No More Bad Guy

By Stephanie

So, this is Christmas. Christmas break, that is.

It’s negative 5 degrees outside right now and I’m not going anywhere. Me and four kids stuck in the house for the next two weeks.


I have been really working on my patience and saying YES more to fun things that they want to do. But I’ve drawn a blank. I need tips for fun and creative things to do with them that doesn’t make a lot of mess. Or if it makes a mess, one that’s easy to clean up.

I’m tired of being the bad guy. I go to bed at night and sigh into my pillow often feeling defeated and like I am just the world’s most un-fun Mom ever.

So the past few days I’ve said no more mean Mom. We’re having fun. And I go to bed feeling like tomorrow is SO much more do-able.

Help me shed that bad guy. I need tips. Fun things to do. Share here in the comments-even include links to your own posts if you’ve got a remedy for me!

Stephanie Precourt is the managing editor of 5 Minutes For Parenting and also blogs at Adventures In Babywearing.

31 Responses to No More Bad Guy
  1. Suzanne
    December 21, 2008 | 11:43 am

    don’t have any real answers for you but I would love some also. I just want you to know that you are not alone. I love my kids but also that they get to go to daycare and do all of those messy things there. when I am home with them it is a struggle to not be the mom that always says NO. As a single mom, though, I just can’t / don’t have the time to wokr, clean and play with them. trying to save our time together for play and yet, they are too young to help clean up!

  2. nicole
    December 21, 2008 | 12:30 pm

    I am the mean mom too. I really hate messes and it is really hard for me to overcome my desire to just not make the mess. But the kids have so much fun. I will think about what I would do and see if I come up with anything. But I’m afraid I won’t be much help. I can relate to how you feel though.

  3. Sara
    December 21, 2008 | 1:03 pm

    Stephanie, I feel ya! My littlest one is just a few weeks younger than yours, so the Chicago -30 windchill is a dealbreaker or leaving the house! Plus, just finding things to do for the kids while I am nursing the baby is a challenge! Here are some things we have come up with… coloring, playing with playdoh, baking, setting the boys loose with scissors, paper, and a glue stick, making cards, etc. I understand the urge to cringe at the messes – I definitely do that! However, I have really tried to make the boys more responsible for their messes. When they get little pieces of paper all over the floor, I ask them what they are going to do about it, and then I help them pick them up and vacuum the floor – who would have thought that they would fight over the vacuum?! For other ideas, we have been singing songs, dancing, puzzles, reading books on the couch… The boys also came up with this flashlight game today where they run all over the house and “tag” different things I yell out with their flashlights. (My kids are three, by the way.) We also have been baking cookies together.

    Anyone out there have any other ideas? I am always open to more ways to be the fun mom (especially when those ideas don’t involve the tv)!

  4. Hannah
    December 21, 2008 | 2:53 pm

    How about turning on some music and dancing? It’s a good way to burn off some energy. My kids are little, but they’ve been able to play charades. And putting on performances can be fun too.

  5. Sheri
    December 21, 2008 | 3:03 pm

    We have been stuck at home this past month since the birth of my youngest. It has been a trial for every shred of patience I have in me.

    Somethings that have helped lately:
    -Building forts/clubhouses with them
    -Making Christmas cards for their friends
    -Scissors, glue, and sticker art
    -Make-up your own story time
    -Free printable worksheets
    -Beauty parlor (I have all girls)
    -The Clean House Game *wink, wink*
    -Random goofy contests (ex. funny face, jumping, etc.)
    -Cooking/baking together

  6. casual friday everyday
    December 21, 2008 | 3:45 pm

    I know how you feel. Nick has been home from school for two weeks prior to his break, which started Friday. Due to sickness and the weather. And it’s below zero here also so we can’t go outside. I like Winter for about two seconds and then I get that cabin fever thing. Like a caged animal climbing the walls!


  7. Cassie
    December 21, 2008 | 3:55 pm

    Bake cookies, construction paper chaing (for the christmas tree) Make christmas cards (with painted hand prints is always fun), cover table with wax paper and fill the table with shaving cream (not on carpet floor), turn up some ultra silly music and dance the day away, make your own playdoh!, bundle them up and pull them around on a sled ( i know you have plenty of snow!!), Anything messy I think keep boys entertained! I hope I gave you a couple of ideas that you haven’t tried! Good luck!!! and Merry Christmas

  8. Christine Steendahl
    December 21, 2008 | 4:43 pm

    I so could have written that post! I also have 3 boys – 8, 6, 4 and a 2 1/2 month old baby girl, so we are in similar circumstances. It is also -4 degrees here with a wind chill and we’re not going out (as much as they want to…) We just got done playing a game of Yahtzee and now they are building with lego’s, but it is going to be a long next two weeks!

  9. Reiza
    December 21, 2008 | 4:59 pm

    I’m with you. I’m trying desperately to say, “Yes,” more often and to be more spontaneous. A while back, Hathor (the Cow Goddess) had a cartoon (of course I can’t find it now or I’d post a link). It was a mom with a piece of string tied in a knot around her finger and the title was something like, “The Why Knot.” It was there to remind yourself to stop and consider saying, “Yes,” every time you wanted to say, “No,” to the kids. I’m trying to keep that in mind.

    I want to remember to get on the floor and play more often. I noticed that I’m doing something else, I’m much more likely to say, “No,” to something rather than if I’m in the thick of it with them. It’s not easy this time of year, though, when there’s so much to get done.

  10. Naomi
    December 21, 2008 | 5:35 pm

    Today I managed to upset Roo by asking her to wear a dress to brunch for her great-grandmother’s 80th birthday. Mind you, I didn’t actually FORCE her to wear a dress. She ended up wearing some stripey knit pants and a long sleeved tee that made her look like she was wearing jammies. But she still sulked for a good hour before deigning to eat something and smile.

    Obviously, I am the mean mom, too.

  11. Melissa
    December 21, 2008 | 5:39 pm

    I homeschool my four, so I feel like the boring mom all year long, not just at winter break! 🙂

    I love all the suggestions here! Everybody’s so creative.

    Right now my kids are into anything related to Christmas, especially decorations. They’ve cut zillions of paper snowflakes and taped them all over the windows and sliding glass doors. (Tons of mess in the form of cut paper scraps, but pretty easily swept or dustbustered away.)

    They’ve spent lots of time lately writing (or drawing) Christmas letters to send to relatives and friends. Um, what else… at Christmas we choose one Heifer animal to give, so they’ve spent time poring over the catalog together and drawing pictures of animals they’d like to give. I haven’t let them cut up the catalogs for collages yet, but that may come next!

    The old standbys are always good– markers, crayons, playdoh, etc… Stamps have been hugely popular around here lately, especially Christmas-themed stamps. I give them a plate with a wet paper towel on it to clean their stamps as they go, so there’s not much mess at the end with that.

    Making playdoh (especially with holiday spices mixed in– vanilla and cinnamon and allspice, maybe) or cookies or muffins or whole wheat bread are about equally exciting around here, but I think it’s kind of hard to bake with a baby in arms.

    Have you guys made wool felt from roving before? That’s a fun craft, because it uses soapy water. Sometimes we do it in the kitchen sink, sometimes in the bathtub. Easy and exciting. (There’s a how-to on the martha stewart website if you need one, but basically you shape the wool into a ball or a snake or a candy cane or other simple shape, then get it wet and soapy, then rub it until it turns into felt. I buy my supplies from Weir Dolls dot com.)

    And it’s a good time of year to roll candles– you just need wicks and beeswax sheets. It’s a really really quick craft, though– won’t keep them busy forever. But it’s so fun to light homemade candles, and they can make good gifts too.

    Bookmaking is another good one– just fold computer paper in half, or cut it in half and fold those pieces in half, attach the sheets with stapler or with a needle and thread, and voila! Books to write and color. No mess at all, really.

    Filling the whole day can be overwhelming for me! I know if I start the day giving the kids my complete attention for even ten minutes (either playing on the floor, or doing circle time with morning prayers and songs), the whole day goes a little bit smoother. Doesn’t mean I manage it every day, but I try. 🙂

    And after lunch is quiet time, of course– each kid has a basket of books and activities and a quiet place, so I can tidy up or gear up for the next activity (or just read blogs and drink a cup of tea). It helps!

    Have a wonderful holiday. Enjoy your together-time!

  12. Jody
    December 21, 2008 | 6:10 pm


    I have not read through the other comments, but I had two things come to mind that I have done before. They made sound weird, but they worked and I didn’t have to go out in the cold to find any supplies.

    This will sound crazy, but from our cold days living near you and farther north than you, it keeps them busy for a long time. One day I was cleaning the baseboards in my house with an old toothbrush (please don’t let this make you think I have a really clean house, I don’t). The kids saw me doing it and wanted to help. I gave everyone a toothbrush and gave the kids a bucket with just water (mabye 2-3 cups) and let them have at it. I can’t tell you how many times they have asked to do that. You could also use clean paintbrushes. I also give them a couple beach towels to sop up any water that hits the floors.

    One year they wanted to play in the snow, but it was way to cold to go out. While they were playing elsewhere, I brought snow in from outside and filled the bathtub with it. They were very surprised and it took a long time for the snow to melt. They leaned over the side of the tub and wore their gloves. I threw in buckets, shovels and cars.

  13. Rachel
    December 21, 2008 | 6:45 pm

    Well I don’t know about how well boys do with this sort of thing, but I know that Ali and her friends LOVE CRAFTS!! I have just discovered this, and am loving it. We have Michael’s Arts and Crafts down here, and they have the best foam shapes that stick on to make things. They also have dozens of other crafts. It’s much fun, and not too messy!!

    I’m not the most creative person in the world, so I’m trying to think of other stuff, but so far drawing a blank. I’ll keep thinking, though! I’m right with you, though – trying to do more interactive stuff.
    Good luck and Merry Christmas!!

  14. stephaniesmommybrain
    December 21, 2008 | 9:28 pm

    My youngest was born in October and our weather has kept the others (5, 3, 2) inside since then. I’m with you on being tired of hearing myself say “no” or “stop.” Great idea to ask for tips!

    We’ve been coloring, playing on, playing with matchbox cars, playing with the Little People Nativity set, reading books, working puzzles, building with blocks, and watching an occasional DVD, an dipping pretzels in chocolate for snack.

    We also had lunch with Daddy at his office last week. My guys LOVE to see where Daddy works.

    If the last 2 months are an indicator, it’s going to be a long time until spring here in Rhode Island.

  15. Kas
    December 21, 2008 | 9:49 pm

    Hello! Maybe I can help a little. I live in Iowa and the weather has been really bad here too, and I won’t leave the house either. The other day I found some old macaroni that was WAY expired, I was about ready to throw it out and thought wait a sec. maybe I can use this. I got out our craft box, with random paper towel rolls and construction paper and just things to use on a rainy or cold day. I gave my son, Luke some construction paper and glue and some string. I put a few designs of glue on the paper everywhere( to avoid a mess he would make with the glue)and my son put the macaroni on top of the glue. He thought it was great. We made a snowman and drew on with markers arms, a hat, and scarf. I then had these little craft eyes that move and we put those on for the eyes. Luke LOVED it. Then he also put the macaroni on a string to make garland or necklace. You can even color the macaroni with a marker first if you want, but let it dry for a little bit or it will get on fingers and clothes (I used washable markers). Also we made some characters out of felt too and cut them out, if you want to do a little more work. Then we kind of put on a little play with them and made up a story and used silly voices. You could do Little Red Riding Hood, or 3 little pis and just cut out the characters if you wanted. We also found and old oatmeal container and made a rainmaker or you could call it a shaker. I found some left over small nails and I pushed them through the outside of the oatmeal container randomly (you could probably use something else other then nails if you don’t have any or don’t want use them if youthink it is unsafe, or not use anything at all and just add somthing that makes noise). We then poured in some beans (you could use rice too, or anything else that would make a good sound). I put the top on and secured it with not only some glue but LOTS of tape everywhere. I had my son draw something on constrution paper, cut it a little to fit the container and then we glued it onto the outside of the container. We then let it dry for a few hours and then my son went around the house dancing and playing with it. I even put on a little music. It was fun and most of all Luke loved it. Just some ideas that me and my son did. Hope this helps to anyone that needs a few ideas! Let me know if it works for anyone. Merry Christmas!!

  16. Upstatemom
    December 21, 2008 | 11:18 pm

    I read about an idea once. Buy a clear shower curtain. Place pictures from a Christmas coloring book underneath it. Paint them in, just like you are coloring it in. Then you have a nice homemade shower curtain for the holiday.
    Playing in the snow always keeps my guy busy.
    Here’s a game my big kids love – Make cards with instructions telling the kids where to find the next card, but be sneaky about it. For instance if you want them to go to the bathroom you might write – Go to the room where you can clean yourself with a washcloth. Then when they get to the bathroom they find another card with instructions that say something like – Go to the room where two people sleep (mommy and daddy’s room). Obviously it has to be written to fit your house. The point is to make them have to think. Enjoy!!!

  17. Meagan Francis
    December 21, 2008 | 11:42 pm

    On dreary days like that my boys have been known to spend HOURS together playing in the bathtub. So that’s always a low-mess option where the kids actually end up cleaner at the end…

    Also, I love making homemade playdough. It doesn’t take long (maybe 10 minutes?) and I love the way it feels in my hands when it’s freshly done and warm and squishy. Also, the stuff I make myself doesn’t seem as hard to clean up as the commercial stuff. I just use the ball to pick up any little bits stuck to the chair or table, and a smaller ball to pick up the stuff on the floor (and then throw away). Or, if you just let it sit a few hours, it dries up enough to be swept up pretty easily.

  18. Meagan Francis
    December 21, 2008 | 11:44 pm

    Another idea…if you’re feeling adventurous. You can fill cookie sheets or pie pans w/fresh snow, then let your kids “spray paint” them with bottles of water mixed with a little bit of food coloring.

  19. Musings of a Housewife
    December 22, 2008 | 12:20 am

    NO ideas, but I feel your pain. I’m going to go back and read these comments avidly! 🙂

  20. Danielle
    December 22, 2008 | 1:56 am

    I thought this was a great list for the younger set:

    also…my son is into coloring stencils right now. that and putting stickers on paper.

    Here’s another site I love with tons of ideas :

  21. onemotherslove
    December 22, 2008 | 2:02 am

    I read on another blog recently (but I couldn’t find it again), where she dumped corn meal into a plastic tub for an indoor sand box!

  22. Amy
    December 22, 2008 | 2:42 am

    I so no a lot too! I like to help them build a simple fort in the living room, or bunk beds – they are happy to play in there for at least an hour, and clean up is a matter of folding blankets 🙂 Or scissors at the table with paper and crayons, my almost 5 and 3.5 girls are learning to cut – I make them pick up the mess and sweep again for the rest. Someone gave me 4 large tubs of playdough – I hate it – but I’ve kept it, so I’m thinking when I’m absolutely desperate I will pull it out 🙂

  23. Miche
    December 22, 2008 | 3:36 am

    Let them play with shaving cream-it is easy to dye with food coloring and quick to clean up off the kitchen floor-and it can smell nice! You can have them write in it too with spoons or fingers. Great fun. Also, get contact paper, tape it to the floor, and let the kids walk on it-most get a kick out of it! you can also put some masking tape down on the floors to make a “road way” or “city” around the house. Quick clean up if you layer the tape so you can pull from one end and have them all come up at once. Also, check out the Works For Me Wed. link on my blog for more preschool ideas that I used in my preschool class. All super fun and most really quick to clean up. Good luck during school break!! 🙂

  24. Mel
    December 22, 2008 | 10:31 am

    I can completely relate! Sometimes all I want to do is sit behind my computer while they go play with their toys quietly somewhere else. I always say that Dave is the nice one since he spends his days off playing while mine are usually cleaning, doing laundry, and just wanting to be quiet and alone. Teachers do not make good moms!

    Anyways, some things we have been doing lately…

    The kids and I made gingerbread ornaments the other day. You only need applesauce and cinnamon and a cookie cutter. The kids had a blast, it made my house smell good, and they were cute little gifts the kids could give. Today they are using stamps to make pictures and then coloring the pictures. Of course cookie making, coloring books, and play dough are always winners around here.

    I hope you get some great ideas! Good luck. Oh and for the record I always think of you as a fantastic mom!!!

  25. Stephanie
    December 22, 2008 | 11:30 am

    We made Salt Dough ornaments (recipe link on my blog). We’ve also been decorating pages with stickers, decorating cookies and playing pretend alot.

  26. Jendi
    December 22, 2008 | 4:19 pm

    Lately we’ve been having fun with Uno. It helps them with colors and numbers plus I can play two hands with half a brain. 🙂 My munchkins just lay their cards on the floor in front of them; no secret cards in our games.

    We also have some memory type card games they love.
    Good luck!

  27. Jody
    December 23, 2008 | 10:28 am

    I thought I would share another idea my kids did yesterday. My son got the idea from school. He and his little sister (7 & 5) took toothpicks and mini marshmallows and made sculptures. They would stick marshmallows on the end of the toothpicks and just kept adding on. They worked on their masterpieces for over an hour. Inexpensive and no mess.

  28. jessw
    December 28, 2008 | 7:26 am

    I use the “sibling busy book”. I have a 2 year old and newborn. The book has indoor and outdoor activities and is appropriate for many ages. Each activity has how to engage an infant, toddler, preschooler, and kindergartener. This book grows with the kids. There are imagination games, art projects, and other types of activities. The best is that the supplies are found around the house!

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