I had just finished making dinner and was rushing to get the food on the table when I noticed my 4-year-old daughter was staring at me with a sad look on her face. When I asked her what was wrong, she got a bit weepy and explained that she had something to tell me but didn’t want it to make me sad.
“It’s OK, you can tell me anything,” I said, thinking she’d said something unkind to a friend at the playground or got into a fight with her older brother.
“But I don’t want it to make you sad,” she replied.
“Really, it’s OK,” I lovingly reassured her. “I won’t be sad.”
Then I motioned for her to join me in the hallway so we could have some privacy. There, she spilled what was on her mind.
“It’s just that … well … I’m sad because Luke and I …well … we love Daddy more than you, and I think that might hurt your feelings.”
“Oh” was the only response I could muster. “OK.”
When I relayed the story to some of my friends, most were shocked that I hadn’t burst into tears. Although her declaration of undying love for her daddy wasn’t what I thought she’d say, it didn’t surprise me. I already knew that her dad was her No.1. On a fairly regular basis, Millie tells me, “I love Daddy first best and you second best, Mommy.” She isn’t saying it to be nasty. The look of love in her eyes is very sincere. She’s just trying to be truthful.
I’m crazy about her dad, too, so I understand her affection. I know there are many factors contributing to her daddy love, but I think it comes down to this: Her dad is a lot of fun. He is so fun, in fact, that my kids’ friends sometimes knock on the door and ask if their dad is home yet — they want him to play soccer with them or chase them around the playground. When he volunteered at the elementary school recently, he let dozens of kids dog pile on him during recess. He builds forts for the kids, plays Legos with them. Basically, he’s a big kid.
As the chore-enforcing, media-limiting, piano-practice-insisting, bedtime-imposing parent, I simply can’t compete. And I don’t want to. I’m happy my kids enjoy quality time with their dad. But I have been trying to be more fun lately, because hey, Moms like to have fun, too. Here are a few things that are working for me:
1. Be silly
Kids love it when adults make up silly songs, do crazy dances and dress up in costumes just for fun. Unfortunately, being silly doesn’t come naturally to me — I’m definitely more on the serious side. But my kids really love it when I do things that (I think) are ridiculous, so I’m trying to cut loose a little more.
2. Join in
As my kids have gotten older, I’ve found it easy to fall into a more “supervisory” role. Instead of actively playing with them all the time as I used to do when they were little, I’ve found myself using the periods when they are playing contentedly to fold the laundry or tackle other nagging tasks. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I find that when I take even 10 minutes to play and laugh with them first it makes a huge difference in our day.
3. Don’t be afraid of a mess
As a recovering clean freak, I find it really hard to let my kids make a mess. I am hugely affected by my surroundings, and the chaos and mess that accompany so many kid-friendly activities can make me a little cranky. OK, maybe a lot cranky. But in an effort to not entirely stifle my children’s creativity, I’m trying to be better about pulling out the Play-Doh or the (washable!) finger paints and letting them go to town. I remind myself that nearly any mess can be cleaned up in 10 minutes or less — and happily, that is usually true.
4. Make it fun for you
I love the idea of meaningful playtime with my kids but about 10 minutes into a make-believe My Little Pony session I am so bored I want to poke my eyes out. I simply don’t think it’s fun, and I have a hard time pretending to have fun when there are so many things I’d rather do. Based on conversations with my friends, I know I’m not alone. I had an ah-ha moment when a heard this gem: If you’re not having fun, they’re not having fun. If you really want to have fun with your kids, try to focus your efforts on things you enjoy (or at least tolerate), whether it’s coloring or reading or playing video games.
5. Leave time for fun
Fun isn’t all that fun when you’re trying to cram it into a suffocating schedule. (Raise your hand if you’ve ever said, “I don’t have time to have fun.”) I’m trying to leave more margin in my schedule so there is always room for at least a little fun, whether it’s a quick ride on the coin-operated ride outside the grocery store or a spontaneous trip to Trafalga.
I’ll never compete head-to-head with my husband for favorite-parent award. I think we all know how that would end. But as it turns out, having fun is its own reward. Plus, you know what they say: Girls just wanna have fun.