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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.

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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.)


This post is included in our best-selling book, Motherhood Realized, along with additional favorites from more than 30 authors here at Power of Moms.

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