If you are a parent in the United States, chances are you have taken classes to help make you a better parent. We read books and listen to advice from our own parents and people we trust. We scour Facebook and Twitter for blogs and articles that will help us have a clue about how to navigate parenthood without completely wrecking our kids.
I have been a stay-at-home dad for almost 11 years now and there are some things that I have learned along the way that aren’t often mentioned in discussions of “How to be a great parent.” Here are 5 things that have not only helped saved my sanity as a parent, but have made me a better one.
- Memberships: Every parent has a day when they feel the need to get out of the house. I have that feeling almost every day. And often times, parents do not want to just sit at the playground again; they’d like to be entertained themselves. This is where memberships come in. Not only can a membership to a museum or zoo be educational and provide discounts and invitations to special functions/exhibits, but they can be a great way to entertain the kids and provide you the different surrounding that you need. Museum memberships are a huge sanity saver for me. With our various museum and zoo memberships, I can escape the house and stop contemplating ways to keep my kids from saying, “I’m bored.” Or for that matter, break my own boredom. I justify buying as many memberships as I do by not buying a lot of toys. I would rather have the opportunity to visit museums whenever I want than having a bunch of junk lying around the house. And memberships aren’t only for those lucky enough to live somewhere like NYC. Consider a membership to the YMCA or participation in your local library programs.
- Promote independence: Yes, I realize that independence is something that almost all parenting coaches preach to parents, and parents in turn preach it to their children, but do more than preach it. Push it. Forcing kids to become independent can be tough to do for many of us, because we want to hover over them and protect them from every potential harm that might come their way. But we can’t protect them forever and we need to give them the tools to deal with what life throws their way. Promoting independence isn’t only good for children’s long term lives; it is also helpful for parenting happiness. Letting my kids go to the store or playground by themselves or even walk down the street to a friend’s house was difficult for me at first, but now it is like second nature to them and me. They can now run to the store to help me out as I make dinner, run to a neighbor’s house to relay a message, or give me some peace and quiet for a few minutes. All of that would have been hard to do if my wife and I hadn’t let our kids go out without us.
- Join a parenting meet-up or group: I am incredibly thankful for the NYC Dad’s Group. It has provided me with friendship, activities, and a place where I can talk with someone that understands everything that I am going through and will go through. The group is huge and always has something going on. The equivalent of meet-up groups exists in cities and towns across the United States. Get plugged into a community and your life will be richer and happier for it.
- Sports, Sports, Sports: I would go crazy without sports. And so would my kids. Playing sports is the best way for my kids to get out their energy. Sports provide them with ways to be more physically fit and also learn to work with others. It also provides me with a chance to sit and watch them play. When I’m not coaching, I can sit back and relax and know that our evening will be easier because they’ve released their pent-up energy.
- Silly Moments: Something happened to me along my parenting walk, and I’m not sure why. I became serious. Maybe it is because I have so much to do. Maybe I just got old. I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter why, what matters is how I get out of the serious funk. My children love it when I am silly. All kids love it when their parents are silly. And when I am silling, I feel better afterwards. Whether I’m doing a crazy dance with them, or pretending to be a zombie trying to eat their brains (Yes, we are an odd bunch), my kids are in love with life in those moments. And usually, they listen better for the rest of the day. And this is true whether your child is 2 or 22. Injecting levity into the day and not taking yourself too seriously are key ingredients for diffusing tension and promoting joy.
So, in a nutshell: Get the kids active and stay active too. Find friends that are in the same boat and don’t forget to lighten up. We’ll all get through this parenting thing!