Another post in my series based on The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, this time dealing with increasing happiness in the area of parenting! This is timely in our family, as we are now less than two weeks away from the due date for Baby Girl Otieno. (Although, as you may remember from Baby Otieno #1, we may still be waiting a month from now! Oh Lord, I hope not.)
Here are my three takeaway items from the Parenthood chapter:
1. Sing in the morning.
This actually has less to do with literal singing during the morning routine, and more with an overall orientation toward being lighter in general. Rubin found that many times during the morning rituals of getting her daughters up, clothed, fed and off to school, not to mention the dressing and feeding of her own self and her husband preparing for work at the same time, an attitude of tension developed. As she writes "...mornings set the tone for everyone's days..." so the stress she was feeling of getting everyone sorted out in time for their various activities was rubbing off on her girls, leading to times of whining and tears over small things. She determined that she could dramatically improve the atmosphere of the home and her family members' moods as they headed out the door by not allowing herself to communicate stress, but instead choosing to "lighten up," whether that meant a song or a silly joke or food-dye-tinted breakfast milk for holidays. "The most effective way to lighten up--but also the most difficult, because a whining child sucks every particle of humor out of my head--is to make a joke." Late term pregnancy plus the dramatic entrance into toddler-hood by my darling son has meant that...well...let's just say that "lightness" is not the word that defines our household these days! I have noticed, however, that when I take a moment to make silly faces at Wesley or start a tickle fight with Inno, or play "Is Daddy up your nose?" for the hundredth time, it makes a tremendous difference in the whole household. Maintaining silliness for the entire day is certainly not possible, but I've noticed that taking the extra effort in moments of stress to "lighten up" makes us all happier.
2. Acknowledge the reality of people's feelings.
A few months ago a visitor who became a good friend gave me her copy of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, which Rubin references in this section of her book. I haven't read the book quite yet, but I'm even more eager to after reading how helpful the book was for Rubin. The point of acknowledging others' feelings is that when a person has their feelings articulated and acknowledged, they feel validated and can either move through negative emotions or savor positive emotions. As Rubin (and I) learned, we often contradict our children's expressions of their feelings. I don't know how many times Innocent has said something about food being spicy (which he doesn't like) and I say "It isn't spicy!" or he doesn't want to finish watching a movie because he feels scared, and my response is "This isn't scary, just finish watching it." She found that just acknowledging her daughters' point of view was enough to increase the happiness of both the kids and the mom, since everyone appreciates a loving response rather than a contradictory or argumentative response. Here's how she did it:
Write it down. Both her eight-year-old and her three-year-old appreciated their opinions being recorded for all of time. I regret that I haven't had a chance to try this out yet, since Inno is back at school and Wesley doesn't yet appreciate the permanent nature of me writing down "Wesley does not want a bath yet."
Don't feel as if I have to say anything. Sometimes a snuggle is just as validating as words, especially when the tears are because Daddy left on yet another business trip.
Don't say "no" or "stop". My word, I do this all the time! Apparently as much as 85% of all adult communication to children is negative...saying "no" or "stop" or "don't" and I am guilty. It's amazing, though, how simple it is to rephrase things from "No, you can't have a popsicle" to "Sure, you can have one after lunch."
Wave my magic wand. I've been using this with Wesley, and it doesn't really mean anything to him, but it certainly makes me feel better! When he's upset because Daddy isn't home, it helps me to say "I know you're missing Daddy, and I do too. If I could bring him home right this moment, I would!" I have no idea how effective this is with kids who understand the concept more thoroughly, but I think it is helpful to communicate that I strongly empathize, that I have the same desires or feelings.
Admit that a task is difficult. I have no idea where he got this, but one of Wesley's common sayings is "It's too hard" which he says when he's having trouble climbing or reaching or tearing something apart. It makes it easy for me to agree and respond with "That is hard! Can Mama help you?" or "Let's try doing it this way."
3. Be a treasure trove of happy memories.
"However, because people remember events better when they fit with their present mood, happy people remember happy events better, and depressed people remember sad events better. Depressed people have as many nice experiences as other people--they just don't recall them as well." I have been terrible about taking photos in the past, but I'm starting to realize how important photos are to my family, both immediate and extended. Innocent and Wesley love looking at pictures of themselves and the rest of our family, and since our extended family members live so far away and Innocent is at school much of the year and Fred travels frequently, Wesley has become very attached to looking at pictures of the people he loves and saying their names. It also helps the boys to see pictures of my family in the States, since neither of them knows (or remembers) those people, so seeing their cousins and grandparents is a great reminder of the huge number of people who love them. Quality photo prints are difficult to get here, so I order prints from the States whenever we get mail and try to update the photos around the house. Our family and supporters appreciate seeing photos of the kids as well, and these blog posts would probably be a lot more readable if they were broken up by some pictures, too.
This "treasure trove" is not going to happen unless I do it, but it's important enough for me to put the work in. It would be easy to feel some resentment that "I'm the one who does all this work" (no gold stars!), but one of Rubin's tricks when she starts to feel that drag is to ask "if someone else volunteered to do this for me (take all our candid family photos, choose for prints, hang and organize photos, record our life as a family), would I want them to take it over?" The truth is...no! I enjoy being the chronicler of our family, so even if there were someone to take it over, that wouldn't make me happy.
On a personal note:
This is the last week before I go on maternity leave! I'm wrapping up a lot of projects for both my work and some things for Fred as well. Fred is on the road this week, at one last seminar before the baby's birth. Our plan is to go up to Kijabe, Kenya for the birth of this baby, like we did with Wesley, but we have to wait for Fred to get back first. He'll come home on Saturday, and our plan is to go up on Sunday. We're taking Adera with us to help with Wesley and with cooking at the guest house. Hopefully the baby will come close to her due date, so we're not all living out of the guest house for weeks, like last time! I feel totally at peace about everything related to the birth, except for the possibility of sitting on my butt in Kenya for weeks like last time. I'm going in tomorrow for one last check by my friend, the Dutch OB, then we'll be in a flurry of packing and cleaning in preparation for bringing our little girl home!