I wrote this for Mamapedia.
1. Stop measuring your successes and failures through your children.If your little Joe Jr. or Suzy Q. melts to the ground screaming like a maimed hyena because he/she refuses to take turns on the swing while all the Moms in your Tuesday playgroup cross their arms and wrinkle their foreheads at you: Then stop. Take a deep breath. Acknowledge your kid is being a jerk and don’t draw the imaginary connection in your head where you think everyone believes you’rea jerk too. Conversely, when little Joe Jr. or Suzy Q. scores the highest grade in math class, or wins 1st place in their dance competition, this does not mean you have won at parenting. You’re allowed to be proud… of them, not yourself.
2. Stop measuring other Moms’ successes and failures through their children. Number one will become a whole lot easier when you stop doing this to other Moms, too. Promise.
3. Make a list of five priorities and make sure you’re one of them. In the busiest phase of life — raising a family — you must learn to prioritize. You simply cannot do everything you want to do. Priorities should be things that when they are missing from your life, the quality of your life goes down. And at least one of the things on the list has to be something for you. Whether it’s a career, cooking, crafting or drinking wine with friends, you must be on the list. If exercise isn’t a priority, stop beating yourself up for not doing it. If it is, then stop making excuses. Relax into the idea that no one can do it all and everyone must pick and choose what’s important and dump the rest. Particularly in this phase of life. My five (in order of importance) are: God, husband, kids, writing and exercise. Now, doesn’t this give you an idea what my toilets looks like?
4. Make your partner one of those priorities. I’m not good at this one. I’m not. I’m a little selfish and I am physically drained each day from taking care of small children, my job and just plain life. I want to put me first. But the wisest parts of my brain tell me that my marriage is part of the foundation for all those other things I want, and therefore, it is near the top of my list. Forever. Because I’ve learned that this list is base for everything else in my life – My faith holds it up, makes it all worth doing, while my partner puts the shine on it.
5. Learn to use “bad” words. If you’re being asked to do something that will take away from something on your list of priorities, you must learn to say that little dirty word. The one that’s so hard to say in the face of a pleading co-worker, neighbor or parent – it’s particularly hard for women. That word is… no. Yes, people will be upset with you. They may yell and scream and make your life uncomfortable for a little while; but not as uncomfortable as if you drop one of your priorities. Sayyes to yourself, by saying no to them. It’s not selfish, it’s survival.
6. Stop thinking about what your kids aren’t, and start focusing on what they are. Maybe your kid has a happy demeanor most days, but is hopeless at school. Maybe she is tender and kind with animals, but can’t remember to brush her hair. Maybe all your kid can do is tie his shoelaces by himself. Focus on the shoelaces, forget the rest. Your kid will thank you someday. This is a conscious, mental exercise. One that can have either devastating consequences, or abundant rewards because the plain truth about life is that what you focus on expands. If you’re always making a mental list of all the things your kids is NOT, then the list will become endless. If you make a conscious effort to praise and feed all the things your kid already is, (and this list is probably small and harder to define), then that too, will get larger and your child’s sense of self-worth will too. Same goes for you.
7. Take notes from your toddlers and develop amnesia. Small children are amazing in their abilities to live in the moment. Watching them play and dance and sing with wild abandon makes even the coldest of hearts, thaw. Young children do not lament over the milk they spilled on the kitchen floor an hour ago. They do not care what the world thinks about their mismatched socks. They’re over it before it even began. So in other words, stop letting the past control your life. If you’re living in a state of regret over yesterday, you’re stunting your future growth. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone fails. Everyone is paying a price for poor decisions they made decades ago. (I’ll show you my ridiculous tramp stamp if you show me yours?) The fact is that many of us re-live the past in our heads trying to rewrite history. It’s impossible and a waste of precious time you could be playing or dancing or singing with wild abandon. As long as you’re living in the past, you’re not moving forward. You’re not growing as a person and you’re certainly not happy. So act like a toddler and follow their rules: if it happened more than an hour ago and there’s nothing you can do to fix it, then forget it. Replace it with another thought or action. Preferably dancing.
8. Learn to say I’m sorry and mean it. Everyone has bad days when they snap at their kids for getting out of bed for the 14th time. We’re human. We make mistakes. So we must learn to say we’re sorry. This is not just to model good behavior or repair hurt feelings. (Although apologies can do that too.) But learning how to give a heartfelt apology is also an acknowledgement to ourselvesthat what we said or did, hurt someone. It’s a reminder that your words have consequences. Saying I’m sorry teaches us to be more thoughtful of feelings and less selfish with our venting of frustrations and self-awareness is always a good thing. So tell your kids you’re sorry. Tell your spouse you’re sorry. And mean it. It will not only help repair the damage and model kind behavior, it will also teach you to pull back the dragon next time before you spit fire.
9. Learn to Forgive. Forgive your children for their ungratefulness. Forgive your spouse for their carelessness. Forgive your in-laws and the teenager next door for running over your flower bed… again. Oh, this isn’t easy and you may be MORE than justified in your anger and resentment. I often am. But it doesn’t make you or me happier people. Quite the opposite really. Anger is a poison that kills from the inside. Learning to forgive takes practice, diligence and patience. But learning to forgive others is the practice you need to know how to forgive yourself. And that is where the true healing begins.
10. Practice Gratitude. Not be grateful. Practice it. We are not born knowing how to do this and yet there is no real joy without it. Gratitude is not an attitude, it is a skill, and like any other skill, you must practice it faithfully if you’re going to be any good at it. If it’s raining today, the cat puked on your bed last night and your two-year-old just drew shapes on your couch with permanent maker – then be grateful that your garden is getting watered, your cat is no longer struggling with a hairball and our child has the inklings for creativity. Because when you practice seeing the good, you will start to see mostly good. When you see mostly good, life becomes mostly good. When life becomes mostly good, then you no longer need a list of things to make you happy. You just are.