Mother’s Day 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, I recommend Rebecca Eanes’ uplifting new book, The Gift of a Happy Mother. Eanes, the founder of Positive-Parents.org, describes how letting go of perfection and embracing everyday joy are pathways to happiness.
I couldn’t agree more.
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 live joyfully 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. In my new book, I outline three ways we can build our self-awareness.
* 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 Around Children.It’s important for moms and dads to understand that children absorb the emotions of the adults around them.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.
Have a joyful day—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.