Baby and mum at sunset

10 Ways To Catch And Hold Onto The Joys Of Parenting

While she’ll always love parenting books and counselling theories, says Erin Leyba, author, blogger and mother of three, she’s learned she needs more.

“I need perspectives and habits to keep me focused on what’s important — joy, love, and relationships,” writes the US-based family therapist and child development and social work academic. “I need them to remind me, again and again, of the person I want to be — and the person I want to stay when one of my little people streaks naked across the yard, another plate shatters on my crumb-covered floor, or one of those “big feelings” sweeps over me with the velocity and force of a stomach flu.”

Happiness is not the same as joy, she notes.

“While happiness refers to temporary pleasure, joy is the grounded sense of peace that can always be there, through highs and lows, during a wild ride.”

Here is our edited pick of 10 joy fixes from her book, Joy Fixes for Weary Parents:

1. Build a Fortress Around Your Passions

Parenthood hurls your identity into the air like a bag of confetti and forces it to settle in a new formation. Identify the things that keep you feeling vibrantly alive — your core joys — and wrap them up for safe-keeping. If you swap every bike ride for a toddler birthday party and every date night for another trip to the hardware store, you will certainly lose your mojo. The neurologist S. Ausim Azizi explains that enjoyable hobbies stimulate the brain’s septal zone, which is associated with pleasure, as well as the brain’s nucleus accumbens, which controls how people feel about life.

Instead of thinking of boundaries as keeping things out, see them as circles protecting the things you hold most dear.

If your core joy is tinkering with your car, block out some time to putter away at it. If it’s baseball, catch some games.

2. Create Rituals around Your Priorities

Here’s a fictional case study: Ashley worked full-time, and after putting her son to bed, it was too late for her to go inline skating like she used to. She realised she missed the outdoors and felt cooped up and claustrophobic. She cut back on her four-year-old’s Saturday sports classes so she and her family could spend Saturday afternoons at the lakefront. Their Saturday picnic became treasured family time for riding bikes, building sandcastles, and playing at the park.

3. Apply Successive Approximations

Shaping is a technique in behaviourism that uses small and manageable successive approximations — incremental baby steps — to achieve a result. If you want to exercise, but your baby screams every time you push her in her stroller, you might tell yourself, “An eight-minute walk, that’s better than nothing.” If your child hates swimming lessons, focus on small achievements: “My child put her face in the water, I’ll take it.”

4. Scan for Inspiration

Inspiration creates a spark to be better. A 2004 study suggests it has three characteristics: evocation (it shows up spontaneously); transcendence (it brings clarity), and approach motivation (the motivation to act on a new idea or vision). Sources of inspiration can be words or song lyrics, when a phrase can seem to sail out of the music and land deep within our ears; mentors, who may show up to give us the oomph we need just when we need it, then disappear; a tribe; time away (ever notice that when you get away, you get ideas and “aha” moments that elude you in everyday life?); and even atrocity – sometimes the only plus side of something bad is that it stirs us to do something good.

5. Avoid Mood Matching

It’s not easy to remain grounded in peace and positivity when other people’s moods bubble up, whine, or leap off the couch behind you. It’s hard to hold a good mood when a little person is in a state of refusal, upset, or downright obstinacy.

Remember a time when you got pulled into your child’s upset. What would help you stay calm in that moment?

6. Know Your Triggers Inside and Out

Triggers are most often rooted in experiences from your family of origin or your childhood. If you value your relationships with your siblings, you might feel unsettled when your children fight with each other. If your father passed away from diabetes, you might be exceptionally strict about your child’s sugar intake. If a parent often yelled at you when you were young, you might shut down immediately when your partner yells in the same way. If you regret not getting into a certain college, you may react strongly when your child refuses to do his homework. Knowing your triggers in advance helps you manage the “big feelings” that they produce.

7. Make Peace with First Gear

People often equate being busy with being accomplished. What about the shadow side of busy? What if busy also means rushing out the door so fast that you miss a hug? If you allow an extra twenty minutes at bedtime, you might spend five minutes being calm while your child begs to splash in the bathtub a bit longer, five minutes making up a silly game about teeth brushing, and five minutes laughing with your child about the day’s events. You would still have five minutes left over to sing them a lullaby.

8. Use Your Phone and Facebook Strategically

Notice how Facebook fragments your day. Research in 2013 found that frequent interruptions make you 20 percent dumber — that is, you can recall information 20 percent less accurately when you’ve been interrupted while trying to remember it. Use an app (like Checky or Moment) to reflect on the number of times you check your phone and the total amount of time you spend on it.

Don’t just look — post and comment as well. Direct interaction on Facebook — posting, commenting, and liking — is associated with greater feelings of bonding and social capital. However, passively consuming content is linked with increased loneliness (according to a 2010 study) and “affective declines in well-being over time” (a 2015 study).

9. Make a Plan for Handling Transitions

When it’s time to leave:

  • Discuss the rules ahead of time: Before you arrive somewhere, ask your kids to describe the rules for when you’re there. One rule may be, “When I say it’s time to go, we all have to go right away, even if we don’t want to.”
  • Figure out a fun way to leave: Ask kids to choose a code word for you to say when it’s time to go – such as ‘frog legs’.
  • Add a ritual: Have kids say, “Bye park!” or get a drink from the drinking fountain when they leave. Offer the same favorite snack every time you leave. Let kids take a photo of a favorite swing, blow bubbles, name one thing they want to tell Grandpa about, or choose something they want to do when they come back next time
  • Give each kid a job for the way home: “Sally, you get to pick the music today. Clare, put your hand on the ceiling when everyone is buckled in. Jim, I want you to count the flags on the way home. Ann, could you pass out the water bottles to everyone? Carrie, choose if you want the car temperature to be hot or cold.”

10. Find the Sacred in the Mundane

Pair sacred things with mundane things. When cleaning up a toddler dinner that turned into a tornado, turn up the music and enjoy it. When folding laundry, watch a hilarious movie. When driving to the grocery store late at night for even more milk, breathe in the stars and the moon.

Erin Leyba Joy Fixes for Weary ParentsExcerpted from the book Joy Fixes for Weary Parents: 101 Quick, Research-Based Ideas for Overcoming Stress and Building a Life You Love (©2017, about $14 on Kindle) by Erin Leyba. Reprinted with permission from New World Library.