This past winter I attended some meetings with friends I only see once or twice a year. In the meantime we keep up with each other through social media, liking Instagram pictures and wishing kids happy birthday in comment sections. Right before this particular trip I had posted something on Instagram about a “fancy party” my kids and I had as part of the Fun list we create twice a year (summer and winter). The Summer/Winter Fun lists are just basically a handful of things my kids and I want to try and do during the season that we are in. The things range from stuff that requires some planning on my part- go to an indoor waterpark, go to a baseball game- to stuff my kids do all the time but becomes special once its on the list- go to the pool, sit by the fire and look at our baby books. Most of it is all stuff we’d be doing anyway. It’s just a simple way for us to add a little adventure to our seasons and make the stuff we’d already do seem a bit more significant. For me, nothing about the Fun Lists are difficult or hard. They push me to do a few things I may have easily put off until it was too late to try, but by and large it’s all stuff the kids and I already look forward to doing.
When I caught up with these friends at the annual meeting more than one made a point to mention my “fancy party” post and comment wistfully at “what a great mom” I was, implying somehow that I was going above and beyond in the parenting game. The comments caught me off guard and made me uncomfortable. I was being given far too much credit. The fancy party was not an act of heroic “Mom-ness” on my part. It consisted of letting my four year old pick out my entire outfit (gray vintage polka dot dress I wear to weddings, knee high heeled brown boots and the earrings I wore for my wedding), inviting a few friends over, putting a table cloth on our dining room table, serving left over desserts from a party we’d just had and letting the kids drink out of tea cups and glass mugs. None of it was too much trouble and all of it made that dreaded 4-5pm hour go by much more quickly.
Pushing my kid on the swing for more than three and a half minutes or doing some sort of complicated craft with them- those are heroic acts of Mom-ness. When I post about those on social media I would like a parade thrown in my honor and some sort of gold medal. Unfortunately I don’t post about those on social media because they don’t happen. Ever.
I follow a mom on Instagram who’s summer plan involves a different activity each day. To share her fun she’s got hashtags for each day of the week (#makesomethingmonday, #tastytuesday, etc). Her activities are things like creating fun snacks for the kids or art projects involving making homemade paint with food coloring, water and cornstarch and painting the driveway. These are all things that make my skin crawl and leave me grumpy and stabby with my kids if I try to do them. I scrolled through her pictures of kids happy and messy, enjoying the creative activities she’d not only thought up (or taken the time to look up on pinterest) but also prepared ahead of time and then had the wherewithal to capture photographic evidence of the activity (instead of spending the whole time supervising said activity mentally counting down the minutes it could be over while simultaneously preventing the kids from also painting themselves, the car, house and bikes, thereby sucking all fun out of the activity, as I would have done). And I felt guilty. I should do that kind of stuff for my kids. I should get over my deep and abiding hatred of such activities for their sake so they can have fun memories of making messes and eating yogurt covered bananas dipped in chocolate chips they created themselves.
And then I remembered my conversation with my friend all those months ago. And I had a moment of clarity. These activities, the crafts and fun snacks, that’s probably fun for this Instagram mom, just like Fun lists and adventures are fun for me. It probably doesn’t produce the urge to poke her eyes out or chew off her arm just to end the activity. She’s probably not doing incredibly hard things she hates just for the sake of her kids in the same way that I’m not when we check off Summer Fun List items and have adventures.
I think it is a very common misconception when we see other parents doing the kinds of activities that we ourselves find hard/boring/frustrating/violence inducing. We assume that they, too, feel that way about the activity but somehow overcome their aversion in a super human feat of self sacrifice for the kids. We believe our own inability to sacrifice at this level makes us sub par parents and this causes us to discredit all the awesome things we are already doing because they may come more naturally to us. Things that other moms might find hard/boring/frustrating/violence inducing.
For me, I get out of the house and do stuff with my four kids because between doing that and staying home with them, staying home is the more difficult thing. I am not a homebody. We go to the pool or visit parks we’ve never been to because I prefer that to staying home and doing arts and crafts projects or playing My Little Ponies with them for hours on end (or really for even just five minutes. My Little Ponies suck.). Other moms stay home and create cool pinterest worthy projects for their kids because that is much less difficult for them when faced with the thought of lugging three or four kids out in public. I have a friend who has spent the last year creating awesome reading and writing activities every afternoon for her pre-k kid. He’s a genius and will enter Kindergarten this fall more than a little prepared. I wouldn’t know where to begin to create education activities for my 4 year old. But my friend genuinely liked doing that sort of thing. She used to be a teacher and this kind of thing is right in her wheelhouse.
I’m learning to celebrate the moms who are doing what is in their wheelhouse while also remembering that last part. It’s in their wheelhouse. And it doesn’t have to be in my wheelhouse. And I’m giving myself just as much credit when I do the stuff that comes more easily to me. Our kids don’t need us to do it all. They need us to do the stuff that makes us come alive as parents, whether it’s getting out for adventures or creating beautiful crafts, cooking dinner together or homeschooling. I’ve learned from experience that crafts are not fun when mom is tense and short fused the whole time. Neither are adventures out. The kids won’t know the stuff you didn’t do with them. (They’re not on instagram. They don’t even know that making your own paint with cornstarch and food coloring is a thing.) They will remember the stuff you enjoyed doing with them. So do that stuff with zero guilt about the rest. Isn’t that more fun for everyone?