I was reading something a friend had written the other day, about the hard, sad, mundane toil of motherhood, and it reminded me of my first year parenting with Ramona. I wrote about this a few weeks ago, the process of becoming a mother, my mother birth. It was intense for me reading my friend’s post- thinking about how much I felt that darkness and hardship, and how light I feel (mostly) around motherhood now. I’ve spent some time considering the differences in my life, why I enjoy mothering so much more.
Partly our life is a lot more how we want it to be (wilder, a bit feral, pretty cruisey, nothing to rush out the house for at 7am – well, apart from tiny ducklings wandering around the yurt). And we do even more sharing out of the domestic, parenting things between the two of us than ever before. I recognise this puts me in a wildly privileged position. I acknowledge that this concept (SMF) comes from that place and therefore won’t be relevant or applicable to some. I’d love to hear more thoughts on that, have a conversation around it and represent that in an updated version of this post eventually.
The kids are both older now, so we have genuine fun together. Like, playing games, I don’t have to pretend to lose. I just lose all the time. Uno, Memory. Turns out I suck at these games. I probably didn’t even ever have to pretend to suck. And when you try really hard to win something, it is kinda fun. So there’s that.
But here’s another thing. Something that I reckon is available to quite a lot of parents out there. Something that if we invest a bit of time and creative thinking on, could impact the experience of parenting in a really good way.
Site of Mutual Fulfilment (SMF)
An SMF is a place where both child and parent have a great time.
It’s pretty simple, but I think they should be one of the daily aims of every parent.
If each day began with the question “Where is today’s SMF?” we’d get to the end of the day without feeling utterly ragged.
SMF’s are different for every family. They are hidden EVERYWHERE. You can find them in the city, in the countryside. There are some in your own home even. Some are yet to be created by you and your friends. Some places are nearly SMF’s but aren’t quite YET, and it’d be great to try and make them more SMF-y.
For example – mums and tots group; good for baby, yep. Sometimes good for mamas. I went to lots of these when Ramona was tiny but only one was an SMF. The difference was that there was nice tea (not stewed) proper cake (not shit biscuits) and friends that I laughed my socks off with. I still went to the others but my brain registered them as a “mum job” because of the manky tea, boring old digestives and lack of laughter. In those ones I just hung around a bit awkwardly trying to make sure Ramona didn’t get a name for herself as a toy stealer.
(Forgive me if something like this already exists. If it does, I haven’t seen it.)
An SMF is a place where both the child’s and the parent’s urges and needs are met. They are places where all parties leave with a full cup. They are the vital mental health break in a day for mum or dad. Having enough SMF’s planned throughout each week can make the difference in whether we enjoy parenting, or not.
Here are our own Sites of Mutual Fulfilment
- The Library – the girls read or watch netflix while I read novels/ write blogs
- The forest with kid friends – the kids play imagination games while I read a novel
- Certain friends houses (but not all) – the kids play while we talk/vent our heads off. Some friend’s houses are not SMFs because the children find it trickier to negotiate things. We still go there to hang out and have fun, but I just plan for it, go on a day when I already have another SMF happening elsewhere.
- Soft play – what can I say, the kids go rogue while I sit and read a novel. So, SO worth eleven bucks and the three dollar socks because I ALWAYS FORGET SOCKS. (I enjoyed this from The Spinoff on Soft Play.)
- Our sofa – the kids watch a movie and I write a novel and we all have the best time of our lives.
- Our home – the kids have a bath and I sing Ace of Base on my ukulele
- The park – the kids climb the dangerously high frames and I read a novel/ read blogs and stare at everyone’s clean houses on Instagram*. This one is not quite as ideal because you tend to get a lot of judgey faces if you are reading/ staring at a phone and your kids are climbing things.
- Unschooling camp – the kids just head off and do their own thing while the parents duck in and out of playing, have singalongs, do yoga, chat, play cards. Here is a little glimpse at our last unschooling camp, if you missed it
Not all SMFs involve me and the kids doing separate activities – just some of them. And that is okay, in fact it is very healthy. Kids and parents SHOULD be doing different activities at times in the day. Play is the number one thing a kid should be doing with their time. It eclipses everything. And we play with them, of course, because we love them and we understand that play is their language and we want to be connected with them. But it isn’t always ideal to play with them all the time. We have other urges to honour. Urges to create and reflect and write and sing and talk and connect with adults. So for one segment of each day we need to find a way for our urges and their urges to happen alongside each other – it’s an SMF.
*A note on Instagram/ Facebook. Feel free to use your SMF to cruise social media. But be VERY AWARE of it’s impact on you. You have this hour or two to do something that could really make you feel good, deep down, to feel actually content, even creative, for a little bit. If social media has that impact on you, PLEASE DO stalk your old school friends for an hour. You should do it. I’m not being sarcastic. I’ve had a brilliant time doing that, I get almost high on the adrenalin of *nearly* clicking like on an ancient photo of theirs! But if (like me most of the time) social media leaves you feeling even emptier than when you first flicked open the app, do not do it to yourself! Get Fried Green Tomatoes At the Whistle Stop Cafe out of the library and read your way into another amazing little world that will fill up your heart. Not judging anyone at all, just putting it out there that we have to chose our SMF activity carefully for it’s effect on us.
And then there are some SMFs of ours where the fulfilment comes through the same activity. Here are some of those:
- The botanical gardens – we all just love wandering around, climbing trees. The kids might run ahead and I get some time to think about things I care about.
- The hot pools – floating around together, lush. Main reason we moved to NZ.
- A campfire – chatting, roasting things on sticks.
- Going to the beach. Swimming, making sand sculptures, swinging on rope swings, staring at people behind my sunglasses.
- The skate park. They scoot, I skate.
- Our home – finding an album we all really enjoy on Spotify and playing and dancing together.
(I guess when you strip it right back, SMF’s are essentially places where your kids can’t break the china ornaments. Ha.)
I am going to go all out here and say that many parents plan Sites of Mutual Fulfilment in to their days without really thinking of it, and perhaps they are the ones who find parenthood to be easier than expected. The ones who take it in their stride. (You know the ones.)
They are the folks who have just naturally erred towards this daily SMF rhythm. Perhaps they are people who are in touch with their own needs/ don’t have baggage around self-care (I think lots of us understand our own needs but struggle to prioritise them because of self worth issues? Or something.)
Why bother making it a Thing, giving it an acronym? Because if enough people start thinking like this, it legitimises it, you can organise on the phone, be like “How can we make this an SMF?” Or if you need to change a day around, switch it up, you can cancel something, say “Sorry, but we need to get an SMF in this afternoon.” You know an acronym works like that. It’s mamahood putting business socks on.
If you are reading this and think “Shivers my timbers, I have NONE of this in my life” would you consider how to squeeze some in? How to create some? Know that parenting isn’t meant to be one long exhausting, horrendous day after another, that you are WORTH an hour or two each day where you honour your own urges and needs.
Do you have enough Sites of Mutual Fulfilment? Would love to hear what yours are.
Can you make any current things you do SMFs? Can you decide to do less organised activities at playcentre, so the parents get more time to chill and talk together? Can you find a good gated park and have a weekly park meet up where the kids run wild and the parents start a choir/ learn how to tap dance/ perform spoken word to each other (or whatever)?
PS – New Youtube up – my absolute favourite, favourite, favourite non toy gifts for kids – including the present we gave Ramona for her sixth birthday this week