Most Saturday mornings in my house look the same: I sit on the couch next to Selah, her tiny body snuggled into mine, one of my arms encircling her shoulder. The TV is tuned to Peppa Pig or Daniel Tiger or whoever is the character of the week, and with my free hand I hold my most recent library book.
I’ll glance at my phone and see that it’s close to 9, and I don’t feel too bad. It’s still early, plenty of time to get outside or play some puzzles or make a donut run. And then I’ll glance at my phone what I think is about 20 minutes later and discover that it’s creeping up on 10, and this is when the shame sets in.
I should have engaged her in an art project. I should have taken her to the farmer’s market. I should have made imaginary breakfast with her in the play kitchen. I should have busted out the Little People set to act out her favorite “let’s be friends scenario” again.
Part of the reason for my shame is that I work all week. Shouldn’t I be ready for some interactive time with my daughter on the weekend? But the larger reason is this: I feel ashamed that I’m not a fun mom.
Whenever I’m asked to describe myself, the one word that never comes to mind is fun. I like to have fun, of course, but I would never call myself the fun one in my marriage, in my family, or in my group of friends. But still I feel intense pressure to be a fun mom.
Perhaps it’s a weird side effect of overdosing on social media—consuming one too many squares, not of dark chocolate, but of carefree moms having fun with their kids. I see their frozen smiles and captions regaling story-time adventures at the library, running around the park each morning, or splashing at the pool on summer afternoons.
It’s no big secret that our culture has encouraged the professionalization of motherhood. We’ve narrowly defined what it means to be a good mom: always available for her kids, entirely focused on their needs, devising sensory-play activities and creative crafts and engaging games to fill the moments from waking time to bedtime. And on social media, this myth of motherhood—of being the fun mom above all else—becomes larger than my little life.
I know by now that social media is not real life. Not even close. I’m under no illusions that other moms are fun all the time, or are constantly scouring Pinterest for the latest and greatest toddler activities, or are living their best lives at the pool everyday. But all my life I have been described as inflexible at best and uptight at worst, and it makes me wonder if my daughter would be better off with a little more fun in her life.
This is where I feel the need to defend myself, to assure you that of course we have fun. Selah’s giggles rise like tiny champagne bubbles while I chase her around our kitchen and dining room each night. A few times a week we manage to make it to the park, where I trail behind as she decapitates every dandelion she can get her grubby hands on. When she’s eaten an exceptionally good dinner, I’ll surprise her with a cookie just to see her eyes light up and hear her squeaky little voice say, “I love cookies! So much!”
Does this make me the definition of a fun mom? Probably not. But I’m wondering how much of this is my own feelings and how much is Selah’s perception. If you asked her (and if she had the words to respond), she might say I’m a fun mom, simply because we have fun together most days, and she doesn’t really know anything different.
But to be honest, I’m not always having fun when I play with her. I get overwhelmed by the haphazard way she tosses her toys around; I constantly worry that she’s going to trip and fall as she runs down the sidewalk; I can’t stop thinking about the mess she’s making when we attempt “art.”
And to be even more honest, on Saturday mornings, when I finally have the time and space to do fun things with her because work isn’t calling my name . . . I just want to stay on our cozy couch in our comfy home. I’m a homebody, and it’s my weekend too. If I don’t recharge on Saturday mornings, I start to run ragged pretty quickly. And part of recharging, for me, is soaking up the snuggles I didn’t get during the week.
I’m a big proponent of getting to the root of things, because my surface-level feelings are almost always hiding something else that’s going on. And underneath my guilt over the fact that I’m not a fun mom is a fear that I’m not connecting enough with my child.
Surprisingly, this is where I find freedom. Perhaps I’m not the most fun mom, but I know Selah feels connected to me. When I get her up in the morning, we giggle together as she jumps on her bed, and then we pick out a pretty dress and read a book in the chair where I used to nurse her. When I head off to work, I make eye contact with her and tell her I love her, and she gives me a tight hug around the neck. At dinner, we sit together at the big table and talk about our days. Whenever the conversation hits a lull (as it’s bound to do when you’re talking to a two-year-old), Selah will shout, “More talking!” And at bedtime and on Saturdays and so many moments in between, there are snuggles and kisses and words of affirmation: I love you. You’re strong. You’re brave. You should feel so proud of yourself. You have enormous value.
I’m starting to realize that perhaps Fun Mom isn’t the title I should be shooting for.
The words I would use to describe myself as a woman are thoughtful, creative, empathetic, caring, grounded, warm. And any of these used as a modifier for “mom” would sound pretty sweet to me.