Helping Parents and Caregivers Raise Curious, Creative, and Confident Children

The Trouble with Motherhood
“Beware the banality of a busy life.” –Socrates
Since my book Raising Happiness was published, I’ve met so many unhappy mothers I’ve come to believe there might just be an epidemic of unhappiness in mothers. Studies have long showed that parents tend to be unhappier than their childless counterparts. (Seven percent unhappier, on average.) Parents tend to feel happier grocery shopping and sleeping than they do when they are with their kids.
Maybe we expect too much happiness out of child-rearing. Should we accept that kids are a lot of work, and they are necessarily going to drain the cheer right out of us? I don’t think so, actually.

One significant cause of increased unhappiness among mothers is that we are so damn busy.
Everyone asks: How are you? And everyone answers: I am so busy. “We say this to one another with no small degree of pride,” writes Wayne Muller in his treatise on rest, “as if our exhaustion were a trophy, our ability to withstand stress a real mark of character. The busier we are, the more important we seem to ourselves and, we imagine, to others.” Busy-ness does not make us happy. Muller reminds us that the Chinese symbol for busy is composed of two characters: heart and killing.
This year on Mother’s Day, I hope we all get to truly rest. I challenge us all to systematically add fun back into our lives. This may mean that we are less productive. I may never get to the bottom of my email box. I may never really figure out how to use twitter. I might not be able to blog more, do more radio shows, or give more talks. I worry that if I don’t continue to work myself to the bone that I will not earn enough money to give my kids the education I want to give them.
But of course, this is faulty logic. Over-work—work without rest, that ignores the regular cycle of life, the yin and yang of inhaling and exhaling—does not make us more productive. In fact, in nature, we find that when we let plants or land or hibernating animals rest they are dramatically more productive.
With under two weeks to prepare for Mother’s Day, I propose a Happiness Challenge:
1. Identify those times during the day when you feel flow. When do you feel most at play, most happy?
2. Schedule those things into your life the way you would important meetings or doctor’s appointments. My happiest parenting moments tend to come at the end of the day, when my kids tell me about their “3 good things.” When I’m going to be out during bedtime, I reschedule this time for right after school —I literally put it on the calendar so that it doesn’t get over-written by play-dates and work—so that I don’t miss the cuddling and reading and gratitude.
3. Identify the things that are making you feel crazy-busy, and cut those things out if you can. This may mean that you stop driving your daughter to that ballet class that sabotages dinner. Other people might need to make some sacrifices for your sanity, too.
4. Talk to your “cabinet” – your most important supporters and advisors – and the people who depend on you. Talk to them about the things you are doing to add balance back into your life, so they can support you. This post about why happiness is important in general and this one about why parents’ happiness in particular is important might help people who will worry that you are sabotaging your hard-won career, or, maybe worse, that you are sabotaging your children’s future by refusing to add one more activity to the calendar. Tell your coworkers and cabinet what you won’t be doing, in order that you might have a chance to breathe. Consider that you might be inspiring, rather than disappointing, them.
5. Make it public, right here, on this very blog. Commit yourself to these things, and ask your cabinet to commit to supporting you. What things make you happiest as a parent? What are you going to do to add fun and flow and REST back into your life? I will compile your commitments into a newsletter and new post. This is your way of making it happen for yourself, and of paying it forward: you’ll be inspiring others to do the same.
-- Christine Carter, PhD, Director of Greater Good Parents, a program of the Greater Good Science Center at UC-Berkeley. She is the author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents and of a blog called Half Full. This is an excerpt of her article that was first published in Totmail in 2010.  Published with permission.

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