Squeals of delight, and urgent calls of “Dad, Dad, me next!” flood into your kitchen. You peek through the window and see the flushed excited faces and grins of pure pleasure of your children as their father tosses them around, doing the rough and tumble Dad-play. Your smile fades as that sense of exclusion takes over. As you sigh and return to your kitchen duties, that twinge of resentment at your husband strengthens. How come he gets to have all the fun?
By the time they all tumble inside for lunch, your unhappiness lashes out, admonishing them to quieten down, wash those dirty hands, and “for goodness sake, leave your dirty shoes outside!” They exchange meaningful glances with their dad as they troop out of the room again. You glare at him, and snap that “nothing’s the matter” when he asks. So much for a lovely day at home with the family.
So, what’s going wrong? Why are you feeling more and more unhappy, even lonely, in your own family?
As we grow up, our parents, grandparents and other adults model parenting behaviour, for better or worse. You may decide you’ll never be like your mother, or just like her, or not even really think about it, yet at some point her words will come from your mouth. Given you have been listening to her from in the womb, and all the years since, it’s not really surprising. That’s the Nurture part of parenting, including the view on what ‘good’ mothers ‘should’ do. The Nature part comes in the form of your instinct to protect your young from harm, not only for their sake, but also for your own survival. It’s difficult to forage for food and run for safety burdened by an injured or sick child.
Your danger radar is highly sensitive. That’s part of the problem. We live in a crazy frantic world, over-stimulated to the point of overload. As well as feeling you have to be grown up and sensible at all times, your danger radar has become hyper-sensitive. So, just as our fear button has been jammed almost permanently on by our imagination, building into anxiety, even panic attacks, so you can start imagining dangers that aren’t real or realistic. In trying to protect your child you actually smother him. His instinct is to struggle, and it all becomes an exhausting battle.
So, what’s the solution? Firstly, the mindfulness to be aware of your emotions at the time, and the honesty to acknowledge what they are, to yourself and your partner. Denial, repressing strong feelings only causes them to fester and erupt later causing far more damage than necessary.
Secondly, give yourself permission to have fun, even though you are a mother and terribly grown up and responsible. Having fun doesn’t mean being totally irresponsible to real danger, it means relaxing and allowing yourself to be silly, to play, to imagine and to get lost in giggly moments, just like you used to. Having fun means joining in when your kids play, rather than just supervise from the outside. It’s important you let them take the lead if you are joining into their game.
Playing with your children creates a closer bond, increasing your emotional bank account. Ditto with your partner – more fun and laughter connects you. It makes it easier to enrol them in the clean-up, tidying up and other home duties. You can find ways to make it an extension of the game. Mess is part of having children. You can have the Vogue magazine house when they leave home, though by then you might have discovered you actually don’t need that glossy exterior to feel happy.
Thirdly, give yourself permission to have fun as you, not ‘Mum’, outside of the home, with other adults. The more you feel fulfilled, enthusiastic and happy, the better ‘Mum’ you’ll be, as a role model and as a happy, fun person to spend time with. If you are too busy driving your child to her extra-curricular activities, yet she has 4 per week, and you have none, is that fair? No, and that’s where resentment and unhappiness starts. Honestly consider if you are using those activities as an excuse not to stretch yourself? Maybe just a little bit? Making and keeping friends seems to take more effort as we ‘grow up’, but it is worth it. For you, your children and your marriage.
Just take little steps to begin having fun, otherwise if you turn into a party animal overnight you’ll just scare and confuse them all! Remember: awareness, honesty and permission – yours is the only permission needed. Enjoy!