I’ve been thinking about happiness a lot lately.
As parents, we often think about how to raise children who are happy and thriving, and I think about that plenty, too.
But in the past several months, I’ve been thinking about how our own happiness affects our children.
This led me to ask my 7 year old this question—“If you had to choose, would you rather have all the toys on your wish list or happy parents?” He didn’t miss a beat before he answered, “Happy parents. I mean, it’d be nice to have all the toys, but it’s more important that you and dad are happy.”
I was floored.
This little boy of mine would choose my happiness over all the toys. My curiosity piqued, I went on to ask, “Does it affect you when you think one of us might be unhappy? What does it feel like?”
“Yeah,” he said. “It makes me feel kind of…” and he made a yucky face. Apparently, feeling that their parents might be unhappy makes kids feel yucky. Or at least, it makes my kid feel yucky. I’m willing to bet, however, that most children would have the same response because I think their parents’ happiness matters to them a lot more than we think it does.
I couldn’t find much in my research on the topic, but there is information about how parental depression affects children. Still, I didn’t need a peer-reviewed paper to tell me that it matters. I have a 7-year-old who told me.
Since my conversation with my son, I’ve been reading a lot about happiness. Most of them say the same things: Eat healthy, exercise, manage stress, and limit screen time. Those are all solid suggestions for sure, but I wanted something more, so I kept reading and taking notes.
As a result, here are 4 habits I’m convinced will make us happier parents.
1. Take parenting seriously, but not too seriously.
We tend to be extremely hard on ourselves, beating ourselves up for every misstep or mistake. Our inner critics are relentless and there’s no shortage of outer critics these days, either! I’ve seen parents in such a frazzled state over things like potty training accidents and children wearing mismatched clothing, and by parents I mean me.
I had to realize that not everything is a crisis!
Most of what seemed like a big problem at the time ended up a very small bump in the road. Raising children is a very serious endeavor, don’t get me wrong. It requires our best selves to show up. It stretches us to grow in ways we didn’t even know we needed to grow, and much is riding on what we do every day, but for goodness’ sake, take some time to have a pillow fight, giggle over silly jokes, and enjoy them even when things aren’t perfect! If you wait until everything is perfect before you start enjoying your kids, you’ll end up missing their whole childhood.
Also, at the end of the day, give yourself and your kids some grace for the mistakes. You’re learning and growing together, and where there is love and gratitude, there is hope and happiness.
2. Live with integrity.
Sometimes we get out of step with who we want to be. We may let others influence us negatively, allow them to make decisions for us, or take away our personal power. I think this is becoming an increasing problem with the constant influences of social media.
Well-meaning friends, family, strangers on the internet, and even professionals may talk us into doing things that feel counterintuitive. We also may overstretch ourselves to please others even when it means sacrificing the personal values we believe in. We may allow our priorities to become askew and get off track for a period of time.
I believe living outside our values and beliefs is a cause for much unhappiness.
The Executive Happiness Coach, Jim Smith, says, “You can experience pleasure, yes. But true happiness, as it is related to meaning and engagement with life, is difficult to achieve and impossible to hold when one is out of integrity.”
I like this definition of integrity: “The state of being whole and undivided.” Decide what values you hold dear, what beliefs you stand firm in, and don’t let others cause you to become divided.
3. Connect with those around you.
I mean really connect, not just occupy the same space. You see, they tell us to get off our screens, and we should, but if we sign off and still don’t make an effort to communicate and connect with those we love, what’s the point?
I think often times parents think that because we do so much for our children, surely they feel connected to us. This isn’t necessarily true.
It isn’t about the quantity of things we do for them but the quality of the time we spend with them.
4. Challenge negative thought patterns.
If you’ve read my new book, you know this is a challenge I’ve tackled before. I even list the steps to become a more positive thinker in the book.
—Notice your thought patterns
—Write down your most recurring negative thoughts
—Challenge them by asking if they are true and coming up with a more positive counter thought
—Then stopping those negative thoughts in their tracks and replacing them with the counter thoughts
It takes a lot of willpower at first, but it gets easier with time.
Mama, you’ve got this.
A version of this article originally appeared on Creative Child.