Motherhood is supposed to be a joy-filled journey — or so the ads and Facebook memes tell us. So why does it seem as though our days are largely about nagging, supervising homework, changing diapers and shuttling kids to and from their activities? What’s wrong with this picture?
“Today’s mothers are stressed out, overworked and pulled in so many directions that it can be hard to find the pleasure in parenting,” says Barbara Siergiewicz, a certified parent coach and child development specialist based in Rockport, Mass. “But if you remember how happy you were when you got pregnant and what you appreciate about your children, instead of the challenges of parenting, you’re making a choice to be joyful.”
Follow this roadmap to restore the pleasure of parenting:
Make a Heart Connection
Set aside time every day to have a meaningful conversation with your child — one that’s focused on feelings, not homework or chores. “Ask open-ended questions to find out what’s going on in your child’s life,” advises Siergiewicz. “For example, ‘What was the best thing that happened today?’ or ‘What was the funniest thing that happened?’” No matter where the conversation takes place — whether over dinner or in the car — stay in the moment by listening intently. This will create a more relaxed, closer parent-child relationship and will foster what Siergiewicz calls the “heart connection.”
Stop the Gripe Sessions
Sure, it feels good to vent to your BFFs about your kids’ picky eating or to send a Twitter feed about your mom meltdown. But making it a habit is a big mistake — and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. “If you concentrate on the negative of parenting, it’s like pouring kerosene on the fire,” says Siergiewicz. “Negativity begets negativity — and that will keep you from rediscovering the joy of being a mom.” Try sharing the good things — photos of your child playing in the snow or news of a school concert — and you’ll be rewarded with a glow of pride.
Catch Them Being Good
“Many parents expect adult-level performance from their kids, and they’re not capable of delivering it,” says Siergiewicz. This sets up a lose-lose situation, with the child falling short and the parents feeling perpetually disappointed. Rather than focusing on what your 10-year-old does wrong and nagging him about it (which isn’t very joyful), accept that he’ll make mistakes and praise him for what he does right. Saying “Thanks for putting away your toys” or “Thanks for clearing your plate without being asked” reinforces good behavior. As Siergiewicz notes, “Positive feedback will boost your child’s self esteem and lead to more of the positive behavior you want to see.” And the better the behavior, the less nagging you’ll need to do.
Clear the Calendar
Jam-packed schedules are a recipe for cranky kids and exhausted parents. Limit your child to just two extracurricular activities each week — say, basketball and guitar lessons — so everyone will have a chance to relax, recharge and reconnect. The less time you spend racing from one activity to another, the more time you’ll have to be in the moment with your children and simply enjoy their company.
Create Family Rituals
Families need regular fun time, whether it’s watching a movie together on Friday night or going out for breakfast on Saturday morning. Having something that everyone can look forward to helps increase the joy. “Family rituals that are positive, loving and nurturing — where parents and children are focused on each other — create lasting memories that sustain us through hard times,” says Siergiewicz. (Like those days when you’re busy carpooling!)