You’re Not Mean, You’re Stressed

 

Photo by photostock at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Pen: check. New notebook: check. Snacks: check. Sexy sunglasses (because I was going to my first child-free, all-women seminar, WITH MAKEUP, and wanted to feel grown up): check.

I was attending my first Power of Moms Retreat! Would I find answers to the questions in my heart about my mothering? Would other people have ideas I could learn from?  Would anyone even talk to me? Yes, yes, and yes!

I had one haunting feeling lurking in my heart, and I came to the retreat to find the answer to this question: Why am I a mean mom and what can I do to stop?
During the first portion of the seminar, when discussing the great value of mothers, the answer came. The idea hit my mind, cleared my heart and lifted the guilt from my shoulders. I don’t even think the insight had anything to do with what the speaker was addressing. The idea was this: I am not mean. I am stressed. These two small sentences have changed my self-perception, parenting, priorities and planning.

I am not a mean person. Okay, I suspected that deep down. I go and teach Zumba and pilates to teenaged girls around my city. We shake it, laugh and giggle, and often I can feel from the girls the idea, “Man, your kids are so lucky! I bet they love you.  You are so much fun.” Then I go into my car, hang my head, and wonder, “Why don’t my kids see this side of me? They don’t even know I’m fun.”

So the next day I turned on music and asked my kids if they wanted to dance. (They are young enough to join in and not be embarrassed by me.) My girls went nuts, grabbing my hands and twirling, actually wanting to be with me and begging for more.  Later that day and into the week they were much more willing to do their jobs. Throughout the week I tried to tickle my three year-old boy and swing him about more, and he burst out, “This is SOOO much fun, Mommy!” He had never said that before.

Photo by photostock at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Some mothers have fun as a natural gift–and some of us need to develop that talent. “It is a happy talent to know how to play,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. Is it worth planning and letting loose for fun? Yes! Fun is the glue of fond memories. Fun is the mover of mountains of laundry and obstinate kids who would not otherwise budge without it. Fun will bring children voluntarily back to an activity like chores, homework or family night, in a way that force cannot. It can bring our children back to us. Fun is not a luxury. It is a necessity for strong families.

There is a perception that fun is only found recreation: sports, shopping, eating, dancing, theater, theme parks. Fun is an essential human need, and therefore it is attached to advertising to catch our attention–we are marketed the idea that fun comes from products and food (“Happy” Meals). We’re told that to have fun we have to escape the drudgery or trap of our families and kitchens. We are told that fun and work, rigor, and duty are mutually exclusive. This is not so. Mothers do not need to escape their daily duties–we can add fun to them and elevate the daily grind to a life of meaning for our families! Robert Louis Stevenson said, “There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.” In our home we try to add fun to our daily routine with music, races, teasing, charts, jokes, togetherness, snacks, and serendipity moments. Beto Perez, the founder of Zumba, calls his dance aerobics class, “Exercise in disguise.”  Maybe teaching our children chores doesn’t have to be strict and somber to have meaning–it can be “work in disguise.”

“You are stressed.” Okay, that one should have been obvious to me, but it wasn’t.  What I thought was a mean mommy was just a normal person’s reaction to early mornings, late nights, the demands of four young, hungry, wiggly children, extensive commuting, strong-willed toddler personalities, etc. It makes total sense that the girls in the Zumba class or my nieces and nephews think I’m more fun than my kids do: I am not stressed out when I’m with them. I’m playing with them on Sundays, when I’m typically better rested, better fed, and not caring about my schedule. I’m fancy-free, relaxed, more myself, and therefore more fun.

So I got less stressed. It is my central focus: what can I do to reduce the stress in our family, so that I can be happier, enjoy my children more, and be more capable to serve my children like I dream of? We rearranged our schedule to be on the road and away from home a lot less. To streamline the stress of housekeeping and laundry we simply got rid of a ton of our possessions. For meal planning I let go of the pressure to create raw or fancy dishes, and instead serve very healthy but simple meals.

And now to help me really believe Heaven’s love note, that I am not  a mean mommy, I write down my dreams about who I am or want to be. For example, I write: I am a fun mom. I love having fun with my children. I can gain the understanding I need to de-stress my life and enjoy my children. I can have fun and still be a type-A personality. I can figure out ways to make work fun for my family. I can take activities that are difficult for myself, like exercise, cooking, or laundry, and even make them fun for me.

QUESTION: When was the last time you laughed or had fun? When do you remember having fun with your parents as a child? Are you ever not fun because of stress, and what could you do to lessen the stress?

CHALLENGE: Look for ways in your daily routine to make the mundane fun for you and your children. Trust your personality and go with it. You don’t have to try to be the “fun” mom down the street; you’ll have your own flavor. Share your ideas in the comments section. Find a way to lessen the greatest stress in your family. (And fun might be the answer, i.e., if finances are your greatest stress, then playing at the park might lighen up the family mood and help you through the long haul.)

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Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for this. I am not the most out going person so I find it hard to have fun with my 3 year old sometimes. But I have found that it doesn’t take much for him to find me funny. I make sure that I have heard his laugh and he has heard mine at least once before the day is over. Our fun is occassionally in big things but usually we find fun in our most ordinary of days. And I make sure to document those moments on my blog, nickandkort.blogspot.com, so that I can remember these days.

  2. says

    Wonderful article! I know I have had many times when I feel like a mean mom. Stress absolutely plays a part in that for me and sometimes I do ok in managing it and sometimes I totally stink.

    One thing I do on occasion to make chores fun is to play a game while we work. One game we play, I call “beat the timer”. I will set a timer for five minutes or so and we will see if we can straighten a room before the timer goes off. Or I will make a special treat as an incentive. Being the mom is SO hard and I think that we need to give ourselves a break when we have mean mom days.

    The last time we had fun was Sunday. We drove up the canyon for a picnic and a mini-hike. Our kids LOVE to be outside.

  3. GeetaL says

    Thanks Dawn! Great article! I often get too caught up in the stress of the daily grind and forget to just let go and enjoy my children. This is my new mission in life–have more fun with my kids, thereby being happier and having happier children.

  4. Teresa says

    I really like Kortni’s comment that she tries to hear her son’s laugh (and let her son hear hers) at least once a day. What a great, concrete, measurable goal–I just may have to borrow that one.

  5. jpasta says

    This is so what I needed! Have just really been feeling it that my kids don’t like me. I’m going to work on being more fun!
    I also love the simplifying ideas…to try and eliminate some of the stress. Working on it!

  6. says

    I love this post–thank you! We are working as a family to “prune” a lot of our stress and it’s nice to hear your story too. Go you for all the positive changes! :)

  7. Erin says

    Love this. The dily grind of chores can definitely stress you out when the kids are screaming and you have changed your 20th diaper of the morning. Think I’ll turn some tunes on tomorrow and work on my cleaning!

  8. says

    You hit the nail on the head! As an elementary school counselor I feel that I am WAYYYYY more fun with my students than with my own kids. It’s hard not to let guilt creep in.

    However, guilt is counterproductive and kids will sense it and use it to their advantage. When I feel that I’ve turned into “mommy dearest of sorts” then I know it’s time to slow down and make some time for us to do something fun together.

    I have also started implementing our “fun time” after chores are done. I created a chore board so they can each pick their favorites. First come first served…if they want to be the one to vacuum then they better get to it.

    It’s much easier to feel less stressed and enjoy a game with your kids when everyone has pitched in.

  9. Victoria says

    Thank you so much. It has opened my eyes to what can be. So I don’t have to be a mean mom. It is easy to get stressed out by life and all the expectations of being a wife and mother while working full time to help make ends meet. Your article is refreshing and has given me some ideas. Thanks

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