It was November 9, 2016. It was a highly emotional day for me and many others in my community, and I needed to distract myself for a bit. I wandered over to my local library branch, and the book “Happier at Home” by Gretchen Rubin caught my attention.
If there was ever a time I needed to feel happier, this was it.
As soon as I started the book, I was riveted. I knew I wanted to start my own happiness project.
With the new year around the corner, I decided January would be the perfect time to start. I mapped out my focus for each month for the first half of the year. As a newly inducted member of the parent-of-a threenager club, it was simple to choose the focus for my first month — parenting.
While I’m lucky to have a relatively easygoing child, I had noticed a definite shift in her behavior that happened almost the exact day she turned 3. In turn, I noticed that my interactions with her were becoming increasingly negative.
I found myself being sucked into a battle of the wills on an almost daily basis, ending in tears for one or both of us.
As the days went on, I wondered how I was ever going to survive the next year. As a stay-at-home mom, I wanted to enjoy my time with my daughter, not dread what lay ahead. I knew if things were going to improve between us, the changes had to come from me.
My parenting happiness project in action:
I started my month-long parenting focus for my happiness project by making a list of all my behaviors I wanted to change and improve. Because I’m nerdy and like to track data — and I’ll take any excuse to color with my markers — I put the behaviors into a grid that I could track daily. Let’s call it my happiness-project version of a bullet journal. The list included:
- Taking deep breaths when I felt like I was about to yell (something I had been working on for nearly a year at that point).
- Acknowledging my daughter’s feelings (and hopefully giving her some language to help her express her feelings).
- Ignoring what I like to refer to as “the grumpies” (or those times when she says no just for the sake of saying no).
- Singing directions to make it a little more playful.
- Less no, or saying, “Instead of _____, why don’t you _______.”
- Spending at least 10 solid minutes on child-led play as an opportunity for us to just be together without me telling her what to do (and because I had to push myself to do more pretend play with her).
At the end of each day, I reflected on what I did and did not do that day, filling in my chart so I could visually grasp at a glance what was working and what was not.
The results of my happiness project:
It was a lot to think about on a daily basis, but it was also surprisingly manageable. As the month went on, I felt many of these things started to come more naturally. I didn’t have to consciously think about them as much.
I also found that having concrete actions really helped me to focus. It also enabled me to feel like I had a way to work on improving our relationship.
But most importantly, it worked. Not only did it feel like her most challenging behaviors were more manageable for me, I felt a vast improvement in our relationship. I saw us laughing more together. Once again, I looked forward to spending time with her, and it made me appreciate her more. I feel like I have seen an overall improvement in our interactions with each other.
Of course, like parenting in general, it’s still a work in progress.
I still have days where I yell. I sometimes automatically say no instead of offering a constructive alternative. Occasionally, things are too harried for us to really sit down and play.
But now I know to wait her out when she suddenly declares she doesn’t want to eat or do something she said she did a minute ago, whereas before I would have engaged with her and created a power struggle. While she still gets upset when I tell her something she doesn’t want to hear — she is still 3, after all — her response doesn’t cause a rise in my blood pressure. (Well, at least less so than before!)
By no means is life perfect, but instead of feeling at the end of the day like I have failed as a parent, more days than not I go to sleep feeling really happy about our interactions.