But, in doing so, I forget the importance of fun.
Michael Rucker, author and entrepreneur, has studied the importance of fun. He says that science suggests there are a couple of reasons why we should have more fun. First, having more fun improves your relationships. When we have fun with another person, it gives us an opportunity to really connect with him or her. That positive connection helps build trust and communication within that relationship.
Secondly, fun is downright good for us. Having fun has been shown to reduce stress which can have a number of negative effects on our health. By engaging in fun activities, we can counteract some of these negative effects. Lowering our stress levels can help improve our memory and concentration, balance our hormone levels, and help us feel more energetic.
Fun is also important for our kids. Children learn best through play, and it is vital for a child’s development. Through play, kids become better problem solvers, learn how to get along with others, and learn to think more creatively. As parents, we need to ensure that each day allows ample time for fun and play. But, does that always happen?
In an article entitled, “5 Ways to Be a More Playful Parent” Janet Smith says, “Parents are rushed, stressed and tired—we’re too focused on results and not interested in taking the long way around. So instead we resort to nagging and lecturing, and then anger and punishment—far less effective techniques, according to the experts.” She then goes on to quote Lawrence Cohen, a psychologist and author of the book Playful Parenting. He says, “We need to spend more time joining children where they live, instead of all the time dragging them into our world, which is the world of schedules and chores and planned activities. Those things have to be done, but when they take over our family’s life, what gets shortchanged is play.” As parents, it is vital that our children have ample time for fun and play each day.
So, what do we do to ensure that fun and play are found in each day? When it comes down to it, it is a choice we have to make. We have to be open to having fun. In her book, Have More Fun, Mandy Arioto says, “Raising kids is some of the most important work we will do, and it can be some of the most joyful work if we choose to let it be.” So how do we choose fun?
First, we need to change our perspective. If asked to describe motherhood in one word, what would you say? You might say love, fulfilling or awesome. But for many moms, the first words out of their mouths are exhausting, hard, consuming, chaotic or overwhelming. We live in a world that chases after perfection. A world that expects us to mother flawlessly. That’s a lot of pressure isn’t it? What happens when we are unable to meet the expectations of the world? We begin to lean into comparison, to exhaustion, and the overwhelm. We lean into this idea that motherhood is nothing, but hard. Now, don’t get me wrong. There are some days that being a mom is really hard. But, instead of focusing on how hard it can be, what if we chose to focus on how energizing and transformative mothering can be? What if we focused on what we love about being a mom? What if we approached each day determined to make the best of it? What if we approached each day determined to not let the challenges it may bring steal our joy? What if we shifted our perspective and chose to bring fun and lightness to our mothering? How would that change the dynamics in our home?
Secondly we need to choose to enjoy our kids. Many people believe that our first responsibility as a parent is to raise children that will go on to become responsible and productive adults. Though that’s important, Mandy Arioto challenges that thinking. She says, “What if our first responsibility in raising kids is to enjoy them?”
Think about this with me for a moment. How perceptive do you think our kids really are? I’ve found that my kids pick up on way more than I think they actually do. My oldest for example, can always tell when I’m having a bad day. I typically hide in the bathroom when I need some space, and if I’m in there a shade over five minutes, he’ll come to the door and ask me if I’m feeling ok. I admit that I don’t always respond in the best manner when he does this, but the point is that this kid is not dumb. He’s picked up on the fact that I like to hide in the bathroom when I am feeling frustrated by the day. And, if he can pick up on that, what else does he pick up on?
Mama, our kids can tell if we enjoy them for the people they are or if we are merely tolerating them. These perceptions that they have go on to shape how they will see themselves for the rest of their lives. Are we enjoying our kids?
Now, don’t get me wrong. My kids are not always enjoyable to parent. I’ve had my fair share of tantrums, talking back, threats of running away, and dealing with a child who is furious that her brother chose to breathe the same air as her around the breakfast table. Mothering isn’t always enjoyable, but that shouldn’t stop us from enjoying our kids. Find something that you love about each child and cling to that in those moments when momming is hard. Also, remember that what is frustrating you as a mom now might frustrate you for the exact opposite reason down the road. An infant that won’t sleep now may later turn into a teen that won’t wake up until 1:00 on a Saturday afternoon. A toddler that clings to you may one day be a teen that doesn’t even want to stand in the same room as you. Surrender any expectations you may have on what your child should be in this current season and focus on what is going right. Enjoy the kid you have right now.
Thirdly, respond with the unexpected. Mandy Arioto shares how she did this with her teenage son. One morning, she dropped him off at the bus stop. She pulled up to the curb, got out of the car, walked around to the other side and gave her son a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. As she pulled away, a text came to her phone. It said, “Mom, you are invading my personal space.” Now, what would your reaction be if your child sent you that text? Would you be angry, frustrated, or hurt? How would you respond? Mandy chose to respond with the unexpected. She wrote back, “You came out of my personal space. P.S. Moms can hug their kids whenever they want. Xoxo. Have a great day.” By responding in a lighthearted manner rather than in anger, she opened herself up to having a very positive conversation with her son later that day. A conversation that gave her permission to invade his personal space, but to do so in the safety of their home and not in front of his peers.
Responding with the unexpected. It’s making the choice to respond with lightheartedness even when we’re angry, frustrated or have had our feelings hurt. It’s responding in a way that “disarms frustration and changes the script we are expecting to hear.”
Now there are times when it is necessary to sit a child down and have a “Come to Jesus” meeting with him if he has chosen to be rude or disrespectful toward you. However, there are times when an unexpected response can ease tension, help build trust and open the lines of communication with our kids. Responding with the unexpected can be a gift not only to our kids, but ourselves as well. Add some fun and respond with the unexpected.
Lastly, choose to thrive as a mom. If you want your kids to thrive, they need to see you thrive. Mothering has a way of trying to consume us. We feel that if we can’t do it all or don’t do it all it makes us a bad mom. We give up a girls night out because our youngest wants us there to tuck him into bed. We give up a much needed weekend away with our spouse because the kids will miss us too much, and we don’t want to impose on the grandparents once again. We give up working out at the gym because our toddler cries every single time we drop him off at the provided childcare. We don’t do those things we long to do because we’re afraid that it makes us a bad parent. We should be sacrificing everything for the sake of our kids, right? We only have them for a short period of time and that time needs to be completely devoted to them, right? Wrong. You see there’s a difference between sacrificing and settling. Sacrificing is giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy. We sacrifice sleep to feed a newborn through the night. We sacrifice buying that cute bag to buy clothes for kids that never seem to stop growing. We sacrifice time as we sit in parking lots waiting for practice to finish. As moms, we sacrifice a lot for our kids. Settling on the other hand is doing things even when it is not the best thing for you. Settling is skipping the gym because your child cries at the childcare. Settling is missing out on much needed one-on-one time with your spouse because the kids don’t want you to leave for a couple of hours. Settling is choosing to live in a house that you can barely afford and staying at the job you hate to live there. Settling means not taking that class that you’d love to take because your kids will be alone for a few hours on a Saturday. Settling is giving up those things that will help you to thrive.
Do your kids know what your dreams are? Do they know those things that you are passionate about and that are life-giving to your soul? If they don’t, let me you ask this. How will they learn to chase their dreams if they’ve never seen how that’s done? Mandy says, “When we actively take responsibility for our own flourishing, it spills over onto the people around us. Our kids benefit, our spouses benefit, and we begin to live in more dynamic and energizing ways.” When we choose to thrive, we are choosing to squeeze the absolute best from this life. We are choosing to have fun with the life that we’ve been given.
Are you choosing to have fun and enjoying the life that God has given you? Do you look for adventure as a family? Is your home one that encourages play and laughter? Do you celebrate all of the big, small, and silly things that life brings your way? Do you make room for the unexpected? Do you choose to have fun?
Mandy says, “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and look back and realize that the best thing about me was that I was really good at keeping up with email. I want to have more fun now; I want to live with passion and stop taking life so seriously. I want to do crazy awesome things to show people I love them. I want my husband to look forward to falling into bed with me at the end of a long day. I want to make my kids laugh, and I want to start truly experience what it means to be loved by a good God. . . . to remember how much fun life can be.” Me too.
Let’s be women who remember how much fun life can be. Let’s be women that don’t just settle with life, but savor it. Let’s live a life filled with more fun.
Arioto, Mandy. Have More Fun. Zondervan, 2019.
Bongiomo, Laurel. “10 Things Every Parent Should Know About Play.” NAEYC. https://www.naeyc.org/our-work/families/10-things-every-parent-play. Accessed 2 Mar. 2020.
Botnick, Vicki. “Learning From Our Kids: Five Ways to Make Parenting More Fun.” Good Therapy. 6 Oct. 2014. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/learning-from-our-kids-5-ways-to-make-parenting-more-fun-1006144. Accessed 2 Mar. 2020.
Cambridge Dictionary. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/settle-for-sth. Accessed 2 Mar. 2020.
Robertson, Carolyn. “Moms Describe Motherhood in Just One Word.” Babycenter. https://www.babycenter.com/609_moms-describe-motherhood-in-just-one-word_20004130.bc. Accessed 2 Mar. 2020.
Rucker, Michael. “Why You Need More Fun in Your Life According to Science.” Michael Rucker. 11 Dec. 2016. https://michaelrucker.com/having-fun/why-you-need-more-fun-in-your-life/ Accessed 2 Mar. 2020.
Smith, Janet. “5 Ways to Be a More Playful Parent.” Today’s Parent. 2 May 2018. https://www.todaysparent.com/family/parenting/be-a-more-playful-parent/. Accessed 2 Mar. 2020.