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12 Ways to be a Happier, More Effective Parent

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by Braden Bell
© 2020, The Washington Post

As a teacher, I’ve had the chance to observe and learn from many parents over the years. I’ve been struck repeatedly by how happy, positive and empowered some of them are, even in difficult times. But there are also those who are stressed and often don’t seem to enjoy parenting—the ones who left me with the impression they are barely hanging on.

I have tried to learn from the parents who remain positive, empowered and reasonably serene. Here are strategies for a more empowered parenting existence, based on watching happy parents and trying their techniques.

Parent from wisdom, not fear. That phrase comes from Tim Elmore, who notes that a great deal of parenting behavior stems from fear. Elmore suggests consciously replacing fear with wisdom. We can’t simply wish away fear or guilt. But we can resist acting on those feelings. I’ve noticed that acting on feelings of fear or guilt increases their hold on me, while resisting them minimizes it.

Find a mentor. Seek guidance from someone who can help you determine what battles need to be fought and when you can let things go a bit. Having a mentor also allows you to benefit from someone else’s mistakes and hard-learned lessons.

Trust yourself. These days, we have quick access to enormous amounts of information from experts, which can be helpful, but at times it’s paralyzing. Even experts struggle with their children.

Instead of following a road map, successful parents engage their children based on their experience, judgment and values. When they make mistakes, they regroup and try something else. And if you get something wrong, use it as an opportunity to model for your child how to fix mistakes.

Don’t gossip. Whether it’s discussing another parent, a teacher or a child’s peer, gossip has a negative effect on those who engage in it. Gossiping creates an environment that does not allow for mistakes, change or growth—including our own. It also habituates us to look for the bad and focuses our attention on things we cannot control.

Try a social media fast. We’ve heard about the power of physically decluttering. A few years ago, I tried decluttering my social media considerably, and it changed my life. It also greatly enhanced my family relationships.

Allow your child to experience consequences. It’s liberating when we stop trying to manage and mitigate the consequences of our child’s actions and focus instead on helping them learn from the experience. It helps us focus on what we can control, and it empowers our children, because failure, difficulty and obstacles are what create and hone the abilities they need to be successful as adults.

Declutter your child’s schedule. We live in a time of unprecedented opportunities for kids. But too much of a good thing can be a problem, and being overscheduled can have negative consequences for families and children.

How much unstructured, non-adult-led time does your child have?

Do something you enjoy. Finding small things to do for ourselves can have a big impact. I once heard an award-winning author discuss how she used her daughter’s bath time to eke out a few minutes of writing. Sometimes she could write only a sentence. She later realized this was when she learned to write a single, perfect sentence. Listening to recorded books, enjoying a favorite beverage, streaming a show or podcast while preparing meals—there are a lot of ways to take care of yourself.

Connect. It’s easy, in the press of all we have to do, to lose sight of the need to connect with our children, but building those relationships can help prevent or mitigate any number of serious problems. We should also seek connection with other parents. I have seen apparently huge, almost intractable problems solved very quickly when parents picked up the phone and talked with one another.

Make memories. Family memories are a currency we share with our children, something that cannot be dimmed or taken away. They can bring laughter and joy, drawing us together.

Do something old-school. A lot of the things we have evolved away from have a positive impact on my soul: handwriting a thank-you note, reading a paper book, baking from scratch, ballroom dancing, gardening.

Act instead of worrying. Channel your fear, worry or outrage into action. History often turns on remarkably small hinges and the actions of ordinary people at the right time. If nothing else, at least you will be doing something. And that can help bring peace and happiness.

Wisdom for a Happy Family

What are the keys to raising happy and healthy children? Happy Parents, Happy Kids offers warm, broad-minded advice from SGI President Ikeda, which serves as a reliable guidepost for parents as they seek to build happy families. Happy Parents, Happy Kids is available for $8.95 at SGI-USA bookstores, online  at bookstore.sgi-usa.org or by calling 800-626-1313.