I’ll tell you what I’ve learned about being a happier parent. Then, next time I’m complaining to you about how difficult parenthood is and how miserable I am, you can remind me of this and gently point out that I’m not doing it.
The key to being a happy parent, for me, is just parenting. Not in a Zen sense. In a literal sense. JUST parenting. Because really, dealing with children is not the hard part. The hard part is that nagging, gnawing, frustrated feeling that comes from trying to be a mother and do anything else at the same time.
It’s not as simple as work, though I will say that blogging is not the most boundaried of enterprises, and the fact that my subject matter is parenthood probably doesn’t help keep it from bleeding into my real parent life. The nag can be positive or negative: the desire to do something creative or manage the chaos in my closet. It can be about taking care of business—family, personal or otherwise—an overdue call to set up a doctor’s appointment, replying to an email from a friend you’ve been out of touch with for too long.
I’m not suggesting you have to blow off your job or important self-care needs to be a happy parent. In addition to the fact that this clashes violently with my nature and personal belief system, that plan would obviously backfire, making you hate your children and possibly be unable to feed them. You are still you, a presumably functional individual with a life and responsibilities. Some of my biggest struggles are about trying to multitask as a mother and a person, whether the conflict is about making art or making my own damn breakfast. There are times—and I believe breakfast should be one of them—where you must take care of yourself first (that tired old airplane oxygen mask analogy comes to mind). Part of the process of leaning into motherhood has been about knowing when to take care of myself and when to surrender to the primacy of my children’s needs.
My kids seem happiest when they’ve got relatively undivided attention. Putting aside other responsibilities when I can lets me focus on being with my children, experiencing and enjoying our time together. Since I have stuff to do a lot of the time, I am usually not at my maximum mom happiness. (Hence the complaining.) But when I know I’m going to be spending a chunk of time with my kids, I try to think about what else is on my plate, because I know that the more I can clear it, the more fun we’ll have together. It’s not something I can do always, or even often. But the moments I can surrender to the full monty of motherhood are the moments it brings me the most joy.