Just when you thought every possible angle of parenting had been explored in print, KJ Dell’Antonia has uncovered not just an important question, but possibly the central question most of us ask at some point: why can’t parenting be more fun? Or, less eloquently, why can’t it suck just a little less?
As a mother of four and the former editor of the New York Times Motherlode blog, Dell’ Antonia knows a thing or two about parenting and when I found out her book was focusing not on how to do it better, but how to do it happier, I was intrigued. After all, who isn’t looking for a little more happiness? Who couldn’t use help navigating the most important (but often the most stressful) relationships in our lives?
How to be a Happier Parent isolates nine “problem spots” that typically cause parents the most grief; nine repeat offenders that collectively conspire to make the joy we thought we’d experience so elusive. Whether it’s chaotic mornings, chores, sibling battles, extra-curricular activities, homework, setting limits on screen time, discipline, picky eaters, or family vacations, Dell’Antonia suggests small but impactful ways to make these interactions and situations less stressful by changing not just what we do, but how we think. And the latter is just as critical as the former because, according to her research:
Wanting to be happier has its own happiness-increasing effect. The way we interpret our own lives and the way we talk to ourselves about our experiences has an enormous impact on how we perceive them. When we make that choice, or even when we decide to strive for it, something shifts in our mind-set, and we’re able to see and appreciate what’s already there.
How to be a Happier Parent is a timely and important read for anyone who feels overwhelmed by the day to day challenges of raising kids, and anyone who feels they’ve lost their way and just needs a few simple strategies to get back on track. It’s also for anyone who’s confused by conflicting advice and the baffling tendency to make mountains out of molehills in the parenting space. This book is for you if you find yourself overthinking and over-parenting yet still not feeling like you’re doing it “right.”
These days it’s easy to feel like we’re not doing the right things, or enough things, or the what-everyone-else-is-doing things, which feeds our anxiety and self-doubt. It’s not so much that previous generations refused to give in to the fear, it’s that there was so much less fear. My parents worried about traffic and strangers and illness, not bottle vs. breast, co-sleeping, or Montessori vs. Waldorf. It’s almost as though this generation simply knows too much. Yes, knowledge is power but when we use it to tie ourselves up in knots about how to handle a grocery store temper tantrum, we lose sight of the forest for the trees.
There’s no shortage of information, and sources of information, about parenting. In fact, there’s so much “do this, don’t do this” out there that it’s easy to see raising kids as a complicated series of problems and challenges that need to be tackled and solved before “success” can be achieved. But most of us don’t want to live our lives that way. We’d prefer to enjoy the journey instead of, as Dell’Antonia writes, “rushing to the end.”
How to be a Happier Parent makes a case for taking a few steps back and considering ways to connect with the people we love using methods that are simple, healthy and joyful, and by rejecting the common traps of conflict and stress. How to be a Happier Parent can help us realize the vision of what we always wanted family life to be: a pleasure and a refuge from the rest of the world, not a battleground mined with homework demands, screen time worries, chores, sibling rivalry, discipline challenges and crazy mornings. Those things will still exist, but they don’t have to define us.