Why Being a Happy Mom (or Dad) is a Gift to Our Children

*Updated June 2023

This photo of me and my daughters always transports me back to my days as a young mom, juggling my psychology practice with the activities of our household: three young children, a wonderful husband, and a rambunctious dog named Lacy. With all three girls active on their soccer teams and their dad serving as coach, we sometimes needed a spreadsheet to make sure at least one parent made it to every game.

What a whirlwind! It was busy, fun and exhausting, with one day melting into the next. One thing I always found difficult, though, was slowing down enough to appreciate the moments.

For anyone who shares that challenge, it might help to experiment with letting go of perfection and embracing little moments of peace and self-compassion.

When my parenting left me exhausted and stressed, one thing that helped was starting my day by reciting a simple mantra: “I will live this day with intention, joy and gratitude.”

The truth was, I needed to say these words because with all I had on my plate, many days, I was barely surviving. I was doing too much, and though I felt I was handling it well, the stress caught up with me. Many years later, when health challenges forced me to slow down and take stock of my life, I realized that my talent for multitasking often detracted from my relationships. Too frequently, my to-do list distracted me away from simple, joyful presence.

Nowadays, I frequently counsel families to make an effort to find moments of joy and focus on the present. And there’s plenty of evidence from neuroscience to back me up.

  • Joy activates the ventral vagal pathway of the autonomic nervous system. This pathway is where social engagement happens. It helps learning, memory and cognitive development.
  • Feeling Joy decreases stress responses, which take children and parents away from the present moment.
  • Joy builds on itself; and the more positive experiences we have, the more our brains remember that happy state and use it to ward off future stress.

Being a happy mother—or father—is truly a gift for children. Our self-awareness is one way to help remind us of this amidst the tornado of parenting life. I share more about how we can take care of ourselves in my latest book, Brain-Body Parenting, and in our online Parenting Community, The Brain-Body Parenting Collective. 

* Take Self-Compassion Breaks to Reduce Your own Stress.Research shows that taking mindfulness and self-compassion breaks—even for just a few minutes a day— can make a huge difference. Moms and dads should make caring for themselves a priority: take walks, do yoga, exercise, create art, or do whatever helps you to recharge.

* Be Aware of Your Emotional Tone. It’s important for moms and dads to understand that humans absorb the emotions of the adults around them. We all do. Our own emotional tone can help calm a child’s fight-or-flight response, which is the cause of the most severe behavioral challenges. Talking in a calm tone at the child’s eye level can help the child feel understood and safe.

*  Identify Ways to Make Your Child Feel Emotionally Safe. Human beings have a basic need to feel safe. A child who senses stress in relationships or the environment is more likely to exhibit challenging behaviors. To help a child feel safe, prioritize messages of love and acceptance, over behavior charts, stickers or other rewards and consequences. Experiencing joyful connections can make us feel safe.

I hope you have a day with moments of self-compassion—and remember to give yourself permission to let go of perfection and enjoy those spontaneous, precious moments. You will treasure them when your children are grown.

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