As a happiness researcher, former teacher, mother of three sons (all taller than me at this point), and observer of life, I’ve come to appreciate the significance of raising children – how very hard it is and what thoughtful diligence it takes to guide your kids to be happy adults.
Before we get started, let me define happiness as author and researcher Sonya Lyubomirksy describes it: “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”
You’ll notice the word “success” appears nowhere, as success on its own terms does not necessarily equate happiness and vice-versa.
With such a mouthful, where do you start? If I had any place to begin, I’d tell you to “make time” with your child. Easier said than done. Where? When? How?
Mornings are a rush: daycare drop-off is at 8 a.m., pickup between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. if you’re lucky, then home to dinner – takeout, anyone? Homework, TV, piano class, bath, bed and repeat, repeat, repeat in roughly the same order until the weekend.
First thing: you have to want to make time for your children. No one is going to tap you on the shoulder and say, “Listen, I’ll take care of the errands and you go play with your daughter.” The reality is you have kids; stop fighting this, accept your situation and psychologically you’ll be ahead of the game.
Fifteen minutes: get up earlier to do a one-on-one before car time. Maybe the extra time lets you do a quick stretch together, write a note to your son that’s read during breakfast, a quick puzzle, an encouraging run-through the school assignment, make the bed together, or have her dress herself without the rushing, which will leave you both more relaxed and smiling.
Check in; stop just checking up on your child. For older kids, the difference between “How’s your day going? I love you” and “Don’t forget to text me when you get home” can be the difference between feeling worthwhile and feeling monitored. Loving statements do a lot to cushion the necessary disciplining that comes with parental territory.
Eye-to-eye contact: iPhone-to-child-back-to-iPhone doesn’t work. I’ve seen this happen a lot. Daughter is trying to get mommy/daddy’s attention while they’re at the coffee shop. Repeating her words, tugging at sleeves, kneeling up on the chair to get to face level, but they’re oblivious to the conversation she wants to have. Periodically s/he tunes in and tells daughter to eat more of her breakfast, then zones back into the screen. Finally, she gives up. Can you guess what’s going to happen when she has her own mobile and parents want to talk to her – about anything?
If any of these scenarios resonate with you, make up your mind to do something about it. Even though you feel you’re living through a tough phase in your life – and I agree it is – you only get to do this once with your children. You can’t take back one day and do it over – ever. They do grow up; they’ll even take you to dinner one day. Promise.
Kita published her first children’s book, You’re Special Wherever You Are, at the end of 2009. Having already begun her research into the subject of happiness, Kita co-authored Tipping Point to Happiness in 2010. Kita blogs for http://www.jenningswire.com (Straight Talk on Happiness); is an in-house happiness expert on Jim Blasingame’s smallbusinessadvocate.com, and is a contributing writer for Status Magazine and Working Moms Africa. Psycho-social needs in education and healthcare continue to be a focus of Kita’s study. Her books, including The SIMPLE Life: Shiny Objects Not Required (2014) are available at www.kitaszpak.com. If interested in a workshop or private consultation, email Kita at firstname.lastname@example.org