“Let’s go down there and play,” my husband grabs our daughter’s hand and leads her down the bleachers of the gymnasium. Our son is playing on the other side of the gym with his classmates. I watch them as he leads her gently down the steep stairs and he instructs her to run back and forth on a painted line in her socked feet.
She loves it and instantly transforms from an I’m-patiently-waiting-for-this-practice-to-end sibling into an I’m-having-so-much-fun-and-I-want-to-stay little kid. I mentally kick myself. Why didn’t I think of that?
It’s not that I’m a wet blanket type of a mother, but I’m a rule follower, and that means that I don’t always think about bending the rules. Couple my rule-following personality (which is a great cultural fit for Sweden) with a language barrier and the end result is a slightly hesitant parent.
In a lot of ways, my husband reminds me of my own dad (insert your own psychological studies and “daddy complex” theories here) which is probably why I married him (not gross, don’t think about it). My dad always played with us when my brother and I were growing up. He sat on the floor with us and watched Saturday morning cartoons. He ate cereal with us at the breakfast table.
I used to think it was because my parents were young when they had us (early twenties, no judging), but after watching my dad play with my kids, I realize it’s because he has embraced his inner kid and lets that kid out to play whenever possible. Having fun is fun, no matter how old you are.
Ask for forgiveness, not permission
My husband doesn’t ask for permission—he never has in anything he does—work or play. As a result, he has a lot more fun with our kids because he doesn’t let cultural norms prevent him from finding opportunities for play. A ride in the grocery cart isn’t a simple ride—it’s a crazy journey on a rocket ship through space. The kids aren’t in the bread aisle, they are in a galaxy far far away and are steering the rocket toward the moon. He’s also not afraid to get stares from strangers who wonder what this crazy man is doing with these kids in the shopping cart.
A precious commodity
I see our kids an extra four hours every day than my husband who doesn’t get home from work until dinner and bedtime. His appearance is a welcomed change from all of the whining, poopy underwear, and sibling arguments that I’ve broken up throughout the day. His arrival is always a new change of pace and an influx of fresh energy.
Be a big kid
While I’ve spent my entire life striving to be taken seriously by my peers (I’ve heard enough dumb blonde jokes to last a lifetime) my husband has been ever increasingly embracing his inner child ever since I became pregnant. From his perspective, we were entering a brief period for him to relive his own childhood. Out came the Brio train tracks, Transformers, and old He-Man figures, and I often wonder, “Who is having more fun—my kids or my husband?” He actively creates adventure and fosters their imaginations. (Read his amazing article on ParentCo about unlocking your inner creativity as a parent.)
Steal what works
I could steal his techniques and approaches to make myself more appealing as the “fun” parent, but the truth is, we make an excellent team as we are and I’m fine with my role—no competition necessary. Being the fun parent means jumping into cold water while swimming and I am happy to let my husband take that on.
Kids need a blend of fun and responsibility, and they get both from us at different times of the day.
This morning before packing everyone up for preschool, I sat on the floor and zinged cars back and forth with my kids, laughter erupting every time the cars unexpectedly collided with the walls. See? I can be fun too.
Fortunately for our family, we have an overgrown kid who can demonstrate what real fun looks like for our children while whipping up a delicious meal and handling bedtime.
To read more about the varying cultural norms of fathers around the world, read The European Mama’s article Fathers Around The World. Olga’s chapter in Knocked Up Abroad Again discusses the roles of dads in the Netherlands.
Don’t forget to grab your free ebook, What I Wish I Had Known Before Raising My Family Abroad.