Is it now a parenting KPI to be a ‘fun mum’?

“I need to be more fun”.

It was this offhand comment by a friend about her parenting that set off my insecurities.

Like many mothers of our generation, I am burdened by introspection and self-analysis about my parenting skills and abilities.

“Fun” often equates to money and time — two things that can be in short supply for mothers this time of year.Credit:Shutterstock

The one section on my self-scoring mother report card where I always mark “below standard” or “room for improvement” is fun.

I marvel at the mothers who look at a muddy puddle and see “fun” rather than a NapiSan bucket. And mothers who will happily spend $50 on ingredients, and 2 hours of cleaning time, to make slime at home because it’s more “fun” than buying a pre-made tub for $2.

Since being a “fun mum” doesn’t come naturally to me, over the years I’ve tried to fake it. Like the time I embarked on a three-day papier-mâché project that was supposed to be an owl mask but ended up looking more like Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

This was fitting, because that’s exactly what I wanted to do when the bowl of glue was spilt all over the floor and my daughter wiped the paint from her hands on the wall.

Doing my tax returns is more “fun” for me than spending hours playing hide and seek, pretending that I can’t see my daughter who is hiding in the centre of the room, or repeatedly roleplaying being a duck going on a holiday to the shops. Yes, these are real examples.

As we head into the season of compulsory fun (and no school, kinder or childcare to share the entertainment load), the pressure for fun parenting intensifies, whether it’s from our kids, our own standards, or the hand-wringers who shame mothers about how screen time is robbing us of all those “precious moments” that we will apparently regret creating in years to come.

But “fun” often equates to money and time — two things that can be in short supply for mothers this time of year. It’s already a struggle to feed, clean, wash, behaviour manage, negotiate sibling disputes all the while trying to meet Christmas family obligations and squeeze in paid work.

This time of year especially, I just don’t have the time or the emotional reserves to be fun as well as everything else.

There’s also a gender component to being a “fun” parent. Online mothers groups and blogs are full of mothers lamenting the inequality of their partner being the “fun dad” who comes home each night and gets the kids all excited right before bedtime.

He’s the one who says “ask your mother” instead of ever saying “no”. And then there’s the “fun dad” who doesn’t worry about the mess he makes because it’s going to be cleaning up by the “unfun mother”.

It would be a lot easier to be “fun” if you only spent an hour a day with your kids and you leave all the disciplining and daily grind of bed times, teeth cleaning, homework, getting to school on time, feeding, clothing and cleaning to someone else.

Being the fun parent is also much easier when you have a disposable income to buy “fun” for the kids, which, due to gender roles, the mummy track and the gender pay gap, is more likely the case for fathers rather than mothers.

Despite the gut response I had when my friend motioned being more fun, I am becoming increasingly okay with not being a fun mum.

“Fun” is just one more impossible standard to make modern-day mothers feel guilty, that our mothers and grandmothers probably didn’t even think about.

If I look at motherhood in terms of a job description, being fun is not a mandatory requirement or a core competency.

My job is to love my children, provide for them, care for them, socialise them, give them boundaries, and actively listen to them. For these tasks, I score myself on my mother report card “at standard” or, on a good day, I’ll even stretch to “above standard.”

As another friend said, “My job is to make sure my kids don’t go into the world being arseholes, it’s not to be their best friend”.

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