What are Sites of Mutual Fulfilment? Something parents need more of, that’s what.

17 November, 2016

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.

Why sites of mutual fulfilment are so important for parents

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

Why sites of mutual fufilment are so important for parents

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  • Lisa 17 November, 2016 at 8:35 pm

    Love your work, thanks for sharing! Having just moved into a small space as a family, I am all about mamahood putting business socks on. Fabulous.

  • Lucy 17 November, 2016 at 8:40 pm

    I was, and still am (though recognise it now) lacking this in my life. We live in a small town where I struggle to connect with people, and this contributed greatly to my PND. All of the toddler groups were stressful and just felt like part of the job, while other mums were collecting together and laughing away.

    It’s only really improved in the last 6 months (my son is 4, my daughter is 1), now my daughter is older and I’ve found some amazing parks, some better friends, and become part of the home ed community, even though we’re not sure that’s the road we want to go down yet.

  • Sarah 17 November, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    I really think SMFs can be severely limited by the temperament of your child/children, the age and also number of children. My kid situation is a spirited 4 year old and active 2 year old twins. Although the situation is improving slightly there are almost no SMFs for us that are not weather dependent, and dependent on how much energy I have to organise us all to get out the door with everything we need to actually enjoy ourselves. There is basically no way I can take my attention off my children for longer than a few minutes without needing to dive back in to manage their behaviour (the twins are at a very bashy stage) and/or safety (one actively seek routes to run onto nearby roads). My partner manages to take them out quite successfully himself on outdoor adventures but apart from the weather they do rely on the fact he can still carry both girls if need by, while I can’t, and his SMFs are a bit different to mine anyway. After reading likerealife’s post I managed to identify just what is so soul destroying for me, and it is that inability to concentrate on something else like reading or even cooking or hanging up washing at home without my potential “flow” or “mindfulness” being smashed every few minutes. It’s often easier just not to try to enter a flow state and the idea of being mindful just makes me mad in my situation! And we are privileged to have no financial stress and three day weekends and I still find it disappointingly, grindingly, joylessly hard. Meeting up with friends with kids of similar ages is hard because mine become more manic the more my attention is split. I guess it will pass in time and I can see how useful it will be to articulate this need by thinking and talking about “SMFs” but it is such a frustration for me right now.

    • Natalie 18 November, 2016 at 9:22 am

      Can definitely relate here with a 7mo, 2.5yo, 4.5yo and just 6yo… !

  • Nicola Hulks 17 November, 2016 at 10:21 pm

    This is great Lucy! As a new mama I find that people are surprised that I am still sewing, baking and generally making time to enjoy myself but I NEED it! There is definitely a pressure to spend all your time on the baby or you are less of a Mum somehow. In a weird way I think being a minister in church really helped prepare me for this because there is the same pressure to give everything to the congregation but it just doesn’t work if you aren’t filling up your own cup. How I’m going to do ministry and be Mum is going to be the next challenge tho!!

  • Christie Edwards 17 November, 2016 at 11:08 pm

    Fucking brilliant

  • Natalie 18 November, 2016 at 9:25 am

    Great post, I’m trying to do this more lately with more understanding with my 6yo,4.5, 2.5 and 7mo…. I find it hard sometimes though meeting all age differences, personalities and my needs too. I’ve never been good at the last part so I end up burnt out! in glad to have read this post though as it’s something I’ve been trying lately. Hopefully I’ll find balance! I would love to be able to live more freely, unschool, just less attached to the craziness of mainstream living. It it’s not an option for us right now… sadly. Love your posts!

  • ThaliaKR 18 November, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    You are so very wise, Lucy!

  • Rachel @Messy Stork 20 November, 2016 at 10:57 pm

    I love this. Soft play with one mum friend in particular and coffee at another mums very chilled home are definitely SMFs for us. But how to build a SMF into a day where I’ve worked and my daughters been
    at after school until 5pm and we’re both tired and hungry is currently a conundrum. Loving your idea to make this SMF a thing, its going to stick in my head as something to strive for.

  • Sarah Rooftops 21 November, 2016 at 3:43 am

    I love this and totally agree with the principle – it’s something I’ve achieved now (more or less) as my daughter’s grown old enough to actually PLAY and I’ve found a few parent friends who share my sense of humour; these days, it’s rare for my daughter and I to go to groups and we’ve ditched all the scheduled activities (I’m procrastinating writing a blog post about that right now, actually). When my daughter was a baby it was different, though, not just because I hadn’t wised up to the fact that I didn’t NEED to stimulate her all the time, but because I didn’t know how or where to make like minded parent friends – I was still waiting to stumble across them in the park. I still don’t know how to speed that process along – I’m not sure it’s something which any of the “be less lonely” mum apps covers; I don’t think you get to filter with statements like “Sharing is GOOD/BAD: tick the box”. If I’m wrong, please somebody tell me!

  • 5 Day Plan to Deepen Connection With Kids | Happiness is here 7 May, 2017 at 10:43 pm

    […] time doing things you all love together, often. Spend time in places everyone enjoys. I love this post about the importance of finding ‘sites of mutual fulfillment’. Definitely worth a […]

  • Sunshine 9 August, 2017 at 5:02 am

    My 4 year old needs 1:1 attention most of the time because he has Down syndrome, which involves a developmental delay, requiring more vigilance on a fragile and clumsy physiology, and more emotional dependence. So by default my SMF’s have been and are engaging activities for both of us rather than separate ones.

    – Swimming!!! ( I feel free to move my body every which way while he does the same. Best excercise for a physically dependant relationship).

    – Playing with instruments. I play guitar while he strums the ukulele. I play and sing my own songs or my fAves. He learns the words and eventually belts them out with me. Conveniently this helps with his speech development.

    – I love crafting or drawing and making personalized cards. But he doesn’t have the attention span for a start to finish. So I always have a project on the go for both of us to pick up, even if only for 3 minutes. It’s something. We finish when we finish. Whomever has the birthday near the cards completion date gets it in the mail.

    – Unpopular off leash dog parks. Where my dog and son and I can all be equally free in nature.

    – Napping. Although rare, I celebrate the treat.

    -Reading novels like The little Prince, The never ending story, charlottes web in Spanish. I improve my literal skills in Spanish. He learns the proper grammar of another language by default. This may not seem as entertaining in theory, but in practice most children love just listening to the flow ( rhythm) of a good story, with or without cognitive understanding. It creates the same connection as a lullaby or song. Listening to the hummm of their mama.

    – Dancing!

    – Hula hooping. We each have our own. We experiment within our own levels. We try and not smack each other.

    – Spying on or watching wild animals do their thing. My fav is lying on our backs near sunset under the evening feeding frenzy of swallows.

    • Lucy 21 August, 2017 at 6:50 am

      Oh, so awesome to have this! Thank you so much, yours is a wonderful, insightful list 😀

  • Genessa 5 December, 2017 at 11:58 am

    Wow, I need this so bad but I’m not even sure where to start. Another post with more ideas to help the hopeless would be awesome!