Being a happier parent may be easier than you think

Parenting is far from easy despite how perfect those photos in your social media feed appear to be.

Knowing that, mom KJ Dell’Antonia made it her mission to determine how parents can be happier and have genuine smiles in those images. (No word yet on how to keep little ones from squinting while yelling “cheese!”)

Dell’Antonia collected her findings and mixed in advice gleaned from her own parenting struggles in her new book, How to be a Happier Parent: Raising a Family, Having a Life, and Loving (Almost) Every Minute.

“There is collective pressure from society to do a lot, to overparent and to be very, very concerned about outcomes. Those don’t lead to happiness,” Dell’Antonia says.

When gathering tips from parents around the country, Dell’Antonia anticipated finding differences based on geography or economic background, but those differences didn’t materialize.

Instead, she found that we parents are all in a similar boat when it comes to always working on being happy.

Turns out that there are simple things we can do to increase our “happy” without a lot of extra work.

Perspective counts

Having a positive mindset makes a huge difference. So does recognizing what we’ve got.

“We don’t always know how happy we are. Many of us feel like things could be going better, and parenting could feel better,” she says.

So, she suggests, focusing on all the good things we’ve got in our lives as opposed to focusing on being “happier.”

“While it’s important to recognize that parenting is not all unicorns and rainbows, it’s also very important to spot the unicorns when we see them,” Dell’Antonia says.

Mantras matter

In the book, Dell’Antonia shares parenting mantras that have proven helpful across a wide variety of situations she’s encountered with her four children.

“Decide what to do and then do it.” It is a reminder to parents that the vast majority of decisions they face as a parent are not life-altering. She says it applies well to 3-year-olds, teens and life in general.

Another favorite? “You don’t have to go in there,” she says, meaning that parents don’t always have to share their kids’ moods and that it’s possible to sympathize without getting sucked in.

Of course, every parent should remember this mantra, “You don’t have to get it right every time.”

Small changes=big difference

When tackling tough issues like chores, screen time, sibling relationships and homework—all thorns in the parental backside—Dell’Antonia mixes research with practical tips from parents sharing what increased their happiness levels.

Some of those tips came from Chicago parents, such as Karen Smith, a writer and mom of two.

Chores were a big downer for Smith and her family. But when she incorporated individual preferences into chore assignments, she discovered her whole family became a bit happier.

“We sat down with a huge list of things that get done around the house. I let them pick things they dislike the least,” she says.

They also found how they approach chores boosted their  happiness.

“Combining a necessary task with an enjoyable task helps make time pass more quickly,” she says, adding she listens to podcasts while doing meal prep. “My child who prefers vacuuming picked that task in part because he can put headphones in and listen to an audiobook while he does the task.”

We asked area moms and dads to share their tips for being happier parents. Here’s what they said:

What parents are saying

“Give yourself just a few minutes to yourself. Whether it is to mediate or to work out or nap or draw or play music, withdrawing briefly isn’t inconsistent with being an involved, active parent.” Neil Lloyd, (a Chicago parent included in the book)

“Turn chores into games! For example, I turned washing dishes into water toy time and let my 5-year-old daughter play on one side while I wash on the other and she helps with rinsing the dishes off. I feel happier getting stuff done while putting a smile on her face. We take a quick rest after a job well done.” Karena Plepel

“Unplugging! It helps clear your mind and makes you more present with your kids. You can’t compare yourself to other parents if you don’t see what they are doing on social media.” Amanda Simkin

“Have low expectations. When I had my first child, I tried to do it all and went crazy. Now I just let stuff slide and try to set realistic expectations, or none at all.” Beth Wanless

“Stop comparing yourself, your child, your family and your life to others. I can’t even begin to explain how much freedom came when I stopped trying to keep up with everyone I knew. I’m so much happier as a parent now that I keep my focus on my own family.” Lisa Brislane

“I try to have at least one date night and one moms’ night out per month.” Taylor Aguirre

“Parenthood is figuring out what you are good at and putting that on repeat.” Tracy Cook Heinritz

This article originally appeared in the August issue of Chicago Parent. Read the rest of the issue

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