Hi. My name is Nicole and I forgot how to play.
I’d suspected as much for a few years, but the case was decided and closed last spring on two separate interactions with my daughters.
On a Thursday afternoon, instead of heading inside to do homework after school, I told the kids to jump out of the car and enjoy the early spring sunshine for a bit. Big Sis had a new toy – one of those plastic novelty deals that school fundraising companies pass out when you hit a fundraising milestone.
“Will you play with me, Mommy?”
“Mommy is tired. It’s been a long day and I need a minute to relax.”
This was my typical response to all requests to play, and not unexpected. But Big Sis, who so often is a fountain of childish wisdom, countered differently this time.
“But playing is relaxing.”
And…that’s true. The actual definition of “play” is activity for the purpose of enjoyment.
So, I got out of my chair and “played”. But not really, because I didn’t enjoy it and I was counting the minutes until I could gracefully bow out of tossing the wiffle ball between two plastic nets and return to my camp chair.
But it did get me thinking…what exactly is so burdensome to my life that on a daily basis I feel I must excuse myself from enjoyable activity to “rest”.
And how is it that even when obliged to participate in activity that’s supposed to be enjoyable, I can’t seem to do it?
I decided to test my play skills again by offering to play Barbies with Middle-est Daughter. I had been asked 100 times to play Barbies and had done so exactly zero times. Naturally, my offer was immediately accepted, and I was a bit excited because, get this – Barbies were my absolute favorite thing to do from about ages 4 – 11. I have a bittersweet memory of packing those precious dolls away when I entered 6th grade based on the totally false belief that I was too old for Barbies.
But guess what? I was terrible at this, too! And Middle-est Daughter, who has the sunniest, most tender disposition, and is also a Champion Pretend Player, was super frustrated with my lack of skill. Because, as she explained, it’s not just about dressing them up (although, that’s super important). You have to do the voices and the Barbies make small talk with one another (what!? I can’t even make small talk with another human!) and they already know each other and their backstories. I have taken improv classes less challenging than this. Eventually I was dismissed from the Barbie play, which I will admit hurt my ego a bit.
I knew I used to be playful and fun – it’s one of the things that first attracted my husband. But when I took an honest look at who I was in the present, I saw something different. This woman was a good person – she earnestly tried to make the best choices for her family and love her people well. She worked hard, read parenting books, cared about nutrition and good habits and contributing to a good community. But, man, she was a drag. And she was tired and needed to buy a bra that fit and wash her hair.
So why have we good, hard loving, hard working women lost our Fun mojo? In the pursuit of giving it our best we’ve lost perspective and end up spinning our wheels. Take a look at the following six things I’ve identified that make us good moms total sticks in the mud:
- You are desperately pursing perfection (Pinterest is not meant to be taken literally). Good moms do it all. They pack healthy bento box lunches with love notes. Their house is clean and stylishly decorated. They work out, they maintain their backyard organic gardens, they know how to do fancy braids in their kids’ (and their own!?!) hair. They are hawt, tidy, disciplined, and always happy. You know how I know? I saw it! On Pinterest! And everything on the internet is true! Except what I just described is not a good mom, it’s a perfect mom, and perfect moms don’t exist. Good moms love their people and do the best they can with what they’ve got.
- You have inflated the stakes (and are afraid). Every decision became so important. Should I ignore the behavior or institute time-out? Is it co-sleeping if we sleep together only after the early morning feeding? And does that mean developing a bad sleep habit or not becoming attached enough (and what does that even mean?)? Do I have to join the CSA even though it’s far from home, or is it acceptable to get organic product from Giant? Or, could I just buy these normally priced, regular strawberries? Am I ruining the kids? Poisoning them? Driving myself crazy? Luckily, it turns out there are about a million good choices and just a few truly bad ones.
- You are way too conscious of other people’s perceptions of you. This tends to go hand-in-hand with perfectionism, because one of the reasons you must be perfect is because they are all watching you and will notice when you fall short. Or drop the ball. Or flat-out fail. So you can’t ever try new things or just let yourself be carefree, because that’s when mistakes happen. And mistakes are unacceptable for a Good Mom like yourself who is doing at all, and doing it so well that there are zero weak spots for you to poke your judge-y little fingers at.
- You are a real jerk to yourself. Speaking of those judge-y little fingers, you know all about them, because you have about twenty, and they are constantly poking your soft spots. You scold yourself like a poorly trained dog. Lunchables in the lunch box? Bad Mom! You’re late on scheduling dentist appointments? Bad Mom! Jean are too tight? Bad Mom! I used to assume everyone kept themselves in check this way until I read Dan Harris’ 10% Happier. And guess what? It’s neither normal or healthy!
- You’ve positioned yourself as a victim (or worse, a martyr!). Poor you. You are at the mercy of your family’s sloth, filth, and ingratitude. You slave away, sacrifice, and give while they reap all the benefits, none the wiser to who holds this ship together. There may be a nugget of truth to this sentiment (women still do the majority of housework), but it’s probably not as bad as you’ve made it in your mind. The trouble with this thinking is that it snowballs. It starts as a seed, but every subsequent negative thought feeds it until it’s an out of control vine creeping into every interaction. Resentment is poison and will smother the whimsy and fun that naturally dwells inside you. (Hint: If you want help with something, it never hurts to ask nicely and then be satisfied with whatever you get.)
- You don’t want to practice. Inspired by Big Sis and her lessons, Fun Dad decided he wanted to try his hand at piano, something he hasn’t attempted in decades. He’s a little rusty. But he’s been practicing for a few months and his hands are beginning to remember things. The music is smoother. There are fewer pauses. Likewise, I enjoy yoga, but I can go months and not practice. I am always surprised on my first trip back to the mat how my body has stiffened in just a short time. So I start small. The same goes for play – maybe five minutes of Barbies is all you’ve got at first. Or maybe you’re more comfortable with backyard soccer, sitting side-by-side at the piano, baking for no reason at all, or going for a walk. Just take the first step, and then the second, and go from there.
When I began to unlearn these unproductive and destructive beliefs, I found that there was room for play. I still have plenty of room to grow (I’d like to enjoy cooking with my kids more). But growing is the goal, so I’m right where I need to be. (And now you are, too.)