This episode features an interview with KJ Dell’Antonia, a mother of four and author of “How to Be a Happier Parent”. The inspiration behind the book was KJ’s personal experience of feeling dissatisfied with parenting on a day-to-day basis. Her biggest struggles being mornings, sibling disputes, and homework. Her family’s life was busy and on-the-go, making everyone feel exhausted by the end of the day and leaving no room to enjoy each other. Realizing that she wanted nothing more than a pleasant and enjoyable experience raising her family, KJ read and even conducted a lot of research on how to be a happier parent, and shares some tips in this episode:
- There is a collective pressure to “parent” in today’s society, which focuses on the expectation of results, rather than experiences. This pressure often leads to unhappiness in the parent.
- Even further unhappiness stems from the stress of living in a child-focused society where the economical and political systems are not very accomodating (ex: no paid parental leave).
- The most surprising finding during KJ’s research came from an open-ended question that was posed to almost 1,000 parents: “What makes you the least happy?”
- An overwhelming majority of parents said that they struggle with enforcing rules and discipline.
- This is a fairly recent phenomenon. In the past, there was a general consensus on how to parent, which made it easier for parents to enforce rules and punishments.
- Often, parents don’t want to simply skip the hard times, they want to be present and be able to enjoy their children. To make that possible:
- Parents should make sure that their own needs are met and their stressors reduced as much as possible.
- Double-check that the children’s needs are consistently being met (ex: balance activities vs. free time as the child’s needs change).
- Break the dependency cycle by putting more responsibility on the child and letting them face the natural consequences of their actions.
- Not absorbing the child’s moods/problems when the parent is happy, and vice-versa, not letting their own bad mood spoil their child’s good one.
- Allowing the child to feel their feelings without forcing positivity. Instead, listen and offer validation.
KJ’s tip to all parents: remember that you are not raising perfect children, but rather, you are raising future adults.
The four main things that happier parents do differently are:
- Shift from heavy involvement when kids are young, to giving them more independence as they grow.
- Don’t put their children’s everyday needs above their own.
- Look for the good in daily experiences and allow those good moments to carry them through the rougher times.
- Know what is important vs. what is background noise.
About my guest
Five years of editing the Motherlode column for the New York Times taught KJ Dell’Antonia this: family can be a source of joy, not stress. But for many of us, it’s not. Her reporting and research on parental happiness led to her new book, How to Be a Happier Parent. She writes regularly on the personal and policy aspects of parenthood for the New York Times and other publications and is the co-host of the #AmWriting podcast. KJ lives in New Hampshire with her husband, four children and assorted horses, chickens, dogs and cats.
Resources and links
Book: How to Be a Happier Parent: Raising a Family, Having a Life and Loving (Almost) Every Minute
Other episodes you may enjoy:
- The Danish Way of Parenting
- The Cost of Overprotective Parenting
- Use The Secret of Improve in Everyday Parenting
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