By Theo Pauline Nestor
While our greatest hope is for our children to turn into happy adults, most of us moms grit our teeth a fair amount on the road there. After we hustle our kids off to soccer practice, shop for dinner and hunt down the perfect kindergarten, we are left with little inspiration to model the one thing we most wish for our children: happiness. It's not that we don't want to be happy. It's more a question of how to fit it into our schedule. Read on for some practical tips from parenting experts on how to move "be happy" to the top of your to-do list.
1. Be Yourself
Much of our stress and irritation as parents comes from trying to live up to impossible standards. "Mothers universally feel that they 'are never good enough,'" says Meg Meeker, MD, author of The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers: Reclaiming Our Passion, Purpose and Sanity. A lot of these feelings of inadequacy come from comparing ourselves with other moms and competing in ways both small (bringing an elaborate dish to the potluck) and large (pushing our kids to achieve on the playing field). "It's tempting to look around us to see if we measure up with other moms," says Meagan Francis, author of The Happiest Mom: 10 Secrets to Enjoying Motherhood, "but when we're comparing our private lives to somebody else's public game face, we're not getting a very accurate picture." Francis adds that the best way to be a happy mom-and a good mom-is to be yourself. "Don't try to be anyone else's version of what a good mother should be," Francis says. "Be the best version of who you are, and your children will recognize that and learn from it." Think about your own strengths and work them into your everyday life as a mom. Maybe sewing costumes isn't your thing, but you love to bake. This Halloween, buy costumes even though all the other moms are making theirs, and instead bake a batch of cookies to munch on while you all get ready to go trick-or-treating. When you play up your strengths as a parent, you are bound to have more fun and be happier.
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2. Pencil in Solitude
Routinely setting aside time to go for a walk, write in a journal or read a book is one simple way you can raise your daily happiness quotient. "Mothers contend with so much stimulation during the day that life becomes overwhelming. From kids crying and older children needing homework help to answering cell phones and replying to emails, mothers can feel as though their nervous system is becoming fried," says Dr. Meeker. Solitude is a necessity for our mental health. "Solitude achieves two very important purposes," Dr. Meeker explains. "First, it allows mothers to quiet the 'noise' in their lives so that they can refresh themselves and hear themselves think. It allows our nervous system to slow down and become quieter so that we can recharge mentally, physically and emotionally. Second, solitude gives us a reprieve from giving. No woman can sustain constant giving to other humans (even if they are children) without a break." If you don't have even a half-hour to yourself each day, it may be time to reassess your to-do list. For example, do the brownies for this year's bake sale really need to be made from scratch? Probably not-and by opting for the easier method, you can carve out a little bit of time for yourself.
3. Practice "Slow Family Time"
Slowing down the rush of family life has been one of the keys to happiness for Tsh Oxenreider, creator of SimpleMom.net and author of Organized Simplicity. "For our family," Oxenreider says, "we've defined slowing down as 'moving together at a deliberate and unhurried pace.' When we slow down, we're able to choose how to spend the 24 hours in each day, and therefore find more meaning in our activities." Oxenreider achieves this by planning activities around family life, not the other way around: "Each Sunday, my husband and I meet to talk about our upcoming week. It only takes 30 minutes, but that brief connection gives us a chance to look at our calendars and decide how many evenings we'll schedule out of the house, how we can help each other with upcoming tasks and how to dictate our commitments, instead of letting our commitments dictate us." For other families, "slow family time" might mean leaving unstructured time in your schedule or simply hanging out with your kids at home with no particular plans or goal in mind.
4. Put Your Girlfriends Back on the Schedule
One of the quickest routes to getting your smile back is picking up the phone and calling a friend. Remember how good it feels to catch up? So often we put our friends on the back burner when we become mothers, forgetting that friendships are an essential source of joy. "Friends act as a tremendous support, but they also contribute to a mother's happiness by acting as a release valve," Dr. Meeker says. "When frustration or other emotions run high in a mom, a woman friend can provide a safe place for her to vent. And a key to a mother's sanity and happiness is having an outlet for intense emotions." Feel like you don't have time for friends? Try the multitasking approach: Exercise with a friend, invite another mother over while your kids play in the backyard, offer to drive a mom to the baby-and-me class or invite a single girlfriend over for Sunday dinner.
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5. Create a Weekly No-Work Day
Once upon a time, Sunday was strictly a day off. No one went to work and most stores were closed. It was a day to recharge and spend time with family. But with the advent of email and flexible schedules, any day can now be a work day-and any time can be work time. By integrating a regular "No Work Day" into your family's weekly routine, moms can create more time for family fun while decreasing household stress levels. To pull off a day without work, family members will need to join forces in preparation for the day, including agreeing upon guidelines such as no checking email or work phone calls. To ensure that it's a day off for stay-at-home parents as well, plan to work together the day before to clean up the house and prepare heat-and-eat meals such as lasagna or chili. If a full day dedicated to not working seems like too much of a leap from your current hectic schedule, start off with just one evening: one night a week, have the family gather to relax and play games or watch a movie with cell phones and computers off. The kids might balk at first, but soon they too will see the benefit of a time designated exclusively to leisure.
6. Share Your Passion with Your Kids
Somewhere between the afterschool shuffle and the rush to make dinner, many of us have lost track of our own passions. We are so in the habit of standing on the sidelines of our children's activities that we've forgotten to share our own hobbies and passions with them. However, when you share the activities you like and enjoy with your kids, you will most likely be laughing, smiling and showing what happiness looks like to the people you care about the most. Think about simple ways you can enjoy your passions with your kids. Are you a music lover? Break out your CDs or old LPs and play DJ. Love to paint? Sit down with your kids and make art with them. By doing what we enjoy, we model happiness and show our children who we are.
7. Conquer Clutter
"Clutter is one of my biggest cranky-mom triggers," Francis says. And most moms would agree that a messy house is one of their primary obstacles in the pursuit of happiness. "Adopt a no-prisoners approach to clutter control," she suggests. "Toss unneeded papers in the recycling bin daily, come up with a simple system for keeping track of pending bills and paperwork, and, most important, become ruthless about which papers you're willing to keep in the first place." Having a routine can also help contain clutter. Have every member of the house do the same thing when they come home for the day: Hang up their coats (be sure to have a row of child-height hooks near the foyer), put shoes in the closet and place backpacks, purses, briefcases, keys and lunchboxes in their designated spots.
8. Outsource It
"We can't do it all," Francis reminds us, "and just because something needs to be done doesn't mean that you need to do it." Acknowledging that we can't all hire household help, Francis suggests using a more flexible definition of 'outsourcing' for getting the help we need. "When we all focus on what skills and talents we bring to the table-without any shame for the stuff we aren't so great at-we can meet our kids' needs without having to try to do everything ourselves," Francis says. Assess each family member's skill set and delegate duties based on ability. Have a teenager who's good at math? Assign her to help your middle school-age son with his algebra homework. Is one of your kids great at organizing? Assign him to create order out of a pile of mismatched plastic food containers. "We're all good at different things," Francis explains. "And it makes a lot of sense to divvy up household and parenting tasks by interest, skill and available time." Apply the same concept of teamwork to cleaning the house, too. Hold 10-minute tidy-up sessions: Gather your family, cue up the dance tunes and set the timer for 10 minutes. You'll be surprised how much you can get done working together-and how much fun you'll have doing it!
Related: Turn your clutter into cash.
Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.
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