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A bossy mom and a fun dad

“Dad is the one who plays with us, and Mom is the one who bosses us.”

Yeah. Those words came out of my 4-year-old daughter’s mouth recently. After I twisted the knife out of my heart, I asked her if bossing her around is the only thing I do for her. She thought for a moment and replied, “You also put away our clothes!”

Well, great. Pin a rose on my nose. I am the lady who puts away clothes while bossing everyone around. I have successfully won motherhood.

Later that night, I asked my husband what I am doing wrong. He assured me that life from a 4-year-old's perspective is very skewed, and that I can’t take my self-esteem as a mom from her judgments. After all, this is a person who thinks she can legitimately become a unicorn one day. Well, a unicorn and a Candy Princess on the side.

Still, the words stung. I definitely don’t think every mom needs to be best friends with her children because parenting entails a lot more than that. But I don’t want to be the nag who isn’t any fun.

So I’ve been watching my husband lately to see how I can inch my way into the “plays with us” category and out of the “bosses us” realm.

Here’s what I’ve discovered:

First, what my kids see as play and what I see as play are totally different. I plan activities and outings and fun adventures together. We go apple picking, to bounce houses and swinging at parks. This is all fun and makes for good memories, but it is not the “play” my daughter is talking about.

Play to her is when my husband sets up soccer goals in the family room and we all kick around a soccer ball. Play is when he finds a cardboard box and turns it into a spaceship, or makes a tent out of a blanket and chairs. To my daughter, play is unplanned and has no rules. It is just being together with no other purpose than to have fun.

Second, what I see as helpful reminders and life lessons, my kids see as bossing. I tell my children to remember their lunchboxes, put on their shoes and clean up their rooms. My husband, on the other hand, never nags. Instead, he asks them questions like “Have you finished your chores?” before he will read them books at night. Or he will ask the simple, “Do you have everything you need for today?” before they head out the door. He’s not bossing them, but guiding them. They feel empowered and they love him for helping them, whereas they resent my nagging.

Genius! It’s so simple and so elegant — and so hard.

My brain is wired differently and I was raised differently than my husband, so both of these aspects of parenting are difficult for me. Spontaneous play doesn’t come as naturally to me, and it is so much easier to tell my children what they need to know than to ask them.

But, I am trying. I remind myself now to ask questions rather than boss my children. And I have even left several Saturdays unscheduled so we can “play” the way my children want. Yes, I understand planning a day of unplanned play is a little oxymoronic, but it’s all about baby steps, people. My husband is helping out, too, by taking on a few more of the not-so-fun responsibilities like bedtime routines and homework.

To be honest, my daughter’s classifications of “fun” dad and “bossy” mom hurt at first, but I’ve realized that we can’t both be everything. We can, however, balance each other and learn from one another.

I’m sure I will always be more of the “bossy one” and my husband will be the “one who plays,” but that just means together we make one amazing parenting team.

I’d say that makes our kids pretty lucky.

Erin Stewart is a regular blogger for Deseret News. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, she discusses it all while her 7-year-old and 4-year-old daughters dive-bomb off the couch behind her.