Quite often my almost four-year-old son and I wrestle. Not Hulk Hogan style—he’s three after all—really it’s more like I wait on the couch while he takes a running leap at me and then tries to pin me down. We tussle, we often snuggle (But not too much mommy! Remember we’re wrestling!) and tickles are involved. And while I like this little routine we have, it turns out it’s also making me a happier mama.
And like with any parent, happiness is much needed—it’s what gets you through the tough moments of tantrums at the grocery store because you won’t buy them a bag of Skittles. Or when they yell “No fair!” and stomp off because you had the gall to insist they brush their hair before they head to school.
So where does the tickling and wrestling come in? “When you’re feeling good and engaged with other people, tickling them, laughing with them and being in the moment in a lovely way, the hormone oxytocin flows. That ‘tend-and-befriend’ hormone has anti-stress agents for you,” says Jennifer Kolari, a member of the Chatelaine Health Advisory Board and Toronto-based family therapist who authored Connected Parenting: How to Raise a Great Kid.
As Kolari notes, parents today don’t prioritize their happiness. “They focus on their children’s happiness a lot, which in the end makes their children unhappy because they expect too much and then they expect their parents to make them happy all the time,” she says. Add to that the fact that many parents are tough on themselves and spend more time competing with each other rather than supporting one another.
So what can parents do to be happier? Kolari has a few suggestions.
Try connecting play: Make sure every day you connect by doing things like rubbing noses, catching your children being good, having giggly moments and more. “Lots of parents say ‘Oh I do this with my kids’ but we often don’t as much as we think we do,” says Kolari. “Or you think you’re having these nice moments because you’re chatting in the car but a lot of it is telling kids what they do. The more you connect, the more of an oxytocin surge you’ll get.” Bottom line: the less you feel like cuddling your kids, the more you should cuddle them.
Maintaining context: It’s easy to get bogged down by sibling fighting and stressful family schedules. “And sometimes we get into that negative self-talk. And the more we talk like that, the more we keep ourselves in a state of unhappiness,” she says. “And I tell parents to do the opposite—remember one day your kids will be done and you’ll miss that fighting in the car and rushing to lessons. This is the stuff of life and what you’ll remember.” Putting the moment into that bigger context helps draw you out of that funk.
Make a touchstone: Create a video or picture montage of happy moments from your life. Back it with a favourite tune and turn it on when you’re feeling down. “Once again, it can help get that oxytocin flowing and help remind you of where you are in life,” Kolari says.
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p.s. Have you started your Gratitude Adjustment yet? If so, I’d love to hear what you’re doing and how it’s working for you, which I may share in an upcoming post. Drop me a line below or on Twitter at @AstridVanDenB to let me know.