How I stopped nagging my kids (and committed to fun)

"Jeez, Mum! You don’t have to yell!”

“Really? ’Cause it seems like I do. Just once, I’d like to see you people hang up your backpacks without me having to THROW A TEMPER TANTRUM!”

Sometimes, I come a tiny bit unraveled.

Sometimes, the responsibilities that come with the charming children and the stressy job and just existing on the planet, really, become too much. The drudgey form my life has taken sends me into something of a spin.

A few years ago was my nadir. I scarcely recognised the pinched, exhausted woman staring hollowly back at me above the bathroom sink.

I moved through each day beseeching everyone I encountered to understand that I was not, actually, the careworn hag before them: I am so damn fun on the inside, I mentally assured coworkers, PTA parents, the checkout guy at Safeway. You people have no idea.

When you find yourself explaining, even internally, that the person you’re being is not the person you are, it’s possible that something is amiss.

As I hit drudge bottom, I knew I wanted to be more fun, to have more fun. But the thought of adding fun activities to my schedule got me exhausted all over again. I needed more outward manifestations of my inner fun person, but where would I find the time?

I stewed for a while.

At last, I announced my solution in the minivan. “I have critical information for you people,” I said, as we headed out for a Saturday of epic birthday-shopping, practice-attending, errand-running proportion. “I’ve made a commitment, and I want to say it out loud so that you can hold me to it.”


My pause here was perhaps overly dramatic. “I am committed to fun.”

While Eldest and Youngest processed this information, Middlest piped up from the way back. “So, like, you’re only going to do fun stuff?” He pitched another M&M in the air and tried to catch it in his mouth. For Middlest, manifesting his inner fun person had never been much of an issue. “What about going to work, and driving us places?”

“Exactly,” I said. “I can’t drop the things I do already, so this won’t be easy. That’s why I have to be committed.”

My family seemed game. Also, a little disbelieving and not so interested. No matter. The drudgery was my problem. I’d take it from here.

Eleanor Roosevelt, righteous badass and mother of six, was being her supergenius self when she said “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” And you know what? Ditto drudge. I’d let myself get all drudgey, and I could revoke my pass. I was committed to finding fun all over the place. Given my dearth of disposable time, the first step would be to fun-ify necessary tasks.

I like a challenge, so for my starter funification I took on the piece of my world that made me the craziest: nagging. I knew I couldn’t eliminate it; our whole house would implode. But could nagging be hauled out of the drudge zone? Could I make nagging… fun?

I poked around in my brain, and realized that I had let a lot of things that brought me joy fall to the wayside. That way lies drudgehood, I was convinced. So: What used to please me that I’d let slip away?


Travel, poetry, loud music in a car with no roof. Flowers everywhere, staying out late. Hmm.

When I began composing in the genre we would christen Hassle Poetry, my primary medium was haiku. I found it freeing that my commitment was to fun, not literary excellence.

I taped my first effort to our 12-year-old’s bedroom door:

My darling daughter,
Teeth cannot straighten themselves.
Call Doc Shapiro.

Sometimes I would add a little vocab lesson, just because I could:

Bifurcation means
Something one, now split in two
Where’s the other sock?
(Lovelies, please: Put all your laundry in the hamper)

I taped my poems to math books and wrote them in toothpaste on the bathroom mirror. They were certainly no less effective than standard nagging, sometimes more so, and the whole operation made me grin.

Kids come into our lives and move into the center, which is exactly where I wanted mine. But there’s lots of room in there. I’d just forgotten is all. Hassle poetry was my first foray into joyfully, goofily, tucking other things I love back in the center of my mothering. As time went on, my offerings would get bigger.

Margot Page lives with her family in Seattle, where she also writes and works full time. She’s nearly finished with her memoir of the year she hauled her family to Costa Rica–Paradise Imperfect: A Mother, A Family, and A Year Out of Time. Read more of Margot’s work at

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