How to Put the Happiness in Parenthood

happyfeet
Image via Katie Hurley

Parental stress levels are on the rise. Although many people enter the world of parenting with preconceived notions about how wonderful and rewarding the experience will be, it doesn't feel rewarding every single day. Some days are hard.

Each stage of child development brings amazing new milestones, but each stage also brings new challenges. Just when you get that sleep thing under control, teething begins. Every. Single. Time.

And even though parenting is exceptionally rewarding, sometimes it just doesn't feel like much fun. Sometimes the stress of day-to-day parenting tasks overrides the bubbles, rainbows, and butterflies.

Not to worry. It is possible to reduce parental stress and put some of the fun back into parenting–as long as you're willing to make some changes. Happy parents raise happy kids, so it's worth consideration.

frustrated
Image via Flickr/ keirstenmarie

Adjust expectations

Due to changes in education, kids are reading, writing, adding, and subtracting earlier than ever. But those aren't the only expectations that have changed over time. For a variety of reasons, parents expect more of their little ones and of themselves. Parenting is full of pressure (feed the best food, teach the best manners, get them reading in preschool, etc.).

Placing unreasonable expectations on your child is a set-up for failure–for both of you. It's essential to keep chronological age and developmental level in mind when setting expectations for your child. It doesn't matter if little Johnny down the street speaks two languages and writes his own books at age four; every child develops at his or her own pace.

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Dial back the stress attached to expectations by taking the time to learn what can be expected during each stage of development. Then take a good look at your child's personality and developmental level and go from there.

lick the bowl
Image via Flickr/ Wendy Piersall

Put away perfection

I'm sure there is somebody out there who has a full-time job, a super-clean house, and kids who do everything right all of the time. But for most parents, the pursuit of parenting perfection is a dead end. Parenting isn't perfect. It never was, and it never will be. But it doesn't have to be full of stress, either.

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In a perfect world, no one would judge another, and we would all follow our hearts. Sadly, people do judge, and sometimes we let those judgments cloud our ability to parent in the best interest of our families. Don't look to others as models of parenting perfection. You don't know what someone else is going through behind the scenes. Your vision of their perfection might be their one blissful moment all week. Parent the kids that you have in the best way for your family. Don't let the judgments get you down, and definitely don't compare yourself to others.

date night
Image via Flickr/ Create more, consume less

Me time/spouse time

Parenting can suck the life out of you if you let it. Yes, it's a full-time job, no matter how many other jobs you might have. It requires endless patience and energy, and some days, you wonder if you ever even finished that cup of coffee. In short, it can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion.

You have to find time for you. Ask for help. Trade childcare with another mom. Find the places in your community that offer “mom's day out” (many churches and other religious organizations offer these). Prioritize finding time for you to check-out in a way that rejuvenates you. Parenting under stress leads to kids under stress. It's a difficult cycle to break. You need to prioritize your own health and emotional well-being, too.

You also need date nights, day dates, or dates at home. You need conversations with your spouse that go beyond dirty diapers and playground antics. You need to pay attention to your relationship and make time to be a couple.

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forest kid
Image via Flickr/ Philippe Put

Set limits and boundaries

Your kids don't need to attend every birthday or enroll in three toddler classes a week. They don't need more than one after-school activity, and they don't need daily play dates. All of those things are wonderful, but they aren't necessary. Make choices in the best interest of your whole family and learn to set limits on activities both during the week and on weekends. You might think that keeping kids busy alleviates boredom, but it actually has the opposite outcome. When kids are so busy that they never have time to play, they don't learn how to be alone. They don't learn how to tap into their imaginations and play independently. And that's a shame because so much good comes from independent play.

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Parenting and happiness are supposed to be two words that work well together, but sometimes stress gets in the way. Tell us how you get back to being a happy parent.

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How to Put the Happiness in Parenthood

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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