By Faith Collins
As a parent of a preschooler, I know how easy it can be to feel that you’re “putting your life on hold” while your children are little. Or conversely, it can feel like you’re trying to live two lives at once — one with your children, and the other while they’re cared for by someone else. Many parents struggle with how to integrate their conflicting roles and learn to love the life they live with children.
This quandary is one that parents can work to resolve. It is possible to embrace the early parenting years and also live a full, satisfying life. Use these creative approaches for enjoying the moment and learning how to find fulfillment during this extraordinary time of life:
- Teach your children to be enjoyable human beings.We all want our children to be happy, but contrary to popular belief, letting them be in charge doesn’t lead to increased happiness — for us orfor them. The same skills that make children enjoyable to be around, such as good manners, patience, and dealing with frustration, are also the skills that promote future success in their schooling, relationships and careers. Realizing that it’s not avoiding disappointment that keeps children happy, but learning how to recover quickly and move on, enables you to minimize the power struggles.
When we teach our children the self-control necessary to be enjoyable little people, everybody wins. Help your children use “please” and “thank you” every time. Teach them to find other things to do while they wait for something they want. Prompt them to say “excuse me” if they’d like to say something while you’re talking to someone else. Coaxing them to use good behavior without being punitive helps them to become their best selves.
- Do the things that you love in child-friendly ways. What are the things that make you feel connected with your true self and glad to be alive? How can you transform them in ways that allow you to enjoy your favorite activities while your kids watch or participate? You may need to change things around considerably. It might mean shifting from leading mountaineering expeditions to tromping through the woods with a toddler crew in tow. Or, your yoga practice could move from the studio to the backyard while the children play. Visiting with friends may turn into a child-friendly get-together at a playground or catching up while the children participate in a music class. While not how you would have done them before, you still can enjoy your favorite activities, and the children get to see you come alive by pursuing what gives your life meaning.
- Learn to love the MUST-DO parts of the day.One of the best ways to transform the child-oriented parts of your day into experiences that you can actually enjoy is to start making these moments into enrichment activities you and your children can all enjoy. To do this, you need to start by slowing down. Sing little songs, pretend that your sponge is a little fishy looking for food on the dishes, play peekaboo with the laundry, let your children run down the hall and back between putting away their toys. Does it take you four times as long as it would if you did it on your own? You betcha! But you have the extra time because when you slow down you can do those household chores while your children are awake. They join in or they wander off, but as long as you don’t speed up and start rushing around, the kids can dive deeply into their own play. Then, when they go to sleep, you can do something for yourself because the household chores are done.
Of course, not everything can be turned into an enrichment activity for children. While working on the computer or talking on the phone, you can’t give your children the responsiveness they want from you. Paying bills or other tasks that demand your close attention will also likely backfire. Of those must-do items, which can you outsource or trade with a partner or friend? Decide that they’re not as vital as you imagined, and let them go for now.
When you teach your children to be enjoyable human beings, incorporate activities you love in ways that are child-friendly and transform the must-do parts of the day into mutually enjoyable experiences, you can truly create a life that you love with young children.
Faith Collins is a parenting coach, public speaker and classroom teacher dedicated to supporting relationships with the young children in our lives. Her new book, Joyful Toddlers and Preschoolers: Create a Life that You and Your Child Both Love (Hohm Press, Oct. 1, 2017) guides parents in forming mutually responsive parent-toddler relationships. She lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband and young daughter, where she runs outdoor parent-child classes in her Play Garden, and is Co-Director of the Rocky Mountain LifeWays Training. Learn more at joyfultoddlers.com.