If this quarantine has taught me nothing else, it has taught me what I am (and am not) good at. I am not the kind of mama who enjoys getting down on the floor and playing pretend or dress up with my kids or video games with my son (this was not news to me). What my kids informed me over the last three months or so, is that I am not the “fun” parent.
This declaration was news to me and it stung just a little. I refrained from ranting about how I keep everyone clean, clothed, fed, and mostly on time to places we must be, like school. This quarantine has given me a renewed admiration for my wife, who does all of the things with our kids that I am not good at or don’t want to do. This quarantine has reminded me that we are a team, my wife and I, and the roles we both play for our family are valuable in different ways.
Gone are the days of my nagging my wife about her being late to places or what she forgot to get from the store. We have completely shifted roles in terms of division of labor, because we had to adjust as we navigated work, distance learning, social distancing, sickness, and the overall mess that COVID-19 has made in our lives.
Our responsibilities as contributors to our household have shifted slightly too. I, the one at home with our kids full-time, have needed to play with our kids when they ask as their primary social outlet and playmate. In all honesty, it’s been hard. Digging for worms, climbing trees, watching My Little Pony for hours on end, or playing a game of basketball with our teenager, does not bring me joy. If I participated in any one of these activities with them, my mind would wander elsewhere: What am I going to make for dinner? Did I remember to pay the light bill? How can I get the son to fold the laundry? I cannot be present for the activity enough to allow me to fully enjoy it, deeming me the “boring parent.” But I am okay with that.
For years, I worried about how my inability to play with them will negatively impact their future. I don’t have the answer and neither did the therapist I went to to help me figure it out. What I’ve come to learn about myself (and forgive myself for) is the fact that I choose not to engage in play with my kids. Will it drive them into therapy as an adult? Maybe. Is that okay? Yes! I am not a fun parent, but my role as the “not-fun parent” is just as needed and important.
The fun parent, as they’ve decided, is my wife. I used to joke about how she goes through life without a worry in the world. She does not rush to get anywhere, and loses track of time, especially when she’s deeply focused on a chess game with our son or allowing our twins to do her hair and cover her face in bright blue eye-shadow. I had to step back and look at why she was often late or why she lost track of time or why she forgot the one item at the grocery store that I needed the most, even though I reminded her twenty times before she left.
She was picking up the pieces along the way in areas I’d fallen short in. She was showing up for our kids in the ways I could not. Thankfully for all of us, I nag a whole lot less. When our kids look at us, they do so securely in the fact that not only do they have two parents who love them, but they have two parents who provide for all their needs.
I, like so many parents out there, look forward to the days ahead when COVID-19, the battles to find (and wear) one’s face mask, and the timed grocery store runs are a thing of the past. I feel myself, and my family, looking ahead to what is in store for our future. I am secure in the fact that I will never be the parent who finds joy in playing with my kids.
Instead, I can give them all the things I do find joy in, like a home-cooked meal every night, and our dinner time table talk filled with “this or that” kind of games. In the end, I choose “this” (forgiving myself for not finding joy in playing with my kids and moving forward) over “that” — wallowing in the “I must be it all to my kids” falsehood of motherhood.