When I saw the title, “How to Be a Happier Parent” at my local library, I was curious. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to be happier! Written by KJ Dell’Antonia who is a former editor of a New York Times parenting column, the book has chapters on dealing with pain points, called: Mornings, Chores, Siblings, Sports and Activities, Homework, Screentime, Discipline, etc.
Even though it’s not the main or only message of the book, my biggest takeaway from this book is that taking care of myself will make me a happier parent. I used to poo-poo this idea when my children were younger, and in road warrior-fashion, I made sure that my kids should always come first. However, I’m a little older now, worse for wear, panting to keep up with the kids, and finally starting to realize that even if I want to put my kids first all the time – that actually means that I need to be my best self – first. So, how to do this?
Duh. Getting enough sleep seems like a no-brainer, but I don’t think sleep makes it to many parents’ priority list as much as it should, mine included. Dell’Antonia brings sleep up in relation to mornings which are rushed and chaotic because so much can be out of our control at that time. However, she declares that there’s one thing that for many people is more controllable about those mornings – and that’s SLEEP. (Incidentally, I struggle with RBP, revenge bedtime procrastination. If you’ve never heard of RBP, but you often stay up later than you should, check to see if you have RBP too!)
But sleep is critical to more than just the morning. I find that being a better and therefore, happier parent, HINGES ALMOST ENTIRELY on getting enough sleep! If I just wasn’t so sleep-deprived and tired all the time, then I would have more energy to do all the hard things like setting limits, following up on chores, and disciplining consistently. Everything is so much easier to handle when you’re not sleep-deprived and not dragging every afternoon.
Find Your Own Thing
In the book’s chapter on Sports and Activities, I also particularly valued the author’s idea of “finding your own thing.” It’s tempting to lose myself in doing everything in the name of my children’s advancement. But one day, they’ll look at me, and wonder, why should I listen to her? What does Mom do for her own improvement?
More loosely, finding your own thing is really about having time to do your own thing or to develop yourself. This can seem like a luxury – but I think we can try to more consciously incorporate this into our lives by using time differently:
- Think about your work differently and ways you can gain more skills or knowledge at your job, no matter how small the activity – while you are at work
- Work on a skill or activity during your kids’ activities – if you have just an hour to kill, use some of the time to exercise, read, or practice, etc.
- If you’re with the kids, try to learn whatever it is that they’re learning – the exercise of pushing your own cognitive development is important
- When you have child-free time, try to avoid household chores, administrative tasks, and family errands. Use most of that time for self-improvement and self-care.
While reflecting on “finding your own thing,” I concluded that I have to protect and value my own learning and growth as a person – whether for my career or personal development. This serves multiple purposes:
- I improve as a person.
- I teach my children that they are not the center of the universe.
- I model for them how a person can continually learn and try to better themselves. They can learn from seeing how I practice and put hard work into what I’m interested in doing.
- The better I feel about how my own life and interests are progressing, the more patience, strength, and energy I will have in helping my children with their challenges.
Of course, my willpower and ability to do any of this is greatly enhanced by getting enough SLEEP. See how everything spawns from sleep? Since reading this book, I’ve been working deliberately on both sleep and self-development and I’d like to say that I’ve been calmer, more productive, and more purposeful. . . maybe even happier.