Times Are Tough For Parents Right Now: An Expert Explains How To Find Joy
This unpredictable time has been challenging for us all certainly; we have our own unique set of circumstances that makes for bad days and hard moments. This is why we all must reach for moments of joy when we can.
And, of course, joy looks different for us all; as well as our paths to find joy. For parents, the sudden role as supplemental (or sole) educator is perhaps one of the largest hurdles to this. With the school year in question, this new responsibility has eaten up much of parents' time, as well as added a layer of stress and anxiety on top of the plethora of things parents have to deal with on a day-to-day basis anyway.
That's why we spoke with Erica Lasan, creator of The Joy Quest, an online resource to help users find what actually brings them joy. Here, her tips for parents to find their joy right now:
Identify signs of burnout.
"Ask yourself: Have you ever had a really short temper with your kid and got annoyed when they really weren't even doing anything? Or not even your kids: Your spouse, random lady on the train, anyone!" says Lasan. "It's when you're feeling negative emotions and you don't even know where they are coming from."
She also notes that if you end your days without being able to identify something that you did just for you—and, well, you've been doing this far too many days in a row—that's another red flag that you're not cultivating joy in your life: "If you don't carve out time for joy, you're not going to find joy."
And this type of advice pops up in much mindfulness and well-being focused education: You need to prioritize your own joy in order to help others find joy. "If you're not taking time for yourself, you are not able to be a good person for your kids, family, friends, or the world at large," she says. "If you are feeling good with yourself, you'll be better able to play with your kids, laugh, and enjoy family dinners."
Label your hang-ups that are holding you back from joy.
Sometimes, Lasan notes, parents are just hardwired to over-give themselves to their kids, family, and community. This instinctive tendency can be problematic in even the best of circumstances but especially right now. We are all stretched too thin as it is, with little support to lean on, so parents need to allow for grace.
"Take it from the perspective of a child: Think about how your parents behaved, what they did, and how they treated you. If there was ever a moment when you thought, I wish they had reacted differently, just know: They were probably tired! They were burnt out! They were worn out doing everything for everyone," Lasan says. "Now that you're the adult in the situation, understand this perspective, and see if there are ways you can adjust your behavior."
Talk to someone.
One of the most important ways to find inner joy is to voice it. Find a supportive friend or family member and explain how you feel, how you want to feel, and articulate how you might get there. Not only does this get the idea out in the open and off your chest, but it will encourage your journey.
It will also likely lead to moments when others are willing to help you find moments of joy. Remember: People cannot help you if you are not available or vulnerable. "To create space for yourself and joy, you need to have conversations: with yourself and others," she notes. "That may come in the form of journaling or venting with other parents."
For example, Lasan says, talk to your parents if they are around—even about the hang-ups expressed in the above point. "You'll likely find that you and your parents were going through similar things," she says. "Talking to them is a way to glean advice and even break bad habits."
Or, she says, even your kids can be there for you: "Kids aren't dumb: They are intuitive and emotionally intelligent. If they pick up on the fact that you are having a reaction that is perhaps larger than the situation, they see these things. From there, they may internalize that they did something wrong, even if the problem isn't totally their fault," says Lasan. "But if you can talk to them, they'll be better able to understand where you are coming from: That you, too, need time to rest and rejuvenate. Express to them how they are feeling at any given moment and they'll learn, too, that they can express their emotions."
Find what actually brings you joy, not what you think brings you joy.
"So often we get confused about what brings us joy and what we think brings us joy. The latter is based on expectations or wants of others," she says. "This isn't going to work until you can identify what in your heart of hearts brings you joy."
So how do you start identifying those joy-filled interests? According to Lasan, it starts with a very big question: "If you didn't have to worry about anything, what would you do and how would you spend your time?" A hefty question, indeed, given how much worry and stress our current situation has us under. But unless you start asking yourself these questions, you are never going to find the answer. Write them down, create a list, and start there.
She also reminds us: "Don't force it; the easier something is to fold into part of your life, the easier it is to keep on doing it. You can also do this in bite-size pieces: Add a bit of joy here and there. The idea of living life to its fullest, overall, is overwhelming. But if you start off with one thing that makes you feel good at a time, it will be easier. Don't overwhelm yourself."
Create a routine of joy.
"Creating a schedule is awesome, and giving structure to this is great for many people. But honestly, that is almost secondary: If you are not in a position to say, 'This will mentally make me feel good,' you're less inclined to do it," reminds Lasan. Basically, creating a joy-filled routine can only be achieved if you've done the work beforehand. So, no, you can't jump straight to this step unless you put in the internal processing first.
But if you have, a routine is ideal for parents—because life happens. "Because life can be messy for parents, with a lot of conflicting priorities, so creating a schedule and routine takes the pressure off yourself to think about things on a constant basis," she says. "It also sets kids up to be part of it and help out. Kids like schedules."
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Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.