At the baby stage parenting sometimes seems like an endless round of dirty nappies, sleepless nights and not much else. Later on, tantruming toddlers can’t be left alone for a second. Even when your children are older, you worry about their progress at school and their fall outs with friends. If none of this sounds like a barrel of laughs don’t despair, because parenting is also about having fun as a family – and lots of it. Here’s how busy mums and dads can free their silly sides.
Don’t sweat it
One way to ensure you won’t be a fun parent is to worry about not being a fun parent. It’s impossible to be playful all the time, so don’t beat yourself up when work or chores take priority. “Having fun with your children doesn’t mean you have to spend all day doing activities – in the real world we all have household jobs and work to do and that’s fine and nothing to feel guilty about,” says Liat Hughes Joshi, author of New Old-Fashioned Parenting. “This is about the quality of time you spend with your children not just the quantity.”
Set time aside
With that in mind, set time aside for family fun. It doesn’t have to be long, but it should be exclusive. An hour can be plenty as long as it isn’t interrupted by phone calls or washing-up. This should be time purely set aside for play. “Sometimes an hour of undivided attention is worth more – and appreciated more by your children – than three hours when you’re not quite with them and are checking your emails intermittently or thinking about something else,” says Liat.
Get on their level
Young children love to see grown-ups get down to their level. Literally. So if they’re playing on the floor, get down on the floor. If they’re throwing themselves around on the bed, get bouncing! Whatever the activity, the important thing is to join in, rather than standing on the side lines like a supervisor. “It’s your full attention and engagement alongside your children which makes the difference - being in goal for the kick about football, putting your all into a game of Snakes And Ladders or making playdough animals,” says parenting expert Dr Claire Halsey, author of Baby Play For Everyday and Ask A Parenting Expert.
Get on the level of your children mentally too. That means keeping it simple and making it silly (at least some of the time). Dance, sing, snuggle up with a DVD, play hide and seek, make potato prints… the options are endless but the main thing is to leave inhibitions behind. “Children’s definition of fun, and our own as parents, may differ but if underneath it all there is a sense of playfulness and a willingness to get involved, join in and not be embarrassed about it, you’re bound to be a fun parent,” says Dr Halsey.
Think of yourself
Of course, fun parenting is not always easy. Wrestling with a three-year-old might be the last thing you want to do after a day at work or a sleep-deprived night. But you’ll find it far easier to be a fun parent if you regularly take time for yourself, says Dr Halsey. “Remember to recharge your batteries too. Make sure you take time out for yourself such as catching up with friends, keeping a sport or hobby going and having one-to-one time with your partner. These will boost your well-being and mean you’ll be refreshed to parent with patience and playfulness.”
Keep it cool
You’d be pretty hard-pushed to embarrass a six-year-old, but that is categorically not the case for his 12-year-old sister. In other words, older children still want you to play with them, but perhaps more privately or sensitively. “Know where to draw the line with older children – sometimes you can try too hard to be the ‘fun parent’ with pre-teens and teens and it backfires,” says Liat.
“Just look out for cues that you’re actually embarrassing them and be particularly careful and aware that in front of their friends even something you and they normally find funny, might be seen as ‘uncool’.”