It’s easy to forget the carefree life you lived before you found yourself swaddling a newborn. I remember it all too well. If I wanted to just jump in the car and go to the store at 10 p.m., I could. And, I didn’t even have to bring along a diaper bag.
And if I wanted to take an impromptu trip, I didn’t hesitate to call up a few friends and head out for a weekend journey.
However, even though my schedule changed drastically and my ability to spontaneously pick up and take off on an adventure was pretty much nonexistent once I had my first child, I found joy in knowing that I was a mom and that this little one I was holding needed me day in and day out.
I was perfectly happy with the way my life was changing and was eager to take on this new role, even if it consumed me day and night.
Unfortunately, many times as parents we view ourselves as only that – just a mom or dad. Our “me” time seems more like a dream than a reality, especially when our children get older and we find ourselves immersed in the hustle and bustle of soccer practices, music lessons, dance performances and those unexpected trips to the doctor or the dentist.
As a result, you begin to feel lonely, overwhelmed and even stressed at some point each and every day. The tension you feel carries over into how you raise your children – and you better believe that your children will notice.
It’s important to make sure that you are prepared for the changes that a baby, toddler or even teenager brings to your life. And, it’s even more important that you take the time to make yourself happy and your relationship with your spouse or partner a priority, too. Your kids will thank you for it because after all, happy parents raise happy kids.
Recognize That Changes Are Coming
The anticipation of waiting nine months for a bundle of joy is often filled with excitement, and rightfully so, according to Marva Soogrim, Nanny to the Stars.
“As a mom myself, I know that when you finally have that first baby, nothing else in the world matters,” said Soogrim.
“After nine months of pregnancy, the baby comes and you just want to focus every second on him or her.”
While you have your baby’s best interests in mind, other areas of your life begin to suffer if you let parenthood consume you.
“The first three to four months are the most intense and it’s often easy for mom to ignore everyone else, including her partner, because she wants nothing to go wrong with the baby,” said Soogrim.
You may not be prepared for the shift in your relationships once your little one arrives.
“Although it’s easy to devote all attention to your new arrival, it is imperative to maintain a healthy, loving relationship with your husband or partner,” suggests Soogrim.
“When you keep the flame alive, happy and fulfilled daddies are more likely to chip in with parenting, chores around the house and offer you much-needed naps.”
It’s no secret that children bring a new kind of love and companionship to your life, but on average, marital satisfaction declines with each child, according to Dr. Alan M. Singer, family therapist.
“That means that family well-being also decreases and with a U.S. divorce rate hovering at 50 percent, we can’t be too careful,” he said.
Putting your relationship on the back burner can pose a recipe for disaster for couples with children, said Singer. “Too often, couples put their marriage or partnership on hold for years, even decades, while they put their children’s lives on the front burner,” he said.
Be Aware of Common Stressors
Taking care of yourself and your children begs for a clear mind and a happy heart.
However, many moms and dads feel consumed by stress when trying to achieve a balance between parenting and maintaining a household.
Throw in a full-time job and you may see your stress level sky rocket.
Stress is not always detrimental, though. In fact, it is a normal and common feeling, according to the National Institute of Health. Recognizing the type of stress you are feeling is important.
Acute Stress: This type of stress is often connected to a brief, yet helpful type of alertness. For example, when you have to make a quick decision or reaction to avoid an accident, your heart may race and you may feel suddenly short of breath.
Acute stress allows you to manage dangerous situations and assists you with reacting. You may also feel a brief moment of stress when you are overly excited or anticipate big news.
Chronic Stress: When you feel stressed for longer periods of time, it is often deemed chronic stress. If you experience stress for days or weeks at a time due to the pressures of a daily or chaotic routine or even unhappiness with a relationship, it is likely you are experiencing chronic stress.
In some cases, parents experience chronic stress to the point that they notice some of the following physical symptoms:
- Significant weight loss or weight gain
- Forgetfulness that goes beyond just misplacing items in your home
- Aches and pains that persist for days
- Constant headaches that disrupt your daily life
- A lack of focus or an inability to find the energy to function at home
- An inability to sleep or the need to sleep too much
It is necessary to consult with a physician or therapist to find ways to cope with chronic stress so you can achieve the level of happiness you need to care for yourself and your family.
Manage the Daily Grind With Grace
Your happiness is essential.
More importantly, your children are likely to mimic your behavior, attitudes and approaches. Showing your child that you can maintain a level of happiness that enriches your life, ultimately enriches their lives.
In order to find happiness, you must find ways to manage the daily grind in ways that make them feel fulfilled as individuals and as co-parents.
One of the most challenging aspects of parenting is reaching a common ground as a couple. Moms and dads must first analyze together their preferences and styles when it comes to how the children are cared for on a daily basis, recommends Singer.
“Come to a decision with compromise and never end up with one-sided anarchy or responses such as ‘Wait until your father gets home.’”
Have an open and honest discussions about all aspects of how you plan to find happiness individually, together and as parents. Begin by ironing out compromises on the following topics:
- Discipline: Outline how you want to discipline your child well before your little one arrives. For example, mom may be opposed to spanking, while another dad does not see “time out” as an appropriate consequence. Work out your discipline approach and set boundaries and guidelines so an argument in the heat of the moment doesn’t cause unnecessary stress for everyone involved.
- Sleeping Arrangements: While you may find comfort knowing your toddler is tucked into bed right next to you, your spouse or partner may find the sleeping arrangement less than desirable. Discuss how you both view the situation so a restless night of sleep does not become even more restless because of a disagreement.
- Spending: Couples often fight about money when struggling to pay the bills, but they also fight about money when it comes to determining how much to spend on birthdays, holidays or even the tooth fairy. Think back to your own childhood for reference and discuss your finances so you both can come to an agreement before the bills add up and affect your happiness as a family.
When you and your partner can reach a common ground with parenting, you can also portray a united front for your children to observe and absorb, says Lanea Miller, Washington-based licensed marriage and family therapist.
“It is best to give yourself time as parents to discuss what issues are important to each of you and how you will address these issues when they come up with children,” says Miller.
“When that united front is presented and when a parent is able to back another parent up on an issue, the children are able to see just how strong their family foundation is.”
Make “Me” Time a Top Priority
The best thing you can do for your children is to show them that you take care of yourself, said Miller. Model positive self-care strategies so your little ones learn how to find their own happiness, too.
“When we take positive self-care time, whether it is a 10-minute walk or a lunch with friends, we are helping to release the stress from our bodies and are allowing ourselves to be better focused on our children, which ultimately helps us to be the parents we want to be,” said Miller.
Make time for self check-ins, she recommends. “Ask yourself if you are doing activities that you want to do, or only things that you have to do,” said Miller.
If as a mom or dad, you find yourself dreading the day or feeling physically burned out, it’s a clear sign that it is time to start eliminating activities or obligations from your day that are draining your happiness.
It is also a sign that you may need to add enjoyable activities to your day – with or without your children – to find the happiness you need and desire.
“The goal is to motivate yourself to set yourself up for success,” said Miller.
Think about something you have always wanted to do, but just haven’t made the time for it. From a weekly yoga class to get your heart racing to a painting class to express your creativity, treating yourself to a few moments alone to work on your mind and body gives you the motivation to parent with more enthusiasm and most of all, happiness.
Rekindle Your Relationship
Often times, families adopt a routine that is familiar. Yet, with any routine, the spark and excitement can disappear. Don’t let your relationship fall victim.
“For families, having children can be both an exciting and stressful time, but you can get used to a current dynamic,” said Miller.
“Unfortunately, one or both parents might feel ignored or excluded.”
Initiate some alone time with each other. Hire a babysitter so you can have a date night at least once or twice a month.
“Make the time just about you as a couple,” recommends Soogrim.
Prompt your partner to make a wish list of 10 things you both could do together.The activities don’t have to involve taking long trips or spending thousands of dollars. Even a nightly walk or a gardening project for just the two of you can help to renew your bond and re-energize your relationship.
As a result, your children get to see firsthand how much fun you two can have together and the happiness that keeps your relationship healthy.
Put on Your Happy Face
As a new mom, I knew that my child needed my guidance, but I didn’t always realize just how much she needed me to be happy.
By working on my relationship and caring for myself, I showed her that stress doesn’t have to define you. In fact, those moments when I stopped in my tracks and learned to say “no” to others who were monopolizing my time were some of the best moments for me and my family as a whole.
I had to learn how to let a smile guide me versus a to-do list full of household tasks.
So to sum it up…
Although parenting is bound to bring out moments of tears and feelings that bring you down, a smile can make a world of difference in your life and your child’s life. Find ways to put yourself and your relationship first when your children are settled and satisfied so your happiness becomes just as important as parenting.
Learn how to say “no” when you need time to yourself and allow your children to see that self care is a natural part of life and a key element of general happiness.
You don’t have to fake it to make it. Happiness surrounds your little family – you just have to make it a primary parenting goal, each and every day.
1) Marva Soogrim, Nanny to the Stars, (personally interviewed), http://www.marvalousbabies.com/
2) Dr. Alan M. Singer, Family Therapist, (personally interviewed), http://perfectfamilysize.blogspot.com/
3) National Institute of Health, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003211.htm
4) Lanea Miller, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, (personally interviewed), https://www.yelp.com/biz/lanea-miller-lmft-renton