Cultivating Fun with Julie MudrickMar 25, 2022
No one does a better job creating a culture of fun than my sister-in-law, Julie Mudrick. And since play/fun is such an amazing antidote to stress, I asked Julie if I could pick her brain about how she has prioritized fun despite all the crazy demands on her time as a mama of FIVE active, busy kiddos. My hope is that we can all take away one or two little pieces of inspiration from Julie's interview and make play more of a priority in our own lives. Heaven knows we all need it!
Play is an important part of overall health and well-being, and more than anyone else I know you prioritize fun and playfulness at your house. Is this something that comes naturally for you or did you make a conscious decision to incorporate fun and playfulness into your family culture?
Growing up in a large family there was always a lot of clean up. We would turn the mundane chores into games—timing each other to see who could drop off the newly folded clothes into the room the fastest, or rocking out to our latest music fixation as we cleaned the kitchen. When my husband and I started our family I knew that I wanted to teach our children the value of hard work and love of learning, but that both are accomplished more easily when you have fun and a good attitude. Sam and I didn’t have an actual conversation about being deliberate in creating that atmosphere, but we are both people who like to laugh and be creative.
Although we both have natural tendencies towards fun, we definitely have to make an effort if things get repetitive or need a boost. The effort is worth it.
What are some of your favorite ways that you incorporate play into your life?
Does it come as a surprise that I love Mary Poppins’ motto, “In every job that must be done there is an element of fun?” When I was pregnant with our fifth child, my other kids were leaving out their toys and it was really difficult for me to bend over and pick them up. I had them all stuff big rubber balls up their shirts and bend down and pick up the toys so I could show them how much harder it was for me with my belly. They still laugh about it. It doesn’t have to be something Pinterest worthy, or take hours of planning to pull off some fun.
I would say some of my secret weapons to having fun are music, costumes and food. My husband and I are both musical, so music plays a big part in our home. For example, after seeing Jimmy Fallon’s Lip Sync Battles we began to have our own family ones. When you see an idea for creating fun, don’t be afraid to copy it. You will eventually find your own groove and what works for your family. This year when my daughter’s prom was cancelled she had to adapt and confront the disappointment. We decided to throw a surprise prom for her. It says a lot about our family atmosphere that our two teenagers embraced the night and danced with their younger siblings.
Another way we create fun is through meals—before COVID-19, we would have friends and family over for fun meals. The key is making normal things memorable. As we have been at home and slowed down our life, I have seen my kids display the gift of fun they have learned. During quarantine, each kid is assigned a night of the week to prepare dinner and my kids have, on their own, decided to throw several themed dinners. One was a Harry Potter dinner complete with letters inviting us, costumes, and homemade butterbeer.
Do you ever feel like it comes as a sacrifice? What is your thought process when choosing spontaneity/playfulness over other responsibilities?
I love having a spotless house, but over the years I have eased that by thinking, “What are my kids going to remember...that there was never a dirty dish in the sink, or that we had fun and enjoyed being together?” I definitely have places in my house that need to be clean or I feel a little crazy, but I have found that the prospect of doing an activity also serves as motivation to get them to help. I’m lucky to have a husband who would rather have fun with the kids than have spotless house.
You can’t beat yourself up as you choose between fun and responsibilities. I still struggle with the battle with clean up versus memories. I have to remember to forgive myself. And I remember that cleanup does have to happen.
How do you feel like prioritizing play has enriched your life?
We can get so caught up in regular life—work, driving kids to activities (pre-quarantine), school, house work, that it can start to wear on you and take all the sparkle out. When we add just a little fun it can give us new life. I also feel like it brings me closer to my kids and Sam. There are different facets of my relationship with them—mom that supports, mom that teaches, mom that disciplines, but also a mom that is fun, a mom that they want to be with. I think it helps everyone’s mental health to experience the high good clean fun can give you, and to have solid relationships in your family.
And oh the memories!! Even just during the past months in quarantine we have created so many moments. While many are bemoaning lost activities in our lives pre-quarantine, we have done some unforgettable things.
You’ve done some pretty amazing things in the name of playfulness - like your bus stop costumes project (@busstopcostumes on Instagram). What are some less involved/time consuming suggestions you have for people wanting to incorporate more playfulness in their lives, but who are may be intimidated by something on such a large scale.
As I mentioned before, it doesn’t have to be a huge production to add a little fun. Put on some music while you do dinner cleanup. When your family sees you unwind, it helps them relax and not take life so seriously. Create fun family meals by making them unusual—my twelve year old made Feetloaf for April Fool’s Day. It is exactly what it sounds like, and we all laughed so hard as she brought the foot-shaped meat to the table with the ketchup blood and onion toenails and ankle bones (did that make you gag a little?).
Break routine. Having consistency is important, but don’t be afraid to break routine and incorporate fun or novelty to spice up the mundane.
Create new traditions. Just finished the first day of school? Surprise them with a water ballon fight when they arrive home, with popsicles as a reward for cleaning up the pieces. Repeat that on the last day of school, and add a banner for them to run through for that accomplishment.
Move together as a family. My five kids range in age from a 17 year old daughter to a 7 year old son, but we have still found ways to have fun working out together. We've done Tik Tok dance workouts and Mario Kart inspired workouts on YouTube. We have created our own H.I.I.T workouts and rotated around our kitchen to fit all seven of us. We've laughed together while attempting to do a High Fitness workout or while struggling to do burpees.
Be flexible. Your child wants you to play Just Dance, but you are exhausted and just want to mindlessly scroll through news articles on your phone. Get up and dance! They will remember that time you crushed them in Just Dance, not that you were reading your thousandth COVID article. Find out their interests and join them. Of course you don’t succumb to their every wish, but try saying, “Yes” more.
Thank you so, so much Julie! I especially love this quote, "We can get so caught up in regular life—work, driving kids to activities (pre-quarantine), school, house work, that it can start to wear on you and take all the sparkle out. When we add just a little fun it can give us new life." Yes!
Now go out there and cultivate some FUN today!
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