For the month of April, author Gretchen Rubin’s “Happiness Project” goals had a theme of “Lighten Up: Parenthood”.
When it comes to life in general, in some ways “lighten up” SO applies to me, but in other ways it really doesn’t.
I’m a serious person, but that doesn’t mean I’m not joyful. I think of myself generally as positive, optimistic and cheerful (though I certainly have my moments). But when it comes to work vs. play, I know “light” isn’t a very good descriptor for my style. The thing is though, another one of Gretchen’s mottos is “Be Gretchen”, which I would interpret as “Be Kate” (you get it, right?) and Kate is an organized, productive, goal-oriented kind of gal. Nothing wrong with that, if you’re Kate.
I have to remember that lightening up isn’t just about me. This month’s theme has to do with parenting, and while I am very light and breezy when it comes to worrying about homecooked meals, daily baths, helicopter-parented projects and double-digit extracurriculars (none of which happen) I definitely don’t have a light and playful attitude with my children enough of the time.My husband is much better than I am at the teasing and tag, and definitely takes the lead when it comes to April Fool’s Day jokes. Two years ago, he gave them boxes of Smarties on the way to church, and when they opened them they found stones inside. Since that day, the rest of us continue to imitate Maggie’s response when we are displeased about something: She turned her head to the window, nose in the air, with a very miffed “Hmmmff!” sound. (The real Smarties were waiting in baggies; he’s not cruel!) Last year, he covered the girls’ bedroom doors with newspaper while they were asleep, which amused them greatly as well. I figure it’s safer to let him be the “bad guy” – that way, he’s always their target!
Exhibit one for the defense (proof that Kate can indeed be playful):
Gretchen’s goals for the month of April were:
- Sing in the morning. This I do, and not (just) in the shower. For years now, I have woken my daughters up with a song that I learned when I first took baby Frannie to a community “Mother Goose” program. We also have a special good night song, which my mom used to sing to us on occasion when tucking us in, and it stuck. I asked Frannie if perhaps we should share the lyrics here on the blog, and maybe even an audio clip or two, but she said no, that they are our special songs and they wouldn’t be as special if all of my readers knew about them. So there you have it. I have to admit that there are both mornings and evenings that I (for just a moment, I swear) begrudge the thirty seconds it takes to sing to each girl. We have to get up and moving, or they need to be tucked in so I can get on with my evening. But looking into their eyes and giving them my undivided attention in those moments is a wonderful way to ground me and provide perspective to bookend the day with love and joy. If Daddy (who is actually much more musically talented than Mommy) is on wake-up or tuck-in duty, he puts his own spin on the songs…which may be best described as “Chewbacca inspired”.
- Acknowledge the reality of people’s feelings. Maybe I don’t think my daughter should be hungry, scared, embarrassed or have to go to the bathroom again, but good parenting means affirming what my child feels (though not necessarily solving the problem – if it exists – in that moment).
- Be a treasure house of happy memories. Sure, I purge tons of stuff (I’ve been called unsentimental for not renting out the storage units that would be required to hold baby clothing and preschool artwork) but I do hold on to memories for my children. I still print off photos and keep old-school albums (arranged chronologically, of course) as well as bins of very select souvenirs from their childhoods (a couple of items of clothing, favourite books, a blanket, a souvenir magazine from William and Kate’s wedding, important stuff like that) and file folders of first locks of hair, swimming certificates and report cards. Our beloved babysitters recently gave the girls binders that hold souvenirs from each grade, and I’m letting them be in charge of filling in the writing prompts and selecting work to be saved. They don’t have to look perfect. Right? Another memory idea I have adopted is displaying old holiday photos with my seasonal decorations. I have a set showing our family’s Halloween costumes over the years, our Christmas photos, and even St. Patrick’s Day and Easter memories. Bringing them out once a year is a fun way to keep the memories alive.
- Take time for projects: I’ve written a few times about how I pride myself on being efficient. As I said above, my photos are put in albums in order, done. When I received a scrapbook as a gift for Frannie’s birth, I felt overwhelming pressure to actually put together something pretty and fancy – which I did, and I’m glad to have it – but that doesn’t come naturally to me. With her First Communion coming up soon, she is required to make a banner at home, which will be displayed in the church on her special day. Some parents take several trips to Michaels, agonizing over how to plan and create the perfect banner. Parents like me go online and order a kit. We will take time to assemble it together and Frannie will have (almost) total creative control, but I’m not going to even try to be “one of those moms”. It doesn’t matter to anyone else, so why should it matter to me? (That does not apply when it comes to any issue of neatness and organization, in case my husband should be reading this, ready to throw my own words back at me.)
How about you? Do you need to “lighten up” when it comes to parenting? Do any of these goals resonate with you? Do you have any thoughts about Gretchen’s book in general?
If you missed it, you can catch up on the rest of my series here:
The Happiness Project: January
The Happiness Project: February
The Happiness Project: March