4 Ways to Be a Happier Parent

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Last week, a mom looked at me and half-joked, “I know you're the expert on raising happy kids, but how do you raise happy moms?” We were among a group of moms with kids roughly the same age, and we all giggled just a little. Then we started brainstorming.

When I see a new client, the child is usually the identified patient — the child is the one who needs the help. But 9 times out of 10, the parents ask to come see me another time. Parents today are under stress, whether or not their kids seek treatment for one reason or another.

The truth is that stress trickles down and can trigger a negative cycle within the family. When families are unhappy and under stress, it can be difficult to break the cycle. Difficult, but not impossible.

Parents need to consider their own stress levels and what they can do to put happiness back in the driver's seat. We can't continue to ignore our own needs because we're busy or because the kids have too much to do or because life is too overwhelming. We have to learn how to effectively manage our stress for own sake and for the sake of our children.

Not sure where to begin? Try this:

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Chart your schedule

Instead of making excuses based on that very busy schedule, sit down with your family and chart it. Write down everything that every family member does during an average week. Then step back and consider how that schedule affects the whole family.

I always encourage parents to do this in stages. It can be hard to go from super busy to taking long nature walks overnight, and you can expect some pushback from family members who believe all of their activities are equally important.

Ask each family member to give up one activity to get started. Resist the urge to fill those hours with more stuff. Protect the time you get back when you begin chipping away at the schedule.

{ MORE: How to Deal with Back to Preschool Stress }


Image via Flickr/ Infomastern

Factor in exercise

Moderately exercising 4-5 times a week is a great way to reduce stress. Sadly, many parents struggle to find time for exercise. You don't need to spend three hours in the gym to reap the emotional benefits of exercise.

{ MORE: Do You Let Your Kids Wear What They Want to Wear? }

I know tons of moms using online programs and home-based workout routines to fit in their daily workout in a timely manner. I have other friends who prefer to get up early and get in a workout before work and friends who prefer yoga in the evening. Sometimes, the hardest part is getting started. Find a group of friends for added support and cheer each other on.

family time
Image via Flickr/ balusss

Prioritize family time

Parents often tell me that when they finally slow down and find time to just relax with their kids, they feel significantly less stressed. Being mindful of your surroundings and existing in the moment opens the door to better relationships and less stress. The trick is learning to slow down.

When you find the to-do list creeping into your mind when you're pushing your child on the swing, do this: Take three deep breaths and ask yourself three questions: What can I see? What can I hear? What can I feel? When we slow down and focus on what's right in front of us, we learn to manage our stress effectively.

{ MORE: How Parenthood Changes Your Friendships }

Image via Flickr/ crdotx

Keep a gratitude list

The hard stuff has a way of feeling all-consuming. When we're running on empty and the to-do list is still a mile long, it's hard to find the positive. Parents today seem to be on a treadmill — we just keep running, but we can't be sure that we're actually getting anywhere.

Keeping a weekly gratitude list can actually decrease your overall stress level. When we make a choice to focus on what's right instead of wallowing in what's wrong, we experience positive emotions. The simple act of writing down one or two things we feel grateful for at the end of each day can make the difference between starting the next day on a positive or a negative.


No parent is happy every minute of every day. There will always be obstacles to overcome and curveballs that we don't see coming, but that doesn't mean that we are resigned to a life of heightened stress. We can take a proactive approach to stress management, set limits on the culture of busy, and choose to find the happy along the way. 

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4 Ways to Be a Happier Parent

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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