My days felt like marathons. I spent all of them doing the same routine: wake up and make breakfast, change diapers, help the kids dress, get all three in the car to drive the older ones to school, strap the baby in the jogger for a run, snack, park, cook and serve lunch, put the little one down for nap, do laundry and dishes while he sleeps, drive back to school for pick up, head to soccer, karate, gymnastics, or play dates, make and serve dinner, bath, teeth, jammies, read, fall asleep with the kids. Wake up the next day and do it all again.
When my kids were ages 1, 3, and 5, life at home was draining. My husband worked late, and on weekends, so we barely saw each other. I am aware of my privilege. It is true that my problems could have been far worse. Yet I was beyond burned out. As much as I loved my children, and was grateful to be with them, my days had become lonely and hard.
All the parents at the school my children attended raved about Susie Walton and her parenting classes. Some friends suggested I attend her next class. A part of me wanted to. Yet another part of me was uncertain. I was slightly turned off by the whole idea of "parenting" around this time. I had spent the last year implementing behavior systems which seemed to make everything worse. I had confidently declared my aversion to rewards and punishments as a means to control kid's behavior. I was concerned that Susie would tell me to bring them back, and I did not want to hear it.
My assumption was way off.
Susie Walton's message was different. She inspired parents to take care of themselves and to nurture the relationships they were creating with their kids. She answered my questions about my child's behavior but never once did she suggest that I do a time out or give a sticker. Rather, she probed me to become curious about what I was feeling when my older son yanked toys away from my younger son. She explained the importance of repairing my relationship with my daughter after I yelled at her. She encouraged me to go on dates with my husband. And she took my isolation and lack of self-care very seriously.
I hung on her every word.
Her teachings resonated with me so much that I attended multiple classes. Eventually I attended her parent instructor training and went back for additional trainings as much as I could. I also made some significant changes to how I operated in my life. Although my routine stayed the same for another year or so, I took action to make changes and generate joy.
1. I sought out opportunities for quiet
We are raising children in a world that is increasingly fast paced. Many parents today are stuck in a constant state of rushing and overwhelm. To get back to joy, I recommitted to the practices of mindfulness and yoga. Most importantly I began to make breaks apart of my day and taught my kids to let me break when I needed it. I took a lot of tasks and activities off my plate. Simply put, I made our lives slower, more steady, and more simple.
2. I stopped complaining
Humans tend to be consumed with the negative. Our brains are primed to pay attention to the bad stuff while tuning out the good stuff. Back in the day when we lived on the land, even if most of our day was blissful, we had to be on the alert for the one tiger that may attack us. Yet the more we talk and think about the negative, the worse we feel, and generally, the worse others around us feel. I had to work hard at ending the habit of complaining. Every time I noticed myself wanting to complain, or even if I started to complain, I would switch gears and stop talking or change my words so that they would not be a complaint.
There is a difference between complaining and actually reaching for someone for support. When we complain a lot, this can be a sign that we really do need someone to talk to. Reaching out to friends and family for guidance and support is not the same thing as complaining. I am a therapist, but like all great therapists, I have my own therapist. I cannot imagine going through all of the ups and downs of parenting without my therapist!
3. I practice small acts of kindness
It sounds trite but small acts of kindness do something powerful for our psyches. Sometimes I text my partner an authentic and well deserved compliment. Other times I place a nice letter on my son’s pillow thanking him for a way he has contributed recently. Occasionally I pick flowers from the garden and put in a vase in my daughters room. If you can, extend gestures beyond the walls of family. Buy your friend a cup of coffee or bring a dozen bagels to the teacher’s lounge at your kid’s school.
4. I started journaling about the good
Many people keep a journal as a space where they can express their negative thoughts and feelings. This is valuable as it gets the thoughts out of your mind and onto paper, making it less likely that you will store it inside. I suggest that you also write down what is going well. Create space for writing down thoughts, dreams, goals, and actions that make you feel good. Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, refers to these journals as Blessings Journal. You can learn more about research and practices of positive psychology at www.authentichappiness.com.
5. I made it a point to talk about what went well with my kids
One positive psychology tool is the “What-Went-Well” exercise. This practice involves taking the time to reflect on three positive aspects of our day. Seligman suggests that the practice of writing in a journal every night about three experiences that went well and why, has been correlates with decreasing depression. Examples can be simple such as my daughter got in her bed tonight and went right to sleep, or my husband surprised us all with our favorite treat when he came home from work.
6. I became habitually grateful
There are many ways to focus on gratitude. Some tape a gratitude list to their bathroom mirror. Others find that silently extending appreciation works best for them. In my family we like to start family dinners with everyone taking a turn to say what they are grateful for and why. My partner and I like to take gratitude walks. As we walk we take turns saying out loud what we appreciate. I love doing this.
7. I became more comfortable with my mistakes
No one is perfect. Acknowledge and accept that mistakes are a part of the human experience. If you make a mistake, instead of beating yourself up, ask yourself what you learned from the experience. Teach your children to look for the beautiful purpose in mistakes too. Encourage your child to see mistakes or perceived failures as learning opportunities. There is a fantastic children's book called Beautiful Oops that helps kids see that everything mistake is an opportunity to create something beautiful.
8. I caught myself when I wanted to blame others
Your child is not in charge of your happiness. I had to stop blaming other people and situations for my unhappiness. I learned that fulfillment had to come from inside of me. I began to acknowledge that I was at choice in how I would respond to all situations. Even though many of my reactions were still automatic, I learned that through personal and relationship growth I could respond differently.
If you are stuck in a rut, hate your job, want to go back to work, want to exercise commit to making one change you know will bring you more joy. One small step forward can create energy and empowerment and move us toward living a life of purpose and meaning.
9. I made space for my uncomfortable feelings
Having more joy does not mean that we want to deny, avoid, or suppress the uncomfortable feelings such as sadness, hurt, anger, or fear. I realized that on a daily basis I will feel a range of emotions and that my work was to accept this. As soon as I stopped try to push away the uncomfortable feelings, I realized that these feelings actually had a lot of wisdom and information to share.
9. I built my village
It takes a village to raise a child. The research on this is solid- individuals with a strong support system in place are happier and healthier than those who isolate. If you are raising kids in isolation, make an effort to reach out to others. I had some lonely years where most of my days were spent with my three kids. I made it a point to connect with other moms and pushed myself past my comfort zone in order to do this. Getting involved in a community (virtual or live) provides an important source for making friends and being a part of something meaningful. The list of ways to contribute to your community are endless.
Do you tips to offer? I would love to hear what they are in the comments box below!
Hello! I am Cristina Trette. I am a Couple Therapist and Perinatal Mental Health Therapist. I help couples create secure and vibrant relationships. I also guide parents to connect with their children, and themselves. I write, teach, and speak on relationships, parenthood, and integrative mental health.