How I’m Becoming a Happier Mom 30 Minutes at a Time

Image source: Lauren Hartmann

Almost-three-year-olds are no joke. I mean, I’m sure I’ll probably say the same thing when my daughter is four, or ten, or sixteen too, but man … this age is rough.

One day you have these sweet, little toddler babies who are stoked on life and enamored with the world and the next thing you know there’s a sassy “threenager” in front of you arguing with you over clothing choices and bed times and what you served her for lunch. Literally, everything is a battle — and it’s only been getting worse lately.

In turn, having a mini-teenager in the house hasn’t exactly brought out my best side as a parent. Some days (many days) I feel like I’m on the edge of totally losing it on her … ALL. DAY. LONG. Most times I can will myself to take the higher road, but I’ve definitely been guilty of playing into the drama. At times loud voices and tears ensue … from both of us (seriously, it’s like a sneak peek into the hormone-laden teenage years around here). Sometimes at the end of the day, I cry because I’ve been a pretty terrible and grumpy mom all day. Definitely not the kind of mom I want my kids to look back on one day and remember.

Until recently, I had been feeling like I was fighting a losing battle. In between handling all of the daily tasks associated with keeping two children alive (one of whom is a very needy baby still), I just don’t have it in me to handle 87 toddler meltdowns every day. I was feeling overwhelmed. Then, at my mom’s group a couple of week’s ago, we had a licensed marriage and family therapist come to speak about parenting. Honestly I can’t remember a lot of what she said now (although, I filled up two huge pages of notes for future reference), but there was one thing she shared that stuck with me and it was:

“Take 30 minutes a week to just be with your child.”

To be honest, when she first threw out that bullet point during her talk, it sounded kind of ridiculous and obvious, since I clearly spend WAY more than 30 minutes a week with my child. But, that’s not what she was saying. She was talking about one-on-one time, just getting down and playing with your child and truly being present with them. Putting away your phone and doing an activity of their choosing. Talking about their day with them without washing dishes at the same time. Engaging in their world of play and showing sincere interest in it.

After thinking about it, I was ashamed to admit to myself that I probably don’t spend 30 undivided minutes with my child in the course of a week — especially since her baby brother was born six months ago. I hadn’t really thought about her behavior challenges being related to spending less time with me, because she’s never shown jealousy for her brother (she’s actually completely obsessed with him). But after thinking about it, I realized that I’m rarely truly engaging with her. I’m always talking to her while I’m nursing or changing a diaper or doing dishes, or half-heartedly pretend playing while catching up on e-mails from my phone.

I came away from the talk feeling totally guilty, but also inspired to try it out … so I did. I committed myself to spending the following week stopping and truly engaging with my daughter. I sat on the floor and played with her dollhouse. I laid in bed with her and talked about her dreams. We snuggled on the couch and had a snack and a chat. I stopped washing dishes for a few minutes and turned up some music for an impromptu dance party with her. I’m not sure I was able to sit for a complete 30-minute stretch of time in one sitting (because, needy babies), but I definitely spent 30 truly undivided minutes with her over the course of the week. 15 minutes here, and 10 minutes there … nothing life shattering, but it all added up to a big attitude difference in both my girl and myself.

Sure my almost-three-year-old still has some sassy moments and the occasional meltdown, because that’s just what three-year-olds do and there’s no magic that can suddenly make them wonderful, well-behaved, little angels. They’re still learning. I definitely still have grumpy moments during the week, but they’re feeling fewer and farther between more like the exception and not the rule. It’s pretty amazing how 30 short minutes can totally change your outlook and it’s definitely something I’m going to keep up, because I’m a better mom for it.

Image courtesy of Lauren Hartmann

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