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‘Mama, why don’t you laugh?’: The Emotional Labour of Motherhood

emotional labour motherhood
Family LifePost Category - Family LifeFamily Life
ParentingPost Category - ParentingParenting

When was the last time you had a really good, side-splitting laugh? It took this mama’s observant 4-year-old to realise how much she was holding in…

Mama, why don’t you laugh? I never see you laugh,” asked my 4-year-old daughter, Maryam, to me, her face reflecting seriousness and concern. Getting a tad defensive, I told her that I do laugh. But instead of letting the matter rest, she bluntly told me that I do not laugh — instead, I sort of say “ha” (a response she mimicked perfectly in proving her point), and that is not a “real laugh.”

maryam laughter emotional labour

Taking it a step further, she started making funny faces in an attempt to make me laugh, and it was at this point that I realised, Damn, my kid is right — I forgot how to laugh. I attempted a fake laugh, which she, of course, point blank called me out on. I forgot that I was dealing with my Little Miss Sassy. “I don’t like it that you don’t laugh Mama,” she said, all innocently. Not being able to process the rawness of her thoughts at that point, I opted for an easy way out – distraction – by offering her a snack of her choice.

However, that one question she asked made me really uneasy. When the kids were in bed, I started thinking about the last time I had laughed, like really laughed — and I simply could not recall. I thought about the last comedy show I watched on Netflix, and I realised that it didn’t elicit a “real laugh.” Yes, I probably snorted and grunted a “ha!” or smiled when I thought something was funny, but I didn’t laugh. Definitely not the way my husband laughs when he watches something funny, nor the way my daughter laughs when something amuses her. Then I started thinking, When was the last time I laughed with my kids? Blank. How about with my husband? Ah ha! I did remember a moment. Damn, it was several years ago!

Where did the laughter in my life go? I used to laugh a lot with my friends, things used to amuse me and triggered laughs that could bring tears to my eyes. But what happened? It was then that I realised that life happened, but what went wrong was that I had started to neglect the lighter parts of life and focused more on the parts that made me tense. I think that this is something that lots of mums tend to do, unintentionally.

Syahirah Anwar with her daughters

As a wife and a stay-at-home mum, I had become overwhelmed with all my different responsibilities and I allowed them to take their toll on me — emotional labour, perhaps. My life revolved around my family’s routine, tantrums, chores, trying to keep my kids entertained, and so on. I am constantly stressing about something or another, to the point that I stopped laughing. I forgot to take a breather and laugh when my daughter pretended she was a “funny circus clown,” or when she created her own funny stories (which she now points out to me was to make me laugh), or when my husband shared a video or meme that would have previously made me laugh, or when I watch a comedy and it was truly funny. It dawned on me that most of the time, I just wanted my kids to be quiet and behave themselves (yeah, wishful and pretty ridiculous thinking – I know!), that everything else around me became white noise instead of moments of joy and laughter.

I completely dropped the ball in realising that the emotions I didn’t show were being picked up by those around me, especially by the impressionable little ones. I often thought that as long as my children didn’t see me sad or angry, it would be all good. However, the emotions we show and express are part of life, and by showing our kids how to deal with these emotions – joy, happiness, sadness, anger – we are raising children who are better equipped to handle what life throws at them as they grow up.

So now, I make it a point to laugh, and I have also started showing my children a range of emotions, including how to manage them in a healthy manner. It is amazing what a child can teach a parent, especially when you look at these moments in life through their unfiltered eyes!

Read more: The Importance of Acknowledging Feelings (Both Our Kids’ & Our Own!)

Lead image sourced via Getty

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