Ladies and gents the face you see above is that of true despair, you can practically hear the whiny nooo!' coming from my sons contorted little face. You may be asking yourself, what could have possibly caused this moment of utter misery? The answer to this question is something I've been thinking about for months, and something I encounter on a daily basis. My son was losing it because he asked to go on the carousel at the zoo-and then I had the audacity to indulge his request. Getting tickets to take him on the carousel. This season has been full of these throw your hands up in the air moments. The moments that make you feel like you are torturing your child with fun planned activities, meant for children. I guarantee if you are the mother of a toddler, at some point you have felt bad for taking your kid to the zoo, or a play date. It’s similar to the concept of kids always wanting to play with the box instead of the toy, parents just assume we know what they will have most fun doing.
The pictured meltdown happened not ten minutes after a previous meltdown, on the train at the Denver Zoo. My son had been begging to go on the train since we heard the whistle at the entrance. He was borderline hysterical after waiting in line a few agonizing minutes, and almost missing the first train that came. Luckily a few seats opened up last minute for us and we hopped on with his Auntie and cousin. We hadn't made it five minutes out of the station when he decided the train was best enjoyed standing on the seat. For obvious reasons, I did not allow this-which resulted in the remainder of the ride being spent holding my screaming toddler. Because obviously if you are not in danger of killing or maiming yourself, the train is not fun anymore. I found myself thinking 'how dare I take my son on the train that he had begged to go on.' Mom-ing can be cruel work guys. Some days feel like you just can’t win, this day was one of those days. My eyes were rolling so far back into my head I could see my brain.
I was clearly frustrated after tantrum #1, but in the spirit of enjoying his Auntie and cousin visiting, we continued to the carousel. After excitingly choosing the zebra we hopped on and the ride bounced to a start. Although we have been on the carousel many times before, this particular time was apparently not only terrifying but actual torture, Karson instantly began to grab at me to hold him-something not allowed. So we spent the entire ride with him half riding the zebra and half holding onto mommy's shoulders crying at how terrifying this ride had become. At this point all I could do was laugh! The frustration of putting in effort and time to set up a fun filled day for your kid, then them refusing to enjoy any part of it is undeniable. But in the end I found myself thinking: These are not invalid emotions. Just because I cannot understand the sense in his actions doesn’t mean what he is feeling isn’t valid. I got home that day and thought to myself, who are we to decide where and when our children are supposed to have fun.
Why don’t we let them enjoy the world how they see it, and interact with it how they choose! Who are we to decide what they should and shouldn't have fun doing? Outside of obvious safety rules of course. This idea is something I needed a lesson in desperately. Particularly with the toddler years swiftly upon us, now that my son is two. I am realizing I find myself in the role of 'Fun Enforcer' more times than I'd like to admit. It’s taken having the opportunity to reflect to realize just how often I force my son to have fun in the way I think he should. After this latest meltdown, I have decided to start challenging myself to let my son explore the world how he chooses, even if that isn't exactly what I have planned. The magic of seeing the world through their child’s eyes is something every parent dreams of. Yet most parents I know find themselves in the same ‘Fun Enforcer’ role rather than letting their child lead play.
Learning to let go is a part of parenting I struggle with on many levels. However, I want my son to feel free to do what makes him happy. Even if that's playing with the box instead of the expensive toy inside. As parents, we are already putting so much pressure on ourselves to make our kids happy, keep them healthy, and thriving. Our whole lives revolve around providing them with the best we are capable of giving them, and out of all the parents I know-none of them think they’re enough. This picture of the perfect childhood is projected through the media. The zoo trips, and shiny red wagons, every parent wants their kid to have that dream childhood. But what if your kids dream childhood is filled with muddy feet and messy fingers? Who are we to tell them that’s not the ‘right’ way to have fun? We convince ourselves that if we buy the right toy, or membership, or vacation our kids will have the best possible childhood. But my toddler reminds me daily that happiness isn’t about being perfect, or having the right toys; children are the best at teaching adults that lesson.
In the real world, outside this media constructed idea of a perfect childhood, our kids are going to have the best possible childhood because of the time, and love, we put into them. WE AS PARENTS ARE DOING ENOUGH. If your son wants to stay home and play superheroes with you for three hours instead of going to the zoo-stay home with him and play! My son reminds me constantly that he has just as much fun running around town running errands with me, as he does at most planned playdates. Staying present is the key for me in my motherhood journey, and has been what helps free me from being the ‘Fun Enforcer’. If I can stay in the moment with my son, and make that moment the most fun it can be, then I am succeeding as a mother. This is what I remind myself of when my son is refusing to enjoy his own birthday party, or crying because I won’t let him stand on the dog.
In the end being a mom is hard, and it’s not all hugs and rainbows. But I think it can be mostly those things if you try to enjoy every moment to its fullest. Set yourself free from being the ‘Fun Enforcer’ and let yourself have fun anywhere, anytime with your little. Think of a trip to the grocery store as being just as much fun as a trip to the zoo-each moment is worthy of celebrating and enjoying through the eyes of a child. I am taking the challenge to stop being the ‘Fun Enforcer’, and to allow myself the freedom to enjoy the little things, not just the big. I challenge each of you to be present in a normally mundane moment of motherhood, and attempt to enjoy these moments through your child’s eyes. Give yourself permission to let go and stop enforcing the fun!