On Becoming the Fun Parent

Pulling into my driveway after a long day at the office, I could hear my son’s laughter pouring through the open front window. He was inside playing a board game with my husband, and they were teasing one another over who was winning, alternately claiming the title of champion.

“Hi everybody!” I exclaimed as I walked through the front door.

Their voices became hushed. Neither one looked at me, their eyes finding the ground, their backs turned.

“I guess this means we have to stop playing now,” my son mumbled.

The disappointment in his words shattered the utopian fantasy I had created in my mind, the one where my child races to meet me at the door, wrapping me in leg hugs and showering me with kisses, proclaiming how much he missed me during the eight hours I was away.

Instead, my son knew my arrival meant game over. Literally. I would demand he finish his homework and get his chores done. I would question why his backpack wasn’t hung up, why his shoes were strewn across the floor, and why oh why were there candy wrappers in the couch cushions?

It made me wonder: why can’t I be the fun parent?

At the risk of sounding like my 7-year-old, it just isn’t fair. My husband gets to play games, build Legos and throw the ball around in the backyard, yet I’ve been relegated to the drill sergeant, the task master, the disciplinarian. The bad cop in the good cop/bad cop TV drama.

I’m not saying my husband doesn’t carry his share of the load. Like me, he works full time, cooks, cleans, shops and launders. He’s not the type who tunes out when the going gets tough – plenty of timeouts have been handed down on his order – but he has the distinction of being the fun dad, while I’m stuck being the mean ole mom, and it’s not fair.

When mom’s not around, household rules are conveniently forgotten. It’s OK to play video games in your underpants and skip baths and not flush the toilet and have ice cream even if you haven’t finished all of your vegetables.

When mom’s in charge, it’s business time. Do your homework. Clean your room. Put away your laundry. Unload the dishwasher. Do it all without a whimper or a whine. Then, and only then, you can play.

Our style of parenting is a delicate balance between rigidity and leniency. We hope it will result in the kind of man we want our little boy to become: well-balanced, resilient, flexible and adaptable. A grown-up who doesn’t take life too seriously, but at the same time one who works hard and takes responsibility for his own life.

I’ve realized, enough is enough. It’s time for me to become the fun parent.

I started my transformation slowly but intently. My first action was bending my son’s bedtime (just a little) to show him that I can be cool too. If he has trouble falling asleep, I’ll let him curl up next to me on the couch. We’ll read together or browse the internet, searching for funny dog videos or homemade slime recipes or plans for backyard treehouses. If dad walks by, my son will pretend he’s asleep, a deception I fully condone.

From now on, I’ll let my kid be a kid. If my son wants to play in the mud or stomp in a puddle, I won’t say no. If he wants to wear shorts in the winter or dip his bacon in his orange juice, fine. I’ll give him five more minutes in the pool and let him pick up a stick and use it as a sword. I may even join him in a quick sword fight.

To clarify, I won’t go overboard. He still has to wash his hands before dinner and brush his teeth twice a day. There will be no chocolate cake for dinner and he’ll still have to bathe on occasion. Fingers crossed, he’ll remember to flush the toilet by the time he goes off to college.

I’m just loosening up my grip a bit.

Becoming the fun parent hasn’t been easy. I’ve always been anxious, and parenthood amplified my anxiety exponentially. I’ve found that keeping a clean and organized home, staying on a strict schedule and monitoring my son’s behavior helps keep my anxiety at bay. Unfortunately, it was at my son’s expense.

I’m taking back control. I’m not sweating the small stuff anymore.  I’m focusing on what truly matters – spending time together, learning together, experiencing life together, playing together. This, I’ve realized, is the key to becoming a better parent.

My husband now looks at me with a raised brow when he hears me tell my son his homework can wait, he can take the trash out later and he can leave his dirty clothes on the floor. Instead, we’ll go outside and play catch, even though dinner is almost on the table.  

Tomorrow, we’ll start on the treehouse. 

Originally published on Parent.co

Ten Things I Learned from Remodeling a Kitchen

In 2015, my husband and I embarked on our biggest homeowner challenge yet: tearing out our original 1950s kitchen (complete with mint green subway tile and pink floral wallpaper) and installing a modern, functional kitchen with timeless design. 

1)      Go with your gut. Getting the skeeves from a contractor? Move on. Reliable, trustworthy contractors are out there, and if you’re not getting a good vibe, there’s probably a reason why. Trust your instinct. You will have to work with this person for months, so having a good rapport goes a long way. Our contractor was honest and upfront, and didn’t try to sell us unnecessary upgrades. He worked his butt off to keep costs within budget.

2)      Ask for references. Meet them. See the work they did. Touch it, feel it. Ask questions. A reputable contractor will WANT you to do this because he’s proud of his work. And remember, online reviews only go so far. Many reviews are fake, written by friends and family members, if not paid marketers. My contractor had zero online presence. His business was strictly word-of-mouth. He’s too busy getting his hands dirty with joint compound and thinset to worry about his Yelp profile.

3)      Small details matter. I cannot stress this enough. You’re going to spend tens of thousands on new kitchen cabinets and then finish them off with bargain-priced, builders-grade knobs and pulls just to save a few hundred bucks? In the big picture, there’s not a huge difference between $50,000 and $50,200. Quality details are like the cherry on top of a very expensive ice cream sundae.

4)      Be flexible. Sure, you’ve dreamed your whole life about a rustic farmhouse/mid-century modern/French country/urban contemporary kitchen. But realistically it won’t always be possible. Too often, homeowners envision the perfect faucet/light fixture/countertop/backsplash, only to learn it won’t work in their space. That’s ok. Move on. Pinterest has killed many a dream for many a homeowner. My husband and I had our hearts set on a black porcelain tile floor – until I saw the exact tile floor in a Starbucks bathroom. Mind. Changed.

5)      Get used to takeout. You will eat out a lot. Accept it. Embrace it. Cooking meals on the high-end grill we purchased to get us through these few months seemed like the perfect solution. “It’ll be just like camping,” I said. “It’ll be an adventure,” I said. But then reality set in. Barbecuing when it’s 100 degrees out is no fun. Rinsing fruits and vegetables in the bathtub is gross. And washing dinner dishes in a plastic tub with a garden hose and a propane lantern is novel when you’re in the woods, but not so much when you’re scrambling to get homework done and lunches made and the kids in the bath and to bed on time. Yes, takeout is costly. Factor it into your overall budget.

6) Don’t cut corners. Doing it right the first time will save you time, money and hassle down the road. A remodel is an investment. Treat it as such. Don’t try to do some of the work yourself to save a buck. Don’t have your buddy/neighbor/cousin/coworker do work that requires a true professional. It will eventually catch up with you and end up costing you more.   

7) Trust the professionals. They’ve done this before. Many times. They know what’s best. Oftentimes, they know what you want more than you know yourself. Case in point: I insisted we didn’t need recessed lighting, that one overhead was enough. Glad my contractor told me otherwise or I’d be writing this in the dark.

8) There is no such thing as too many electrical outlets. Just sayin’.

9) Nagging is good for you. Contractor didn’t show up when he said he would? Call him. Text him. Email him. In the remodeling business, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Contractors are notorious for drawing out projects beyond their proposed completion dates. Help them help you by following up and holding them to their promises.

10) Don’t be afraid to get ugly. Why homeowners accept subpar work is beyond me. There are a million things can can go wrong with a project, and your contractor is responsible for every single one. If not legally, than certainly ethically. Broken tile? Insist on getting it replaced. Newly appeared gauge in the wall? Demand it be patched. Electrical box shorting out? Make them rewire it. If they refuse, don’t be afraid to take legal action. A good contractor will want to make things right. 

Happy Hour

Photo by FluxFactory/iStock / Getty Images

An unseasonably warm February afternoon. An unexpected day off. Soaking up the last of the winter sun on an outdoor patio over $4 beer? Sold.

And so began a last-minute happy hour. Why bother with laundry or the gym when there is fun to be had?

Now, it should be known that we had every reason in the world not to splurge on this type of indulgence. While we are both gainfully employed, we had implemented a strict spending policy post-Christmas. The goal: to pay off our credit cards, buy a house and possibly squeeze in a family vacation.

Each week, my husband and I allowed ourselves a $40 allowance to spend as we wish. Lunch with friends, beer with the guys – anything above and beyond had to come out of our personal kitty. Books, movies, even clothing – anything that wasn’t groceries or household essentials had to be purchased out of our “own” pockets.

Returning to the scene of the happy hour. We both wanted burgers. We both wanted beer. Our son also ordered a burger. When the bill came, my husband and I contributed equal amounts from our personal stash. I joked about going “Dutch” after seven years of marriage (and joint bank accounts).

Our growing son, four going on 14, scarfed down his kiddie meal and wanted another. Knowing there was no way he could finish another, we said no, and said if he was hungry later we’ll fix him something at home.

Leaving the restaurant, the server approached us and handed us back our cash. She said someone inside wanted to pay for our meal. Perplexed, we asked who. She said they wanted to keep it anonymous. We tried to hide our confusion. Did someone overhear our conversation and mistakenly think we were destitute? Or was it someone we knew? Or was it a simply a case of paying it forward?

Smile, I told my husband. Look gracious. I’m confused, he said. I feel awkward. Well then kiss me. Look sweet. Look humble.

Which we are, of course. More than words can say.

We told our son what happened. I said isn’t that kind? Maybe we should do something similar to a family who needs it. His solution, of course, was to take our generous donors out to dinner, not understanding why we didn’t know who they were.

But we were still left wondering: was this a lesson? Maybe we need to be more grateful for what we have. Maybe we need to be more generous.

In the end, it was a setting sun, a cold beer on an outdoor patio and the generosity of an unknown stranger that left us contemplating our own position in this world.