Right as I was hitting my breaking point with my kids, the most absurd, silly sound came trumpeting out of my mouth from seemingly nowhere. We were in the middle of a stressful 30-hour road trip to visit family. I was feeling exhausted and slightly overwhelmed as my kids pleaded for more snacks, dropped their favorite toys out of reach, and could not agree on what music we should listen to.
It was a moment where I wanted to yell, but when I blurted “CUCKOO,” my kids paused (stunned at their mom who was clearly losing her mind right in front of them), and the car was instantly filled with the chorus of all of our laughs joyously harmonizing together. From that moment on, our car was dubbed the “crazy car — cuckoo!” Anytime things started to get tense, I reintroduced the silliness that was saving us.
What I realized is that in the midst of feeling weighed down by my parenting duties, the release of being goofy sent a message to my brain: That was FUN. My brain remembered what true fun felt like, and in return, it sent a message to the rest of my body that made it feel lighter, happier, more my true self.
Parenting does not exactly feel relaxing most of the time. Parenting is a lot of work. We attempt to be the creator of good times for our kids, but we do not always get to participate. We are busy prepping the experience, explaining, supervising, documenting, and cleaning up. Even if our kids perceive us as “fun moms,” simply entertaining everyone does not mean we are actually enjoying ourselves. Trying to achieve what we perceive to be “good mom” status can be stressful and eventually can turn to resentment.
The lesson: Do not only create fun for your kids. Pursue fun for you, too, because you are absolutely deserving of feeling alive and experiencing joy.
I keep coming back to a memory I have of my dad. My dad carried the weight of the world on his shoulders, and I was aware of his load even as a child. He worked from home each day, and at 5 p.m. when dinner was ready, he trudged out of his office with a forced, half-smile when he greeted us. The memories I have of my dad where his smile was big and full of joy overtaking his entire body are when he was on the floor playing with his kids. My brother and I would climb all over him, he would give us horsey rides, and we would use his bent legs as a slide.
Just as I knew when my dad was genuinely enjoying himself, our kids know us too. I want my son and daughter to see me genuinely appreciating this gift of life. I want them to know I love myself enough to fight for self-care and happiness, even when my stressors want to pull me in the opposite direction. I want to be an example to my kids of accessing contentment even on hard days.
Some days, my peace comes from losing my adult self on the playground and letting my inner child take flight on the swing set. Or reminding my muscles how good it feels to be challenged on the monkey bars or balance beam.
Some days, my heart soars dancing around the living room and having Disney singalongs with my kids at the top of our lungs.
Some days, I pay tribute to my dad by making my own memories rolling around on the floor with his grandchildren.
And some days, I leave my kids with my husband and go out to spend time with my girlfriends while we make kid-free memories.
I am discovering that I feel more connected to my kids when I lay aside my reservations, push through my exhaustion, and immerse myself in their carefree world. We are laughing more together. Creating more moments that I want us to remember. In times of distress, I have the power to de-escalate my kids’ big emotions by remaining calm or redirecting instead of escalating with them.
Yes, you are a parent. Yes, you have major responsibilities. Yes, you make life-changing decisions for your family. Yes, it is heavy.
But do not forget to participate in this life. This one life — it’s all we get. Who better to help us tap into our inner child than our own kids. Reconnecting with ourselves in this way is life-giving, energizing, and even nostalgic. Your family will love seeing this version of you. But don’t do it just for them — join in the fun for you.