As a parent, I’ve learned a lot of things over the years.
Raising kids is hard work. When you start the day with a toddler waking you at 5:00 a.m., throwing their breakfast on the floor and refusing to get dressed as you chase their naked body around the house, life can be as far from a bowl of cherries as one can imagine.
And honestly, you may be wistful for this scenario once the teenage years come along.
According to a 2015 Stress Study, conducted by the American Psychological Association, adults who are parents are way more stressed out than their counterparts who are not. The report states:
“This year, survey findings show that although overall stress levels appear to be trending downward, this drop is not shared equally. Those groups that consistently struggle most with stress— including parents, continue to report higher stress levels and are more likely to report they have experienced at least one symptom of stress in the past month than Americans overall.”
And while that report is far from encouraging, there’s something I’ve observed after all those years of PTA meetings, volunteering and doing carpool.
There are a lot of happy parents out there.
No. They’re not generally the buttoned up ones that seem to have it “all together”. In fact, the happy ones sometimes get their kids to school a couple minutes late, having just rolled out of bed. Their children may even look disheveled and aren’t always wearing clothes that match.
And while these moms and dads may look out of breath, they don’t seem fazed. Some may even be laughing, chatting it up with other parents about how once again they’re going to be “late for work.”
What’s wrong with this picture? And more importantly, what’s their secret?
While I am by no means the perfect, happy parent, my husband and I have found we were able to stay connected and pretty darn happy through our kid’s formative and later years. (That’s not to imply it didn’t get rough at times.) Here are a few things we practiced regularly (and still do), that I believe, made all the difference.
1. Have a date night together
Happy marriages produce happy couples and happy families. Making time for your spouse is a no-brainer. You need to go out, just the two of you. If you can’t do it once a week, make it happen once a month.
Also, look for ways to spend some time together on an ordinary weekday. It can be as simple as sharing a glass of wine before bed.
2. Rethink the family dinner
Schedules these days are insane. Not every family can sit down together for dinner and some have trouble even once a week. Stop pressuring yourself.
Bruce Feiler, New York Times bestselling author of “The Secrets of Happy Families.” Says, “It turns out there’s only 10 minutes of productive conversation in any family dinner. The rest is taken up with take your elbows off the table and pass the ketchup.”
According to Feiler, researchers also found you can take those 10 minutes of conversation and use them any time of day. Even breakfast together once a week will give you the same benefit.
Bottom line is, make family time and conversation a priority but make it happen on your own schedule, rather than trying to reach some “Leave it to Beaver” picture you may have in your head.
3. Give up perfection early
If your kids know you’re not perfect, that’s a good thing. Sharing select stories of things you messed up when you were their age, especially the embarrassing ones, will not only make you all laugh together, but you’ll be teaching them a valuable lesson. (Be mindful of the stories you choose to share. The goal is to offer a teachable moment, not give your kids an excuse to make poor decisions and blame you later!)
Nobody’s perfect and life can be messy. Letting go of perfection makes for happy parents and happy kids. It will also encourage them to come to you when they’ve made a mistake and need help.
4. Make a “playdate” with a friend
Grown-up play dates should be a requirement. Who can make you laugh out loud more than your best friend or sister? And no one else can remind you quicker that you’re more than just a parent and a partner.
It’s important to be reminded of that and schedule yourself some regular “play time” with those closest to you. Besides, if you value these relationships and demonstrate that, your kids will too.
5. Talk about your feelings
Too many people don’t talk about how they’re feeling and it can be especially hard when you’re a parent and crazy busy.
But talking about your feelings—especially if you’re angry with your partner or child can help avoid blow-ups and screaming matches down the road. You’ll be dealing with things before they build up and become larger than they really are. You’ll also be teaching your children that feelings, how we treat one another, and communication matter.
Tami Rogers is a mom, award winning writer, blogger and frequent contributor to BodiMojo, as well as other parenting magazines and websites focused on the emotional well being of teens. She is co-author with BodiMojo founder, Tara Cousineau, of Smart Guide to a Smartphone Friendly Family (Download your copy!)
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