Fun — A Family Value
by Carol Kuykendall
What shaped your mothering goals?
When a young mom asked me this recently, the first thing that came to mind was a pie. Not the fruit kind but a Pie of Life with wedges that defined different seasons. I don’t remember where I saw it, but I’ll never forget the message it conveyed. If we live out our average life expectancy, we will spend twice as many years as adults together with our children as we do when they are living at home with us.
Wow! That impacted me because my kids were young and I was living in the “adults together” season with my own parents, as my friends were with their parents too. When we talked about our relationships with our parents, I heard vastly different descriptions. Some got along well with them, others did not. And when we probed the reasons, it had a lot to do with parenting patterns developed during childhood.
In other words, how I parented our young kids might shape my relationship with them when they grew up. If I wanted to be friends as adults and spend time together — not out of obligation but because we enjoyed each other — I’d better think about the kind of parenting that would aim us towards that kind of relationship.
That’s when I decided that having fun should be one of our family values. Because let’s face it, adult children aren’t going to spend time with Ma and Pa unless we enjoy each other.
So what does “fun” look like? I began watching other fun families and noticed they could find fun and be fun even in unlikely places. Like the grocery store or waiting in line at the DMV. Fun was an attitude as much as an activity. And to have fun, they had to be fun, which meant lightening up.
In our family, we turned lots of things into celebrations. Birthdays, but also getting potty trained, navigating the first day of preschool and kindergarten, and no-school snow days. Each child liked the special chance to choose the family fun activity or restaurant for lunch.
Through the years, the activities changed. Having fun with preschoolers was fairly simple. They loved to play and loved the attention they got when we did almost anything together.
When our kids got older, their fun included their friends, which meant stretching the family circle to make those friends welcome at our house. Parenting includes the responsibility to shape appropriate fun as kids grow up, which was easier when their friends gathered at our house.
I also had to learn to let go of my own expectations and control of family activities. Like the vacation when the rented cabin on the lake was a lot dirtier and buggier than I had expected. Besides, our best and most humorous family memories often came out of those unexpected outcomes.
Friendships with our adult children evolved slowly as our parenting bumped and bounced from controlling to influencing to simply encouraging and enjoying each other. And the fun we had along the way was not so much about doing things as about being in relationships that allowed for growth and embraced our differences.
Here’s some encouraging news: Being friends with our adult children is the very best season of parenting!
Carol Kuykendall is a consulting editor for MomSense magazine, the author of Five Simple Ways to Grow a Great Family and co-author of What Every Mom Needs, available at MOPShop.org.