Have you heard of the parenting happiness gap?
According to a study conducted in 22 countries, parents are significantly less happy compared to people who don’t have kids (American parents having the largest gap from all countries examined).
Indeed, parenting is a serious, responsible job, demanding 20+ years of continuous presence and support. So it’s understandable that there are moments and phases of life when parents lose perspective.
So here are 9 secrets to make you feel better in your parenting role:
#1. Be present
If there would be just one piece of advice I could give to every parent, it would be this – be present. Do you remember when your kid was born and how everyone said “it goes by so quickly”?
It’s true! Yesterday they were a baby, today a big boy and tomorrow they will get married and start a family.
So the biggest gift you can give them is not a video game, not a cutting-edge new smartphone or tablet, but… your presence.The biggest gift you can give to your kids is spending quality time with them. #happinessify Click To Tweet
Now, this is good for them, you might say. But how does this make you a happier parent?
First of all, a parent/kid relationship is like a bank account. You have to have lots of deposit (positive souvenirs) so when you withdraw cash (eg. asking them to respect rules) your relationship doesn’t get damaged.
But by being there for your kids you also release guilt and stress. You can engage in an activity with them that can bring you in the zone. And most importantly… there’s a lot you can learn from them.
Last winter I went to Norway with my husband and son. While walking in the snow-covered streets of our town the first day, my son suddenly laid down and savored the moment of hearing the snow cracking underneath him, watching the clouds in the sky… Defeating my first reaction (that would have been to warn him about how his clothes would get wet), the next thing I remember is that I was laying in the snow next to him. A moment I will cherish for long…
CONCLUSION: gift them your presence or common activities vs expensive gifts. Absorb yourself in your common activity. Imitate them. And – feed your account. 🙂
#2. Listen and be empathetic
The next best thing you can do to your kids is… talk to them… And listen to them.
It’s not the same thing!
You have twice as many ears than mouth – use them accordingly. (I learned it in sales training, but it’s pretty much applicable anywhere 🙂 ).
That moment when you truly listen (not thinking already on what to say as a response while your kid is still talking to you), is when you really hear what’s going on with them.
Obviously, listening to your kid is good for them. But what’s in it for you? Well, you’ll learn what’s happening inside their head and heart. Those are the moments when they will share their best kept secrets.
You’ll learn who they fell in love with. Why they have difficulties in maths. Why they feel guilty or have low self-esteem.
Your kid is like an open book. You just need to be able to read in them…
CONCLUSION: Listen and empathize.
#3. Let them solve their problems
A very common issue in parenting is overprotecting our kids. And it is exactly overprotecting parents who deny it most. “I just can’t see them sad or frustrated. I want to help them.”
The point is – if you resolve all their problems, they will keep turning to you. After a while, they will expect you to solve them. And that will lead to a state of helplessness.
Do you know the saying – “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
The best way to feed your kid for a lifetime is to equip them with the skill of problem solving.Don't solve problems for your kids. Equip them with the skill of solving the problems themselves. That's the sustainable solution. Click To Tweet
Don’t do it for him. But coach him to do it.
Patronising (“Let me fix this for you”), lecturing (“I told you”) or distracting (“Never mind, let’s play”) have one thing in common – they don’t draw on your kid’s desires and natural resources to resolve their problems.
Instead ask them questions that will help them to reconnect with their emotions and guide them to find the right way.
CONCLUSION: Find out what went wrong, how they felt, what they think they will do about it and how they feel about the solution.
#4. Praise a lot – and no labeling
Who wants to raise a self-confident kid?
If it’s you, then make sure you give them a praise as often as you can.
They made a drawing? They read a book? It seems like natural for you. But for them it’s a huge achievement!
So take that extra time to notice these and praise them.
The school system is edged to taking momentary performance snapshots. Writing an essay or an exam reflects the momentary state and knowledge of your kid. It doesn’t reflect though truly the effort they’ve made. So even if their academic achievement is not there, you can still praise them for the effort they made and the persistence they demonstrated.
The flipside of praising is… labelling!
Calling your kid with names or judging their person vs their acts, is the worst thing you can do for their self-confidence.
We all know – “You’re silly” is not the same as “It was silly to pour your soup over your friend’s head”. Too much of these labelling and attacks to them as a person will seriously damage their self-confidence.
CONCLUSION: Praise them a lot. Stop labeling them. Judge their act, not their person.
#5. Let go of mistakes
After a stressful day we tend to notice (and point out to them) more the mistakes our kids are doing. Sometimes we even overreact. I used to be that person! 🙂
The problem is – it won’t help anyone. If your kid will feel guilty 30 times a day and you will be stressed and guilty because of yelling at them 30 times a day is just not helpful. For anyone.
Even worse, those mistakes will keep repeating and at the end of the day, your kids will even develop anxiety accompanied with psychosomatic symptoms, like stomach pain. (I used to be that kid, too!)
Not to mention how their self-confidence will suffer on a long term (“I never manage to do it right”, “I’m useless”, “Life is miserable”).
What if instead you let go of their mistakes? And you help them to explore what they could have done – and what they can do differently the next time.Instead of dwelling over mistakes, learn the lessons and move on. #happinessify Click To Tweet
Before learning to write, my son was often frustrated by the fact that he left his belongings at school or daycare. Until we talked about what could be done. And he developed a system for himself – he prepared cards with images of the objects he took with himself to school (marbles or a book or a cuddly toy), thus he could check what he shouldn’t leave there. A smart solution!
CONCLUSION: Let go of mistakes. See what they learned and what they will do differently in the future.
#6. Build on your kid’s strengths
This is hands down one of my favorite topics! We parents have this calling to uncover our kids’ talents and interests. So we send them to extracurricular activities, workshops and more…
… Until they’re overwhelmed!
An easy hack you can do instead is to get them do the VIA Character Strengths Youth Test. It’s a free test, available in 40 languages and it will rank 24 scientifically selected character strengths.
Look at the top ones and discuss with your kid how they already use them in their life. Then brainstorm on how they can use them even more. Find new ways and new situations. Then look at the weaker strengths (on the bottom of the list) and discuss how they can use their top strengths to develop those.
If you do the test yourself too (there’s a separate Adult and Youth test), you can also use the occasion to discuss commonalities and reveal how your strengths shape your life and family life.
The Youth test is from 10+ age, but my 8 year-old son insisted on doing it (he didn’t want to lag behind his parents 🙂 ). I was beside him while he was doing the test and was totally amazed how realistic self-evaluation he had.
Then we had a great strength conversation. Love of learning is one of my top strengths. That’s why I always loved (and still love) learning in a structured way, from school books, courses etc. For my son, however, love of learning is his least developed strength. This helped me to understand why he never functions well in a traditional learning environment at school. However, humor is one of his top strengths and he realized that by bringing in humor and playfulness, he can transform any type of traditional learning into a more productive learning experience.
CONCLUSION: Do the Character Strength. Discuss how it shows up in your kid’s life. Brainstorm new ways to use them (which will lead to more flow in their life) and to develop weaker strengths.
#7. Pursue your passion & make time for yourself
In my parents’ generation, social life stopped after child birth. My Mom and Dad literally did nothing else than go to work, go home, do the houseworks and take care of their kids. Whatever aspirations they ever had, it was all killed at the moment me and my brother were born.
And this was totally accepted at that time. Is it now?
We all know the effects of happiness. Happy people are more productive, more resilient (including stress resistance), are doing better with human relationships. If that’s the case with happy people, the same is true for happy parents.
If you want to give a gift to your kid, let it be the gift of having happy and fulfilled parents.
And fulfillment doesn’t mean only work and family. Fulfillment is – reconnecting with yourself, recognizing your needs and pursuing them.
Make the time for yourself. Create a sign that shows to the rest of the family that you want to be alone in your room or study (or even closet) – and get them to respect it.
Even when they’re at home, go for a walk… alone.
Go on vacation… with your best friend.
Find a mission or passion and follow through.
My son was 5 months old when I launched my dance business (teaching Greek dances, if you ask). I set the dance class schedule for between two breastfeeding sessions. Later, when my son grew out of it, we hired a French-speaking babysitter who took care of him at home (French being his second language).
The first two years I was overwhelmed with guilt. But then someone asked me “does he look like an unhappy boy?“. And the answer was – definitely not!
Integrating my dance passion (and business) into my family life was the best decision I could make!
It’s energizing, it shows my kid that he’s not the center of the world (yep, sometimes kids need that too), but most importantly – you demonstrate to your kid that passion and engagement matters. A role model to follow.Make time for yourself. Cultivate your passion. Be a role model to your kids. #happinessify Click To Tweet
CONCLUSION: Make time for yourself. Do things with others than your kid and close family. Cultivate your passion.
These were the 7 secrets of happy parenting. Plus a bonus tip:
+1. Release guilt – it’s okay not to be perfect
One of the emotions we parents experience a lot is guilt. Feeling guilty if we do something for ourselves other than our kids. Feeling guilty for our choices. Feeling guilty for our behavior… and sometimes also the behavior of our loved ones.
And yet, being a parent also means releasing guilt so you can fully savor the beauty of parenting.
t’s okay not to be perfect… for you… your kid… or your house.
It’s okay if toys are lying around, while your best friend’s house is totally clean and in order (hey, she’s single after all!).
It’s okay if you feel exhausted and prefer to order a pizza from the corner than cook a three-course healthy dinner (unless it’s happening every day; watch out, pizza and health are not good friends!).
It’s okay for your kid to be themselves and not the person you wish them to be in your mind (and secret dreams).
Just learn to release… and accept.
Now your turn! What parenting hacks made the biggest difference in your life? Share with us in a comment below for the benefit of all!