Beware: here is yet another “should” to add to an already full plate of what a “good parent should do.”
A good parent should have fun. “Fun?” you ask. “How do I go about doing that?” As a society, we have turned parenting into such a full-time, serious job that there are few moments for lightheartedness and frivolity. And even worse, parents may get the message that having fun is a waste of time, unproductive, and not an important factor in raising children.
Every minute of every day is filled with the “important” work of parenting: chores, food shopping, cooking, cleaning, soccer practice, band practice, school meetings, homework, doctor appointments, holiday preparations, and more. Even invitations to other people’s homes can feel like obligations. Tutors, educational trips, a costume to match the book’s theme – it’s enough to make your head spin.
The Forgotten Practice of Having Fun
So, why an article on fun? Because somewhere along the way, many parents have lost any sense of joy they may have gotten from daily interactions with their children. They have missed the fact that having “fun” is actually as important a part of raising emotionally healthy, successful children as is teaching responsibility. It benefits both you and your children.
When your children are babies, most likely you talked in a sing-songy voice and made crazy, silly motions to get them to smile and then giggle and perhaps even share a big contagious belly laugh. You probably noticed each milestone, however big or small. You marveled at their little fingernails, their toes, their eyelashes. But at some point (maybe after the 500th load of laundry or the 1000th time picking up toys and tossed pieces of clothing), you may stop looking at the slight, almost unperceivable, moves your children make toward maturity. You stop celebrating the little achievements. You notice what wasn’t done, what didn’t measure up, what still needs improvement.
You can even think about all the photographs you take of your children as babies, just being their wonderful, delightful selves. Baby on the blanket, baby in the swing, baby covered in dinner. But, typically, as your children grow, the only pictures are at holidays, celebrations, vacations. The everyday doesn’t seem worth capturing.
Yet it is in those everyday moments that your relationships with your children are formed. It is through the solid connection that those moments create that you can guide and influence your children as they mature. When you enjoy your children and they enjoy you, you want to spend time together, you want to hear what each other has to say, and you get to really know and understand each other. You can share your interests, your thoughts, your childhood stories, and your beliefs. You have an opportunity to be real people to your children, not just the enforcer of rules.
You may have become so serious about your parenting that you do not leave any time to relax and enjoy your family. You can make being an adult seem like one huge chore – no wonder kids do not want to grow up. Parents have taken all the fun out of it.
How Can You Add Fun Back Into Your Life?
- Think about when you were a child. What did you love to do? Did you sing out loud? Dance in front of a mirror? Draw elaborate pictures or happily doodle? Make time to do those things now. If your kids enjoy doing the same activities, have them join in. If they don’t, do it by yourself and for yourself. Make it happen. If you need to, put “having fun” on your “to-do” list and then cross it off! That way, instead of viewing this time as “goofing off,” you will feel as though you have accomplished something. And it will be something very worthwhile for both you and your children. They will get the message that being an adult isn’t all work and no play!
- Once in a while, play hooky from your responsibilities. Plan an all cereal dinner, a pajama day, a movie marathon, a “game night.” Take a day off from your usual routine and just laugh together. Enjoy the break. After having time away from your regular harried routine, you may find yourself more productive when you return to your obligations.
- Realize that you do not have perfect control. Even if you do everything in your power, you cannot make your children’s lives perfect. If anything, the more you intervene, the more you tend to make your children’s lives about you – your expectations for them, your reactions to their behavior, your evaluations of their achievements. They become your actors, sent out to perform the stories you have created, rather than being the writers of their own lives. The more you ighten up and enjoy, the greater the chance that your children will become more responsible for themselves.
- Interject humor into your interactions with your kids. Many parents complain about how difficult it is to have their youngsters complete chores or parts of their daily routine. Rather than lecturing or nagging, change things up. Write silly notes. For example, hang a sign on the dog’s neck that says, “I’m dog-gone hungry.” Or if his water bowl needs filling, “Hot dog – need water.” Have songs to help with transitions.
- Make up your own words to a tune to create crazy wake-up music. One mom who was not sure her son was listening to her had him respond to requests she made with “AYE-AYE Captain” if he heard her. Make cleaning up a game by seeing how much your family can do by the time a song ends or guess how many songs it will take to complete the whole job.
Fun is not a four-letter word. Fun builds understanding and strong relationships. If your children enjoy and like you, it is more likely that they will listen to you and, ultimately, that you will be an important influence in their choices and in their lives. This wonderful, even magical part of parenting helps you to be flexible and engenders good feelings. Fun is what gives you the energy to do the other, hard parts of raising children. And it shows your children that even “grown-ups” can kick back and enjoy themselves.
By Deb Cohen, Certified Parenting Educator
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