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. It’s not your job to entertain them.
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.
Fourthly, if part of the problem is you are working full-time both outside and inside the home, it’s time for you to learn how to delegate, guilt-free. Delegation is actually a generous thing to do as it enables others to learn, build capability and resilience, gain satisfaction and confidence from achievement and feel like part of a team. If you love cleaning, go for it! If you don’t then share the load with all the others who helped create the need. You are more likely to be respected if you don’t act like a slave who exists only to please and serve. Yes, there will be resistence, sulks etc, from the children too, but that’s where your calm, firm boundary setting comes into play. It also helps if you can spin the benefits to them, of doing their fair share. Notice I didn’t say, “…of helping you”?
Not convinced yet? Consider too what sort of role model you are being to your daughters and your sons. What expectations and treatment of themselves and partners do you hope for? What messages are you currently sending them? If your behavioural choices aren’t providing you with deep happiness and fulfillment, why would you wish that on your children?
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, with yours the only permission needed. Enjoy!
And if you need help to clear your head trash and childhood programming so you can easily give yourself loving permission to be the very best YOU possible, and model that freedom, resilience and confidence to your children, then let’s have a chat about how I can help with that. Life is too short not to.
A version of this article was originally published in the Smart Healthy Women Magazine Issue 41.