We all have a vision of the mother we will be. Then we have kids.
No matter how many kids we have or how close together, I think we all experience this deviation from what we hoped for as mothers and what we become.
WHEN DID I STOP ENJOYING MY KIDS?
In my case, I had three kids close together. The baby stages felt like a blur, especially for my second who cried all.the.time (we learned later that she had esophagitis). As the constraining days loosened up and they became toddlers I felt more like myself. I was sleeping more, I wasn’t living off protein bars (as much), and the physical demands of carrying, nursing, changing, rocking, feeding, etc. babes were on the decline.
But a new chaos slowly set in for me. An emotional one.
I remember standing in my kitchen about a year ago – my kids were 6,5 and 3 – and realizing that I spent a lot of energy in my day trying to get a break from my kids. I would look forward to getting a moment alone – count down to bedtimes and I would try to keep them distracted so I could do my own thing.
I could see with fresh eyes that I didn’t enjoy motherhood and I was constantly in the mindset of ‘I need a break. . . .how can I get a break?’. This realization was met with grief and ache over how far I had strayed from where I wanted to be as a mom. I wasn’t parenting in line with the values I had for my life and my mothering.
Over the years, these mindsets of ‘I need a break, this is too much, they are so hard’ had caused me to become angry and resentful. I wasn’t coping in healthy ways with the stress of parenting. I was withdrawing from them. I was also becoming more strict and demanding of their obedience. I expected that as they grew, their self-control and compliance should exponentially grow (probably just to make my life easier, really). The result of these actions was a weakening of my ability to parent from a place of abundance and presence.
When I write it all out I feel a bit ashamed. But this was the wall I had to climb over each day in order to get to the other side of showing up with love and fun. This was also the wall I built up myself, brick by brick and day by day.
As I stood there in my kitchen feeling totally gross about my parenting, a question was creeping in: Was it too late? My older two had started school and the time I had to pour into them was cut in half. I noticed them taking more stock in what their peers thought about them in order to measure their self-worth and dictate their behaviour.
I hadn’t been showing up well in my own life, and now my kids were letting others teach them how to do this.
A YEAR OF ENJOYING MY KIDS
Last New Years we sat down to make our yearly goals. I didn’t publicly announce this but my parenting goal was to ‘ENJOY MY KIDS’.
This became my mantra ‘enjoy them…..enjoy them….enjoy them….’
At first, the hard work was remembering that I wanted to make a shift. I would get pretty deep into a gross angry mom state (usually around 4:45pm every day) before I recalled this goal. Then, instead of retreating to my room to go sit on my phone for ten minutes (like I would have), I sat down with them, got in their space, took a big breath and hung out with them.
Over time I could catch myself a bit earlier when I had this desire to withdraw and I could step in and show up for them before this thought overwhelmed me. Though full disclosure, sometimes it still does overwhelm me and I take a break knowing that I can come back to them with the intention of showing up better for them. Before I would retreat and then come back out just as annoyed and playing the victim that I was still assigned to mothering for the remainder of the night.
I started to notice the days where I didn’t really look into their faces – like really look. I could see this connection between the opportunity to enjoy my kids and making them feel seen. I needed to see their faces, get on their level and really look at them in order to appreciate what was before me to enjoy.
I also needed to listen better in order to enjoy them. I read this great book on Emotionally Intelligent Children and started to reframe what ‘listening’ looked like. Instead of listening to scold them for any moments of rebellion they had that day, or to talk them out of their feelings – I just listened and nodded and asked them more questions. I listened to hear what were their struggles and triumphs and offer them empathy and guidance in what they felt and did and how they wanted to move forward.
I’m sure they had withdrawn from me a bit too from the past year or so – but as I showed up more, they quickly and fully let me back in (kids are amazing that way). I was learning more about them: how weird they are, how funny they are, the way their brains work. They were coming to me with ideas on what we could do in our day or asking me to do something fun with them. They had always done this, but I was saying yes more – my default mode had often been ‘no’ to everything. They were creating moments where they could enjoy me as well. They were echoing it back to me.
One of my biggest struggles I’ve been working on is to still enjoy my kids when I also need them to be following our house rules or get something done. I’ve become more relaxed on expectations around ‘obedience’, but I see that I wasn’t approaching them with much respect. As I brought more respect into how I direct them, and how I listen to their side of the protest, they have responded to me with more respect.
Sometimes I ask myself, ‘How can I make this more fun’ when we are in a stressful atmosphere. You know, those times when I’m ready to yell at everyone to ‘just listen already!’ and make some grand statement about how fed up I am.
My husband has taught me so much about this. I was always frustrated at how everything was a game for him, but really he had mastered the art of being fun and disciplining at the same time – I just thought he wasn’t taking things seriously and viewed that as a bad thing. Now I try his tactics: when they are whining, he makes them sing out what they are asking for. He makes games for them to clean up something. He gets them excited about what is next when they don’t want to get a move on. He includes them in making plans for the day and assigning people duties and jobs.
But he isn’t always home and I am a slow learner who still has to google ‘how to be a fun mom’.
And still (over a year later), I have to almost say ‘enjoy them’ out loud when my kids are having a tantrum about the water level of their bath, or refusing to pick up seventeen legos they just chucked on the floor, or being unloving to their sibling, or running around the dining table like it’s track and field training. Then my form of ‘enjoying them’ usually has a heavy dose of reverse psychology and overdramatizing my surprise they ‘they CAN pick up the legos???’. Which seems to be what works with my most resistant child (currently, the four-year-old). When it comes to the worst of it (car rides where the entire back seat is fighting or fed up little brothers who express frustration with destruction) then I pull over the car, or take them to a quiet room and am like ‘Child, let us stop and pray for Jesus to fill our hearts with love and patience right now, cause we are out of reserves!’
WHAT I HAVE LEARNED BY ENJOYING MY KIDS
Relax to have more influence
I don’t have to take everything so seriously. It is my choice to make a big deal of little things. I was probably weilding this right as a big stick to display my authority. I wanted to have influence over my kids, but using ‘control’ and taking everything so seriously was leading me away from the values I have for my parenting.
Now instead of heading straight to reprimanding my kids for something I can pause and see what happens. Most of it isn’t a big deal, and most of it shows how fun or brave or creative they are. Like how they make a game slapping wet face cloths onto the shower walls, or making a tower of everything they find in the bathroom, or slide down a bannister, or jump off the couch into a pile of pillows. Like, that does actually look kinda fun!
I’m allowed to have fun
One of the best ways I found to enjoy my kids is to enjoy life WITH my kids. This became finding ways to have fun with them whether it was taking them all out to the river for a picnic, or sledding on the walk to the school bus, or putting on a batman mask and telling them to clean up their toys, or just randomly getting down to their level and hugging and tickling them.
I am more fun than I thought….or maybe I forgot to have fun. There are things that I really do enjoy and brushed off as ‘for kids’. The cool thing about kids is you get to do all the stuff ALL OVER AGAIN!
I need to unplug
I love my phone and being online. I love texting my girlfriends and watching Instagram stories. I love that I have this handy device with me that can tell me the best recipe for banana bread and how to get purple dye out of my hair. BUT it is also the single biggest distraction in my ability to show up how I want to as a parent.
Having boundaries around the phone, and putting it on the counter and leaving it there have freed me up from the pings and the rings and the latest updates and allowed me space to just be with my kids and be present with them.
It moved from reactive to proactive
At first the work of enjoying my kids was reactive. I hadn’t taken the time to pour into them yet – so they were needing my attention and had no chill about expressing that need. Which felt stressful, which made me run away, which became this stressful dance of hide and seek. Then I would come to them from this worn out place.
As time went on and I would remember more often ‘enjoy them’ – I could start doing this proactively. It is like an investment in them to give them my time and attention before they have to ask me for it or go seeking it out in the world. It was easier to give it to them without being asked because then it was my offering rather than my duty.
It makes space
If I would have read this post a couple of years ago in the thick of anger and overwhelm, I would have maybe felt defensive and assumed that the authour had become a mom who was so overly in her kids’ space that she never had any time to herself. Doing this work has shown me that it CREATES space, for two reasons.
One, the more I poured into my kids, the more space they gave me.
And two, the more I practiced enjoying my kids, the more willing I was to let them into my world. I am still a mom who does chores, and sits to read, and demand privacy in the bathroom, and does the odd mid-day workout. My kids aren’t constantly needing my attention but when they do and I want to carry on with the things I want to get done in a day I don’t shoo them out like I used to. I invited them alongside me, I tell myself there IS time and space and I can teach them what I am doing and let them learn it and do it alongside me.
It becomes easier
This was a daily practice and some days I don’t do so well. But the slow, gradual building it into my day and my mindsets have made it easier. As with all habits, you need to work at CONSCIOUSLY and DELIBERATELY before it becomes ingrained in your daily life.
You don’t have to be on vacation or have perfect circumstances in your day to enjoy one another. As you practice it, your brain will learn new thought patterns, your body will learn how to respond without fight or flight, you will be able to hear your heart louder than before as you listen to it every day.
I see it everywhere
I am a big believer that YOU WILL FIND WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR. When I was looking for an escape from my kids, that was all I focussed on. When our brain has this thought it spends all it’s energy looking for confirmation that it is true (confirmation bias). Our brain will never be like URRRCH, ‘what a minute, is this thought helpful? Is it even true?’. We have to interrupt our own thoughts and chose new ones that are empowering.
When I was looking for ways to enjoy my kids, everything shifted. They didn’t change so much as I changed my mind about them being enjoyable. My brain is constantly saying ‘enjoy them’ and I find myself constantly finding a way to enjoy them. Whether it’s something I can say to them, something we can do together, or just sitting back and smiling at them. Your brain seeks out the answers to whatever question you give it (so give it really good questions).
How it feels for them to be enjoyed
Have you had that adult in your life who always had a smile for you? Someone who you knew really enjoyed you? I felt like that with my grandparents and they have always told me to treasure my kids. They know the gift it is to love your kids through enjoying them is such an empowering love.
I have also had adults in my life that I felt like they just tolerated me. It made me feel like I had to change who I was to win their approval or attention. This type of love is not really love, it is conditional and limited. All the work that goes into ENJOYING the people in your life helps you love them better. Maybe even some would argue that to love someone is to simply enjoy them.
It lets them off the hook
When I was stressed out I made the kids the reason for it. They picked up on that. Really, the reason was me and how I was viewing them and my circumstances. I can’t hold them responsible for my emotions, that is my own job.
If you ever grew up in a home where you felt you had to perform for your parent’s happiness or approval or love then you know how that can root into you and show up for the rest of your life in subtle and loud ways. I want to let them off the hook from my emotional life now so they can grow up learning we are all responsible for our own thoughts and feelings and actions.
WHAT ENJOYING MY KIDS MEANS TO ME
It is easy to enjoy my kids when they are listening, and there are waffles and music and the sun is shining and my husband is home. I know what it feels like to enjoy them. I love those moments of sitting around the table laughing together. I catch myself feeling warm and wet eyes as the thought peaks through saying: ‘this is a perfect moment‘.
The work of enjoying them happens when they aren’t listening, and groceries have dwindled to celery and peanut butter, and my husband is late again, and the music is driving me crazy and it has been cloudy for days? Weeks? What day is it even??
Enjoying my kids has meant staying engaged. I’ve said it before and I will say it again and again – the most important thing we can do in our own lives, the only thing we have control over, is to decide how we want to show up in our daily life and practice it over and over. Show up with fun, with love, with forgiveness, with humility, with patience. Practice it, practice it, still practicing it.
The hard work of mothering doesn’t magically end when you decide to start enjoying your kids. For me I still am practicing and failing, and practicing and succeeding, wash, rinse, repeat. I’m meeting new trials and still doing the heart work of working through old ones. Motherhood grows you in all the hard and vulnerable places. It shows you your blind spots. It shows you where you are strong and where you are weak. I spent many years letting my weaknesses run the show instead of letting them inform me that I needed to switch gears.
Enjoying my kids through the highs and the lows has meant that I am staying mindful of how I am feeling; responsible with how I cope; and leaning into the discomfort of saying sorry, or trying new things, or having an adventure when I’d rather stay home and withdraw. And sometimes the greatest adventure is to show up right where you are.
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