Joyful and Confident Parenting- Part One
I was listening to a talk recently by Shawn Anchor. He is a lecturer and researcher in the area of positive psychology at Harvard. He said something that really resonated with me. He said that people can actually train their brain to “scan the world, not for stresses, hassles and complaints first, but actually training their brain, like an athlete, to look for things that they are grateful for.” He offers strategies like journaling something you are grateful for each day, taking time to meditate and exercise, and spending time helping others as ways to build more happiness into your life.
I love and fully embrace the idea of finding the joy in your current life instead of constantly searching for that “next thing” that will bring happiness. At the same time, I know that when I am in the middle of cleaning up the bathroom because my son can’t find that giant hole filled with water when he aims or when I am yelling at my daughter because she has gotten slime on every surface in my house, it’s really hard to carve out the time to “train the brain” and find that joy. Some days, we (as parents) are just in “management” mode. Some days, we have to find a sense of accomplishment in just getting through and coming out on the other side alive. Wouldn’t it be nice to have more days (or at least more moments) where we weren’t managing a crisis or unsure of what we are doing as parents? Moments where we had the time to meditate or exercise or journal the things we are gratefully for? The tips below are not rocket science, but I assure you that if you use them on a regular basis, your life will start to have more of those joyful, confident moments and less of those stressful, “what the hell am I doing?” moments.
- Be Realistic
When my son was 2, dinner out was the most stressful situation I could put myself in. He was loud, active and easily upset. I had to eventually realize that for right now, until he became a little older, a three hour dinner event at a fancy restaurant with my kids was not in the cards. I would beat myself up about why my kids couldn’t just sit there and eat properly like other kids in the same restaurant. Why can’t my kids use utensils instead of hand shovels? Being realistic means not thinking about how you wish things could be. Let that shit go. The sooner you start to see and accept yourself as you are (in your family life, in your financial life, in your professional life), the happier you will be.
- Plan Ahead
We all envy that Mom that has a mini-arsenal of snacks and first aid at the ready at all times. I have, personally, never been that good at this particular step, but I know that, for my kids, there are certain times where I need to plan like a football coach for things to not fall apart. For me, I know that a long car ride makes my kids get super irritated and they will inevitably start to bother each other (and me). So, I grab a ton of snacks, kid friendly podcasts and recorded books, I load up on drawing supplies and I make sure all devices are fully charged. A trip to a dentist or doctor’s appointment is a particular kind of hell that requires a good strategic offensive plan. I try to offer them something fun and reinforcing to look forward to afterward. This doesn’t need to be candy or a toy, it can be a trip to the park or playing a game with them that you usually avoid playing because it’s boring and you hate it (p.s., you also need to act like you like it). Planning is an especially important step if your child has special needs and has an even stronger reaction to new environments or things outside of their routine day. Showing them pictures and describing what the day will look like will help to prepare them (and you) for what is to come.
- Tell Them What You Expect
As much as possible, lay out for your child explicitly what your expectations are. The more work you put into identifying what your expectations are, the easier this step will be. Consider coming up with 3 expectations that you use as a family all of the time. Mine are: Be Respectful, Be Kind, and Be Responsible
Talk about and frame your household rules around those expectations. For example, one of our rules for mealtime is that you clean up whatever you used (put dishes in the dishwasher, clean any bowls, etc). We explained when the kids were really little (3 or 4) that the reason for this rule is because that is how we can show we are responsible. It’s also respectful because Mom ain’t your maid! Connecting the rules with the expectations helps kids to see the big picture about why we have rules in the first place. It also teaches them good character and work ethic.
For example, you’re over at a friend’s house and all of the kids are playing and having a great time. If you haven’t laid out what your rules (and expectations) are for this playdate, you may find that leaving time ends like an episode of Maury Povich. Picture this…You look at your watch and realize you really need to go. Hold on to your seat for this one…That sense of urgency you feel to leave, your kids do not have that right now. Right now they are wrapped up in this super fun playtime that has no end in sight. So, when you tell them hastily that it’s time to go right now, they are not likely to be ready or willing to leave. What happens next (at least for me) would have been tears, screaming and kicking like that Mom on Maury who just got back an unfavorable paternity test.
A better plan, would be to let them know, in advance, that they are expected to “be responsible” during this play date and what responsibility will look like (i.e., when I say it’s time to go, you clean up and get your shoes on). Also, consider giving them a five minute warning that leaving time will be coming. Side note: This won’t work every time, but when it does you will feel like Supreme Queen Mama of the Universe.
There is no magic button that will make parenting easy and no one does it right all the time. My goal as a parent right now is to feel “joyful and/or confident” as a parent 75% of the time. If you would like to join me on this journey to feel less frustrated and experience more confidence and joy, follow along and try to implement these steps. Also, consider thinking about what percentage of your time you currently feel confident as a parent. Does it feel too low? What would you consider a more reasonable amount of confidence? In the next blog, I will go deeper into the strategies that can help to diffuse a situation when the shit has already hit the fan.