My reputation as the “un-fun” parent started when my kids were little. After each week of on-demand breastfeeding, diaper changing, toddler wrangling, and naps that didn’t last nearly long enough, I needed a break from my two young girls. When Saturday morning rolled around, my sweet, hard-working husband often took the kids out of the house for a few hours. “C’mon girls,” he’d say. “Let’s go do something fun!”
When my husband pried the clingy, crying 3-year-old from my leg, scooped up the baby, and headed out the door for a day of fun, it meant much needed alone time for me. It also meant that staying home with mom, definitely was not fun. Not only that, but I wasn’t any fun — and it was true. I love my girls like crazy and am often overwhelmed with gushy, sappy joy because of them, but the daily grind of mothering made me cranky. According to a recent study published in the American Sociology Review, I wasn’t the only one. Basically, moms enjoy being with their kids less than dads do “because they do more of ‘work’ and less of the ‘fun’ parenting tasks.”
There’s nothing fun about preparing multiple meals a day only to have them tossed on the floor by a disgruntled toddler. The thought of dealing with the laundry made me near catatonic. Trying to nurse a 4-month-old when my 3-year-old kept demanding that I “put the baby down!” drove me to tears. Preparing for any outing took up to an hour depending on whether or not the baby had a blowout before or after I strapped her into her car seat. Plus, I was exhausted.
By the time the weekend arrived, I didn’t give a crap who got to be the “fun” one. I just wanted a shower and a few hours of quiet. I needed time to reset, gather up my pieces, and drink an uninterrupted cup of coffee more than I needed to show my girls how much fun I could be. I was in survival mode.
While those few kid-free hours each weekend reenergized me, by Monday morning, I was once again a slave to the long list of tasks swirling in my head as my two young girls swirled relentlessly around me. By mid-morning, I was once again the stressed un-fun parent.
I didn’t really like this version of myself. I was fun, dammit! I used to dance ‘til dawn, do mouth-to-mouth shots with bartenders in the Meatpacking District, and jump in my beat-up Mazda for wild road trips on a whim. Okay, so maybe my 20s version of fun was hard to manifest as a 30-something mom, but I was willing to modify. The thing was, my husband, in an effort to soothe my ragged soul, was already the Mayor of Funville. So if I wasn’t the fun parent, what kind of parent was I?
Looking back, it’s not hard to see. Refreshed from my mornings alone, I’d be all ears when the girls came home with stories of their adventures. I heard the good, the bad, and the downright ugly, listening with excitement or empathy, a grin or a grimace depending on what happened. I hung on their every word, wanting to be as much part of their experience as I could. My girls came to see me as their sounding board, their quiet place, their warm center. If my husband is the one they ski and clamber mountains with, ride bikes and splash in the pool with, then I’m the one they come home to.
Before becoming a mom, I had no idea how much parenthood would change me. I didn’t realize that I’d put aside parts of myself out of necessity or desperation or simply because my kids required something else from me. I didn’t mean to squirrel away my fun side, but that’s what happened. When my husband organically took on the role of the fun parent, it created an equal and somewhat opposite role for me, one that adds balance to our parenting life: I am the Home Base Parent.
Now my girls are a teen and a tween and their younger sister is 5. As they’ve grown, so too has our connection. It’s not always perfect — parenting adolescents and a kindergartner is challenging — but I do try to stay true to my title. The girls frequently seek me out with their serious questions and complex concerns, leaning on my shoulder or curling up next to me for comfort. I take in their big emotions and soothe their little frustrations. This is the bond we have, and I wouldn’t trade it in for all the fun in the world.
Meanwhile, my husband is still considered the fun one, but with the girls spending more and more time with their friends, his duties have eased up a bit. Lucky for me, he’s really good at bringing out my fun side as well, so don’t be surprised if you see me dancing on the tables at a bar near you.