Ever looked in the mirror and wondered what’s happened to your once-fun-loving, jovial, carefree self? You aren’t alone. Parenting can be so challenging and draining that it’s sometimes necessary to bury our former fun selves and unleash a nagging, stricter persona.
If parenting feels joyless and you’re feeling overwhelmed and disappointed with how things are going more often than you’d like to admit, it’s time to make some changes.
At the end of the day, what every parent wants is to see smiles on their children’s faces. But in order for that to happen, mum and dad need to first find happiness within the turmoil that is parenting. You’re 10 steps closer to making this a reality when you ditch these bad habits. So, today, stop:
1) Needing to always be perfect
We live in an age where making your child breakfast deserves a picture and a social-media post, so that you’ll get a pat on the back for being an attentive parent from 400 of your “closest friends”. This makes parents who are juggling long office hours, a cranky kid and a house that resembles a war zone feel even worse about themselves.
"Learn to embrace your parenting mistakes as genuine paths to growth. Enjoy the effort you are putting into raising happy children and becoming a happier person yourself.”
Remember that parenting should not be a contest to decide who is more perfect. The kids don’t have wear colour-coordinated clothes daily or eat organic at every meal, just so that you can feel like you’re a good parent. All they really need is your unconditional love and attention.
By the way, don’t feel like you’ve got to nail being a great parent every moment, either. If you didn’t get it right today, tomorrow is a brand-new day to try again. To quote sociologist and happiness expert Dr Christine Carter, who wrote Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, “Learn to embrace your parenting mistakes as genuine paths to growth. Enjoy the effort you are putting into raising happy children and becoming a happier person yourself.”
2) Having no limits
Everyone relies on mum at home as most mothers keep the household ticking smoothly even while they work full-time — by staying on top of school tasks and events, planning meals and organising play dates, notes marriage and family therapist Dr Hana Ra Adams.
While you may look like you can have it all, at some point, you will run yourself ragged, fall ill and become easily frustrated by the little things and project that onto the people around you.
Psychologist and family therapist Anoushka Beh, who runs her own practice, advises mothers to look after themselves as this will help them care better for their families in the long run. And don’t be afraid to ask for help — it doesn’t make you less of a mother.
3) Unhealthy self-sacrifice and guilt
“Mum guilt” is a real thing as you feel like you should dedicate every minute to your brood. Even when you get a chance to enjoy some “me time”, your first instinct is to do something to benefit the family, such as trying a new recipe or catching up with laundry.
“It’s really important to find the right balance between being a mum, the other roles you’re playing and also find time for yourself,” Beh notes. “You need to keep your own ‘well’ as full as it can be if you want to keep nourishing your ‘village’.”
4) Keeping score
If you and the hubs have an imaginary score sheet to keep tabs on who is doing what, tear it up now. It can hurt your marriage as it will make you two adversaries instead of team players.
Instead, Beh encourages you to think about how much you’re banking as a team. “In a partnership, there will always be a multitude of ways in which partners are contributing to the family — some of which are less obvious than others,” she explains. Stay focused on what unites you and all the things that you’re both doing for your family.
5) Conflicts galore
Getting into a power struggle with a young child is easy — staying out of them is the hard part. When it comes to picking your battles, reflect on what the battle is for. Will it really hurt if your tot wears green shorts instead of the black ones you’ve picked to go with a bright pink shirt? Not really.
Dr Adams advises, “Think about what is most important and let your values lead the battle.” You should also ask yourself, ‘Do I and my child have the emotional resources to deal with this potential conflict today?’ before you start a fight. If the answer is ‘no’, have the discussion on a different day.
That said, health and safety rules are non-negotiable. Make known these boundaries and expectations early, so your child knows where they stand. “As they grow up, help them understand why you are setting a rule and why it cannot be changed,” Dr Adams says.
6) Raising your voice
Yelling doesn’t drive the point home, it only frightens and intimidates everyone around you. Think back to the last time you raised your voice at your kids or spouse. Was there a positive outcome? Not likely.
The next time you feel your temper rise, walk away and calm down first, then return to the incident. You will handle a situation better when you are able to think straight.
“Look around you to find the small sliver of joy... In every moment.”
7) Worrying constantly
It’s a parent’s duty to worry about their children and it continues even after your now-not-that-little one has flown the nest. However, compulsive worrying doesn’t do anyone any good, since it won’t keep your child safe, nor will it give you peace of mind. Worse still, watching you fret may instil in your wee one a need to always live in fear.
Instead, show appreciation. “Teach your children to be grateful for what they have,” Dr Adams suggests. “Encourage them — and yourself — to appreciate the people around them and what they have to be thankful for.”
8) Trying to enforce one-size-fits-all rules
As every child is different, what works for one won’t necessarily work for another. Nor should you try to force the issue. “It’s important that parents find a balance between accommodating their kids’ unique personalities and needs, and also creating an environment where the kids feel that they are valued just as much as their siblings,” Beh points out.
If there are different rules for everyone in the house, it can lead to confusion and resentment, especially if a child feels that it’s unfair that they are the only one who has to abide by it. Explain any age-sensitive variations in the rules to minimise feelings of injustice, as well as potential sibling rivalry.
For example, while everyone should know what is expected in the morning routine before school and the consequences if a rule is broken, you can be more flexible with bedtime or social-gathering guidelines. Perhaps an older sibling can go to bed later or is able to have more playdates with friends.
Adjusting rules shows that your family is growing and changing together.
9) Feuding with your finicky eater
If you demand that your child finishes everything you serve at every meal, then you’re setting yourself (and them) up for a lot of heartache and headache.
Tots go through several developmental leaps, so they may sometimes be off their food for days or even weeks. At times, they are just not interested in food in general. The last thing you should do is turn the dinner table into a warzone because you might be setting your child up for food issues later.
Advises Dr Wendy Sinnathamby, a paediatrics specialist at the Raffles Children’s Centre, “The golden rule is to not panic and keep calm.”
Involve junior at family dinners, so they can watch you eat, guide and encourage them. Nor should you stop preparing healthy food — you never know when they will decide to take a bite.
10) Stop those negative messages
You’ll not improve your child or your spouse by picking on them constantly. When you say things like “you are too loud”, “stop fidgeting” or “i can’t trust you to do anything right” you’ll not only make them feel like they can never please you, you’re also hurting their feelings. It’s too easy to point out the negatives.
Dr Adams suggests that you can make your life together a more rewarding and enriching experience by “looking around you to find the small sliver of joy or happiness in every moment”.
So, rather than barking out “stop fidgeting”, give it a positive spin by saying, “you have a lot of energy today!”
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