I remember a few years ago when my oldest two started floating the idea of “Yes Days”. Many of their friends had seen the movie, and a few even had received the coveted “Yes Day” from their parents. The other night my son was begging for a mid-week movie night. We didn’t have our usual chaos of weeknight activities (someone was sick, again!), so in my effort to say “yes” more, I said we could watch a movie. I came in a few minutes later to find Yes Day queued up on the screen. As I watched, I couldn’t help but think of the sad reality of motherhood reflected in the movie Yes Day.
The first few minutes unfold as the mom, played by Jennifer Garner (whom I adore!), goes from this adventurous, spontaneous young woman to a predictable, serious, bland, always saying “no” parent. Within the first few scenes, we see her helping everyone prepare for their day as they dismiss everything she says. Then we watch her husband throw her under the bus regarding a parenting choice. Lastly, she is told she’s too overqualified for a job, which while true, misses the point that she’s aching for someone to value her time and talents. That evening at the parent night at school, two teachers bombard her and her husband with their concerns about how she parents. They suggest that she is solely responsible for her kids’ current grades and weaknesses. This, of course, leads to another teacher telling them about the miraculous “Yes Day” that will cure all her parenting failures.
The rest of the movie portrays the miraculous “Yes Day”, and the viewer finds the kids are enthralled with this “new” mom they have never noticed before. Why? Because this mom is FUN. She lets her car get ruined by going through the car wash with her windows down. She is an all-star on the field, blowing out the competition with previously unseen physical prowess. They can’t believe this amazing person is the same mom they’ve always had. All of the sudden, this mom has value, and all she had to do was do the impossible to prove that she was worthy of her family’s love and admiration. Simple, right? While there are a few more twists and turns than this movie rendition paints, I cannot get past the sad reality of motherhood reflected that we as moms must go to the extreme for our family to value us.
The belief that moms should have to prove that they are deserving of their value is utterly ridiculous. Think about all the philosophies of parenting prevalent today that tells us that our children should know we love and value them because they are our children, plain and simple (a philosophy I agree with). Why, then, is it that the same isn’t true in reverse? I’ve been a working mom and a SAHM, and the one thing I have found to be true is that my workload as a mother doesn’t adjust to external factors. Years of data and research show I’m not alone.
A New York Times report stated that 66% of mothers (with partners) said they are chiefly responsible for childcare (only 24% of fathers said the same). According to Pew Research, 60% of working moms find it difficult to balance work and motherhood. The same survey also found that over 60% of moms say the responsibility of scheduling and managing activities and children’s illnesses falls on them. The 2020 pandemic tore open and exposed the falsehood that American mothers are supported and valued.
While we can’t deny that motherhood is in a crisis, true change needs to come from policy that supports mothers in real and transformational ways. Policies like paid leave, affordable childcare, and so much more are needed. Simply put, moms find it hard to be fun and lighthearted when so much demand their attention and time without the support that would make these demands manageable. While I am hopeful that by working together, we can create change, this won’t happen overnight.
Here are three things that I have been incorporating into my life to help make more room for fun in our home.
- Saying “yes” when the cost to me is low. I follow Busy Toddler on Instagram and appreciated this tidbit on her page a few months ago. Kids have a lot of their lives dictated to them, and author and parenting expert Amy McCready says choosing times to say “yes” means giving kids age-appropriate control over their lives. I’ve noticed that saying “yes” when the cost is low to me helps my kids feel the sense of control they need and crave while also reinforcing I am not always saying “no”.
- Recognizing that motherhood should not be martyrdom. Society has told us that in order to be a successful parent, we need to embrace intensive mothering, which is “child-centered, expert-guided, emotionally absorbing, labor-intensive and financially expensive”. This leaves up to 93% of moms constantly feeling burnt-out, insufficient, and often bitter about the toll of motherhood. This article in the New York Times offers some good tips on how to retrain your thinking of motherhood. I would also encourage you to follow Dr. Becky on Instagram and give her podcast a listen. The more I retrain myself to realize I don’t have to do it all, the more I can recognize what I can and should be doing, leaving more room for other things, including fun.
- Saying “no” to some things so that I can say “yes” to what matters. When I was growing up, I was taught that it was important to say “yes” to someone else, even if that was inconvenient for me. Too often, this would leave me frazzled because I was overcommitted. In the last year, I have really tried to be better about saying “no” to others (including my kids) in order to be able to prioritize what is actually important to say “yes” to. I have found myself really evaluating whether I need to commit to something. I have found that being more protective of my time has provided me a bit more space for what I want to prioritize.
I felt the whole gamut of emotions as we watched Yes Day. On the screen, I saw so many of my struggles as a mom reflected in cinematic accuracy. There’s no magic solution to the strain of being a mom. Society and policy have a long way to go to help support moms. In the meantime, though, I’ve found that altering my framework of motherhood has helped me to be a more content and less frazzled mom and is helping me change the sad reality of motherhood reflected in the movie Yes Day.