Lately, I have noticed a preoccupation with assuring that virtually every aspect of our daily lives be “fun.” The underlying message suggests that if an experience does not promise to be “fun”, then it isn’t worthwhile. And if we are not experiencing the “fun” we “deserve”, we are being deprived. The sentiment seems pervasive, including everything from grocery shopping to business meetings.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not opposed to having fun. In fact, I have been fortunate to experience fun in virtually every aspect of my life. However, I am not sure it was because having fun was necessarily the goal. Oftentimes “fun” was an unexpected, delightful happenstance or a welcome by-product experienced while pursuing the actual goal – performing the task at hand to the best of my abilities.
I am reminded of the song, A Spoonful of Sugar, from the movie, Mary Poppins. You might recall that the children refused to clean their room because it wasn’t any “fun”. Mary Poppins showed them how to “find the fun” in their work. Granted there was ‘magic’ involved, but the message was still clear. The fun is in a job well done.
Growing up, I recall expecting to have “fun” at a party, on a picnic, or a vacation. Fun was usually associated with out of the ordinary occasions. Now I hear people complaining because they aren’t having enough “fun” in school, college, work, marriage, and parenting. I don’t ever remember my parents telling me, “It’s time to go to school. It’s going to be fun.” My high school counselor never suggested that I attend college because, “It will be fun.” When I entered the work force, my employers did not promise me, “Oh, this job is going to be fun!” My husband and I did not decide to get married because we thought it would be “fun.”
I was particularly struck by a recent magazine headline asking, “Is Parenting Fun?” When Jerry and I were discussing having our first child, the question of whether or not it would be “fun” never came up. Perhaps “fun” is not even the correct word. Somehow it seems to minimize or trivialize a commitment as profound as parenting. The uniquely complex, comprehensive, dynamic nature of the parent-child relationship is unparalleled. It is the foundation for every other relationship a child establishes. Everything a child comes to believe about him or herself, about the world, about how to relate to others, originates in the parent-child relationship.
In short, parenting is an awesome responsibility. So awesome, in fact, that you can’t not do it. You can choose whether or not to become a parent. But if you choose to have a child, or become responsible for one, you cannot choose whether or not to parent. Because even your absence is experienced by the child as parenting. It’s kind of like the weather. There is always weather. There may or may not be precipitation, but there is always weather, whether or not we are aware of it. And like parenting, the effects of the weather may be immediately observable or they may take years to become evident.
I guess in the question, “Is parenting fun?”, the use of the word “fun” confuses an outcome with a goal, in my mind. Fun is situational and fleeting, whereas parenting is pervasive and eternal. While having fun may be a reasonable expectation when attending a party, I am not sure it is equally reasonable to expect to experience a consistent state of “fun” while parenting. Perhaps a more appropriate question is, “As a parent, can you have fun with your kids?” To that, I would answer a resounding YES!