Be selfish, be happy

As a mom of five children, Meagan Francis is no rookie. When she launched The Happiest Mom, I invited her to share some of her experience to inspire moms to have more fun during the first years of motherhood.

She offers us some tips and reassurance that happy moms put themselves on top of the priority list. (Advice that I need to hear right about now as I’m juggling a full-time job, sick kids, sick husband, the sniffles, and a carb-free fortnight.)

She writes:

So you’re stuck at home with dropping temperatures and a toddler climbing the walls. Seems like a good time to sign up for that class guaranteed to turn your baby into a musical genius by the age of 3, right?

Not so fast. While activities aimed at the preschool set can be a great way for your child to burn off energy, make new friends, and nurture an interest in a new activity, I believe there has to be something in it for Mom, too.

Yes, moms, I’m giving you a pass.
You don’t have to sit through a Mommy and Me music class so boring you want to claw your eyes out. You are not obligated to suffer through story hours that require you, a grown adult, to get up and “shake your sillies out” if you find the prospect so embarrassing you can barely make it through a single silly-shake. There is no need to go into forbearance on your student loan payments so you can start Suzuki violin lessons at the age of 4, unless your child is a prodigy (and let’s face it, parents, fewer kids are prodigies than we well-meaning parents might like to believe). You absolutely, 100% are not required to set up playdates with kids whose parents you find repulsive just because their child and yours had a brief moment of connection on the playground. In short, moms, you are driving this bus, and it’s perfectly OK if you’d rather steer it toward activities you can tolerate, classes you can afford, and kids with parents you actually like.

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe we, as parents, have an obligation to guide our kids’ social lives and intellectual development. But when you’re talking about an infant or even a one- or two-year-old, their needs are simple. Kick a ball, play patty-cake, pick a flower””young kids can do all those things without much supervision and without Mom and Dad paying a dime. Sure, kids need time and support to pursue interests and find out what they’re really passionate about. But they’ll have plenty of time for that later””you know, when they can actually speak.

Moms, on the other hand? Our needs are more complex.
We’re used to adult conversation and have developed to seek out entertainment that extends beyond watching colorful shapes spin on a mobile. We don’t have a grown-up or two attending to our every need, picking us up when we fall, or rubbing our behinds with powder. Instead, we have to seek our own comfort and stimulation. Parenting is isolating and exhausting and tedious. We’re tired. We’re lonely. We may even””though we are loath to admit it””be a bit bored.

And I think it’s OK if we’re a little selfish when it comes to what we do for fun.

Let’s face it: you and your child are going to have conflicting desires and needs every single day, probably for the rest of your lives. 97% of the time, your child’s needs are going to win out. So when it comes to activities and friendships, I say Mommy gets to choose. Sign your 2-year-old up for art if you find it more tolerable than that pricey toddler music class. Or just listen to music at home while you color. If you’re like me and the idea of putting on a swimsuit and slipping into a frigid pool makes you cringe, by all means put off swimming lessons until they’re old enough to do them without you (at the YMCA, that’s age 3. Not that I would know, or anything”¦) And it’s perfectly OK to seek out moms you like and set up a time to get together, even if your kids aren’t automatic best friends or even the same age.

Of course, it’s important to watch your kids closely to make sure they’re getting something out of the deal too (or at the very least, aren’t being bullied or mistreated). But don’t limit yourself to seeking out friends with kids whose personality or age seem a perfect complement to your child’s: a two-year-old can play happily with a four-or-five year old under the right circumstances, and both the kids might actually learn something from the interaction.

Small children are, for the most part, easy to please. Give them time and space to move their bodies and raise their voices, a play-based activity (organized or not), and another small person to interact with, and they’ll have a ball. They don’t have to engage with a mini-soulmate at every playdate or train with the most renowned musical instructors before they’re out of Pull-Ups.

Someday””sooner than you might think””your kid will be begging you for hockey equipment and karate lessons. You’ll be roped into PTA committees and booster clubs and find yourself working closely with people you might not have otherwise chosen to spend time with.

Until then, exercise your right to be a little selfish. Choose the activities you can easily afford, the ones you enjoy. Spend your limited time pursuing friendships with other parents you really like, ones you can see yourself staying friends with for the long haul.You need them now, and you’re going to need them later.

And when Mom’s engaged, happy, not stressed over finances, and supported, her kid will be happier. Even if he never sets foot in that acclaimed foreign-language for tots program.

Thanks again Meagan. Want more of her? See if you’re bored, then you’re boring. Read her blog. Or check out her book, Table for Eight: Raising a Large Family in a Small-Family World.

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