Several months back we were visiting friends who had a squishy little newborn.
“So how are you enjoying motherhood?” I asked.
Her answer surprised me – instead of the regular complaints about lack of sleep and time, she couldn’t stop gushing. She was truly enjoying the journey, even with the sleep deprivation, colic, and epic diaper blowouts.
Although I was happy for my friend and her beautiful family, I went home feeling sad. After some reflection, I realized that if someone had asked me the same question, I would have been tempted to say I wasn’t enjoying motherhood at all!
Even though my kids were older (7 and 4) and I was no longer wearing sweaters with spit-up on the sleeve, life had started to feel like a big chore. With my partner and I both working full-time, I felt pulled in every direction. We were trying to juggle school schedules, daycare, work deadlines, housework, extracurricular activities, climate change, impending economic disaster...OK well, maybe those last two only kept ME awake at night.
And just to be clear, I still loved my kids. I certainly didn’t regret becoming a parent. The truth was that I wasn’t enjoying motherhood because I felt like there was no time to BE a mother! I was becoming the “not right now,” or “I’m too busy” parent, instead of someone who could sit down and do a craft or play a game. I had lost my creative spark, my painting supplies, and my guitar and piano were gathering dust in a corner. I wasn’t finding (or making) the time to interact with my children in a meaningful way.
So I made it my mission to start enjoying motherhood again, and I began to experiment with ways that I could connect with my kids on a daily basis. And the key here is that I wanted this to be EASY. I looked for simple things I could do to get creative and they worked! I know I'm not the only mom who has felt or is feeling this way. I'm hoping that the things I did may help you too.
I’m the first to admit that I do NOT like pretend play, especially when the game involves dolls and “house.” So I’ve had to re-frame what it means to play with my kids, and I redirect them to things that spark my own creativity. Kids are smart – they can sense when I’m disinterested. My favourite games are the ones where I get to lie motionless on the couch (doctor is the best.) Hairdresser is another winner, although, be warned that young children do not know how to gently brush hair! Board games are also fun, but little ones don’t have the patience for games that last longer than 10 minutes (my 7 year-old plays a mean game of Blackjack though!)
Speaking of playing, when my kids ask to paint or “make pie” (i.e. pull out every last ingredient in my cupboards and mix with water to create a substance that resembles ectoplasm) I have to groan. There is a time and place for mess, but 6 p.m. on a Monday is not one of them.
Enter Crayola Color Wonder – these mess-free colouring books are genius! My kids can colour and paint anywhere, even on my white couch and carpet.
The markers and paints can only write on Color Wonder paper, which means there are no spills or cleanup (my white couch can finally remain marker-stain free!) I love using them when we’re on the go – I can pull out a colouring book while we wait in the doctor’s office or when little sister is bored at big sister’s piano lesson. My kiddos love coloring their favourite characters, and discovering the hidden designs on the paper when using the markers. And surprise, surprise, I have rediscovered that I love colouring too!
I am the queen of journaling and to do lists. Writing things down helps me stick to my goals. So every night before bed, I would write down the ways I had connected with my kids that day. Sometimes it was just a few words, and other times I wrote several pages. I noted when my experiments didn’t work, or when I had lacked patience. Instead of showing me my failures, my journal made feel grateful for those small moments of joy.
My stress levels are much lower when my house is clean and tidy, and my children are the same when it comes to their play space. We’ve noticed that too many toys can create chaos, and inhibit creativity. In recent years, we've given away around 50% of our kids’ toys, and we stick to the basics – craft supplies, dress-up clothes, blocks, games and puzzles. Our kids are happier and have longer periods of independent playtime. They sit down to create amazing crafts and host impromptu dance shows. If you don’t want to get rid of stuff, consider a toy library. Pack away some of your children’s toys, and then bring them out months later – it’s like Christmas morning!
My motivational word for this year was “balance.” I was determined to find a way to juggle work and home, with fewer tears (mine) and more laughter (everyone). As the year comes to an end, I feel like I have made progress. We hired a house cleaner and dog walker to help take some of the load off. I’m setting aside time to fill my own bucket, whether it’s pulling out my guitar or trying a painting class. I’ve also cut back on the amount of time I’m working, and we try to keep weekends free for fun family activities. I now have more energy to focus on my kids.
In all of these experiments, I’ve come to realize that connection and relationship building is hard work. With the distractions of our fast-paced lives, it takes a conscious effort to slow down. But even one hour each evening to get creative with my kids has been enough to fill all of our emotional buckets. By reducing the messiness in our family life, we have rediscovered the fun we can have together.