We call ourselves Love Parenting UAE, but let's be honest, some days it's easier to love this job than others.
10 suggestions to help you find real joy in being a parent
Keep your expectations realistic. We tend to expect way too much of our children, our partners and ourselves. If you are expecting that your newborn is going to get on a sleep routine right away and happily sleep alone in that pretty little bassinet, I can almost guarantee you that you are going to be disappointed and feel like a total failure. If you expect that your toddler will listen to you and just cooperate, you definitely are going to be angry and frustrated much of the time. And if you expect that you or your partner are going to be “perfect parents” (or lose the baby weight immediately, or maintain a glamorous social life, or have an immaculate home) then you are really going to hate this job. Parenting children is messy, complicated, time consuming and full of trial-and-error experiments. Some days, just getting through to bedtime without losing your marbles can be considered a great success. If you can keep your expectations within the realm of possibility, you can relish your triumphs when they happen and avoid beating yourself up when they don’t quite get there (maybe next month. Or next year?).
2. Aim for “good enough.” Along the same lines as the previous suggestion, remember that even if you could be the “perfect” parent it wouldn’t necessarily be the best thing for your child. Donald Winnicott, one of the first developmental pediatricians, developed the “good enough” mother theory back in the 1950s. He proposed that our instincts to meet our newborn’s every need help us form an attachment and bond with our babies and enables them to thrive during the vulnerable infant period. But the fact that we are only human and need to eat occasionally or use the toilet or drive down the highway will mean that there will be times when we can’t meet their needs immediately. This is how babies learn that we are separate people and develop patience and self-soothing gradually, organically, over time, without the need to train them or worry about developing bad habits. We don’t need to be perfect and we don’t need to be tough, we just need to be “good enough!” I find this one particularly reassuring!!
3. Avoid comparisons. Every child is so unique that inevitably they will have different sleep or eating habits or different personalities or temperaments than your friends’ child or your other child or how you remember yourself as a child. Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” If you want to find joy in parenting, try to accept your child as the person who the universe sent you, probably for some very special reasons that you may not yet recognize! If your child struggles with sleep while your friend’s child sleeps through the night seemingly from birth, remember that her child will struggle in other areas (feeding, potty training, learning to read, the possibilities are endless!!) No need to gloat when that happens, but just rest assured that it’s usually not anything that you are doing wrong or she is doing right, it’s just the child and the phase they are in at this moment. Remember, this too shall pass, but this little person will be who they will be for the rest of their lives, with both strengths and challenges with which to work!
4. Appreciate your child’s unique qualities. Along the same lines as the last item, your kid is going to be unlike any other. Sometimes their qualities and habits are going to drive you nuts, but most of those characteristics can also be seen in a good light. Appreciate the person your child is—silly, serious, sensitive, shy or super outgoing and energetic—all can captivate or frustrate parents equally. Don’t waste energy wishing for a different child than the one you have. Love the one you’re with! This will help your child grow with confidence and a strong sense of self, which you will be very proud of one day. Accepting and learning to enjoy your child’s qualities can also make the drudgery of daily parenting more meaningful when you keep in mind that you are raising a unique and valuable human who will share their gifts with the world one day.
5. Simplify. Find ways to reduce misery and enhance the good bits. If you find that you hate being a parent because all you do is pick up toys, then get rid of most of those toys and donate them or pack them away to rotate them out every few months. If you hate being a parent because you are up and down all night soothing your baby in another room, consider bringing him or her into your bed and safely co-sleeping. If you hate being a parent because you are sick of cooking meals (every day, 3 + times a day!!!) find ways to labor-save by cooking in bulk and freezing or ordering out from some of the healthy food prep companies. If you hate being a parent because you are constantly running around delivering your little people to activities, classes, practices and play dates, learn to say “no” and give your children the gift of boredom (its essential for creativity and the ability to self-amuse) and yourself the gift of sitting on the couch in your jammies some days! So you have just seen some of the things that drive me nuts about parenting--what are the things that push your buttons? I wrote a whole blog about saving myself parenting misery in my Lazy Momma Manifesto!
6. Make it fun (and maintain your sense of humor). So many parents complain that they never have fun with their kids because they are so busy making sure that all the essentials are getting done—getting them cleaned and dressed, fed, potty trained, off to nursery or school or activities, then into bed on time, into clothes that fit (a full-time job), and on and on and on. Think about times when you can put the chores aside and have some fun. Run through the park, splash in the sea, build a pillow fort in the living room, have a picnic in the garden or an impromptu dance party in the kitchen—kids will love it and you will release some of your own stress. Ask yourself if the pressure you are putting on yourself (and your kids) to “get things done” is absolutely essential, or can you cut yourself a break and just be silly now and then. Keeping a healthy sense of humor about the frequently absurd aspects of parenting small people also will help. Laughing releases huge amounts of oxytocin (the love hormone!) and most of us don’t do enough of it! At the very least, pick one day a week or every couple weeks to have a “yes” day—avoid saying “no” unless absolutely essential. Both your child and you will enjoy it, and you can always go back to being tough and serious the next day!
7. Approach your children with empathy and compassion. If your child is driving you nuts, acting out in some way, or exhibiting tricky behavior around sleep, eating, potty training or anything else, we often assume that they are trying to drive us crazy, or that we are doing everything wrong. Try to look at it from your child’s perspective and have a little empathy—what is s/he feeling? What is going on in his or her world, which is causing this tricky behavior or these big, dark, scary emotions? All behavior is a form of communication and in children it is always expressing some kind of need. We can’t always meet that need perfectly or immediately and that’s okay (see "good enough" above), but when we approach the situation with empathy and compassion it engages our brain in a very different way than if we assume that we are in a battle that has to be won. Parenting becomes more intellectually and emotionally engaging when we try to use our compassion to understand and support our kids, rather than just following our explosive anger responses. Of course, anger will happen too, which is why having compassion and forgiveness for yourself is also a must!
8. Love yourself: None of this works if we are not taking care of ourselves. For us to be able to meet our children’s needs, and be caring and compassionate (and not just yelling all the time, which is no fun for anyone), we need to get our own needs met. Prioritize the self-care that you benefit from the most, whether it is regular exercise, time with friends or your spouse, reading a book, having a quiet coffee alone, getting out into nature, shopping without kids, or just feeding yourself nutritious food and going to bed early! Most parents feel guilty about taking that time “away” from their children, but really it is an investment in your children and your ability to parent them. If you do not currently love being a parent, then I can almost guarantee that you are not taking care of yourself enough. You can begin to change that today by following our next suggestion!
9. Ask for help and find your tribe. Our current model of parenting small children alone in a house or a flat is a very new phenomenon in terms of human evolution. Our ancestors raised their kids together in a tribe with dozens of arms and hearts available to carry the burden and provide the support. Many mothers tell me that they feel like they should do it all themselves, which is just nuts! Whether it’s your partner, extended family, or hired help, you need to share the responsibility and the joys of caring for your child because no one person can do it all alone and stay in any way sane, let alone love doing it. And because most of us live far from our extended family and support network it is essential to seek out your new tribe of friends and neighbors. Take a mother-baby class, go to a free baby café or reach out to the other mothers at the play area or park or beach to find a group of other mums and kids to share the joys and struggles of raising children together. This time of your life, when oxytocin levels are high (remember that love hormone?), your guard is down and your heart is open, is a time when you will make the kinds of friendships that last a lifetime. It is MUCH easier to love parenting in the embrace of a group of parents dealing with all the same things.
10. Heal your inner child. Most of us carry baggage from our own childhoods, which can weigh down our experience of parenting our children. If you have real trouble finding joy in being a parent, and if you find that your kids’ behaviors are triggering feelings of rage, fear, or sorrow in ways that seem out of proportion to the seriousness of their “crimes,” you might be feeling the wounds that you suffered during your own childhood. Even if you had a great childhood, there are going to be shadows of your own parents’ struggles to be the parent that you needed. One way to tell if this is what is happening is to listen for the voice of your parent to come out of your mouth when you are dealing with your kids. If it’s a voice that makes you feel great, and proud as a parent, then no worries. If you cringe when you hear that voice, then you might benefit from learning about “conscious parenting” to help to release some of those burdens and lighten the load that we carry (both in terms of our relationship with our children and our own parents.) Learn more here.
What ways have you found to increase your joy when it comes to parenting? When do you find you struggle to love it the most? What one thing will you try this Valentine's day to feel the love a little more? I would love to hear from you!
Take care and happy Valentine's Day!
Amy Vogelaar, IBCLC, is a lactation consultant and former midwife. She teaches antenatal breastfeeding and BabyCalm workshops to help parents prepare in advance to love parenting more, and many classes and workshops for parents of infants and toddlers, all with the goal of increasing the love!