Thanks in part to Instagram-ready mommy bloggers and the proliferation of parenting gurus, there is a lot of stress around being the “perfect” mother these days. Of course, everyone has a different opinion about what you need to do in order to be the best mom ever, and often, the advice you hear on how to accomplish this is conflicting.
You’re supposed to put yourself first, but also always do what’s best for your kid. What if those two things don’t exactly jibe? And then there’s the pressure to do outlandish things, like feed your kid a Paleo or vegan diet, turn them into a musical prodigy at an early age, and teach them multiple languages before they even enter grade school. Well, rest assured, we won’t be presenting you with any conflicting, controversial, or hard-to-follow advice. Instead, we’ve rounded up 20 simple, actionable strategies from parenting experts that will help you be the best mom you can be. And for your other half, here are the 20 Easy Ways to Be a (Much) Better Father.
Give Your Kids 15 Minutes
Twice a day, “disconnect yourself from your daily tasks and go into their world with no distractions,” advises Dena Alalfey, a Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor. “Enjoy talking and playing with them—no interruptions. This will strengthen your emotional connection and promotes positive attention.” And to seriously up your mom game, check out the Best Ways to Raise Emotionally Healthy Kids.
Praise the Positives
“Humans have a serious negativity bias, so it’s super easy to start feeling like your children are a total disaster and your relationship with them stinks,” notes Michelle Gale, mindful parenting educator and author of Mindful Parenting in a Messy World.
“Our family has a gratitude jar on the kitchen counter with some little pieces of paper and pens in a bowl right next to it. We often stop during the day to write a few things down we appreciate about each other or our lives. I also use my journal to jot down these reflections, or better yet tell my children what I appreciated about them that day as they fall asleep at night. Being specific is helpful. Instead of sharing ‘you were really kind today’ you might say ‘I noticed how you helped your brother find his shoes this morning when he was running late. That was really kind’. Catch them being good whenever you can.” And if you’re focusing on your marriage, as well, don’t miss the secret to amazing sex after parenthood.
Take Care of Yourself
“Think of the oxygen mask principle: Put yours on first, and then you can help your children,” says Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist and co-founder of Honest Mamas. “As mothers, we tend to put others’ needs before our own and in the end, the whole family suffers.” So make having a little “me” time a priority, and your kids will reap the benefits. And for more ways to take care of yourself, learn the 30 Easiest Ways to Conquer Stress Once and For All.
Find The Experts in Your Life
Sometimes, the key is knowing what you don’t know. “An expert might be a stranger in that Facebook group for moms, or it could be your child’s pediatrician or teacher at daycare,” says Kelsey Allan, parenting expert for Sleep Train. “It could be your own mother, who probably has plenty (and sometimes too much) advice! It’s okay not to have all the answers, and you’ll find that if you ask for help, there are people everywhere who will happily support you. Some of the best moms are those who know very well they aren’t perfect, but because they ask for help, they are always improving.” And for more great life advice, here’s Exactly How Much Money You Need to Make to Be Happy.
Talk About The Tough Stuff
Namely, money and sex. “Normalizing sex is crucial and waiting for a special day in the future is kicking a can down the road,” says David Ezell, a licensed professional counselor and Clinical Director of Darien Wellness. So when exactly should you bring this up? Well, earlier than you think. “Start when they are little; fourteen year olds will whine and be embarrassed while four years olds will be receptive and open to anything you bring up. Just as big as sex, money is crucial for them to understand from an early age. Money management, setting goals with money, understanding charity—these are crucial life skills that need to be addressed as soon as possible.”
“Time passes no matter what, but moments can be made more special when you make them traditions,” notes Lisa Druxman, M.A., author and founder of FIT4MOM. These traditions can be big or small, but the most important thing is that you do them regularly. “Establish a daily tradition for your family, like a bedtime routine or eating as a family; a weekly tradition, like family game night or French Toast Fridays; and an annual tradition, like working at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving or a family fun run on New Year’s Day.” Creating a sense of routine can be key in a family; for proof, just take a look at the 50 Best Marriage Tips of All Time.
“Parents that are doubt-filled will have a difficult time teaching their children to be confident,” explains Jill Howell, a licensed professional counselor and registered art therapist. And even if you do have some insecurities, don’t talk about them with your kids. “Keep your self-doubt to yourself! If you are constantly making negative statements and berating yourself, so will your children. Show them your best self and encourage them to grow into happy, well-adjusted adults.”
“Moms generally pride themselves on their ability to multitask at the highest level,” says Supna Shah, parenting expert, founder of WeGo kids and host of parentTALK.tv. “My advice is to stop multitasking. It’s exhausting and leaves moms feeling like they’re not doing any one thing really well. Start time blocking instead. Block amounts of time for each activity. If it’s playtime with the kids, that’s the only thing you do. Focus, be present, and enjoy the moment.”
“We need to move and get fresh air,” Divaris Thompson says. “We can’t take care of anyone else if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. For some it might be a run, a walk with a friend—find what works for you. It will lead to less anger, resentment, and frustration.”
Put Your Phone Down
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to the park and seen every parent sitting on the bench on their phone, or pushing their kid on the swing while looking on their phone,” says Tesse Struve, founder of Millennial Mom Coaching “It’s so easy to get caught up in our technological world, but it’s so important for our kids’ development to have a mom that is present and in the moment with them. You both will have so much more fun and you will show your kid what you already know: that you enjoy being with them!”
Prioritize Your Partner
Some moms believe the kids should always come first, but experts say it’s actually your partner who should occupy that top slot. “After taking care of ourselves, we need to nourish our partnership relationship if we have one,” says Bette Levy Alkazian, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
The logic is sound: “When we take good care of ourselves, we are able to then bring our best selves to our partnership; then we get all filled up by our relationship and subsequently, bring two happy parents to the parenting table. Then, it all falls into place because the parents are the foundation of the family. When Mom and Dad are happy, the kids are happy and getting their needs met by two filled-up parents.”
Have Your Kids’ Back
Show them you’re there for them no matter what. “I’ve also found that showing up as an advocate for my child brings us closer together,” Gale says. “I’ll sometimes show up at school with a forgotten item, help type a paper while my son dictates, or bring them a surprise snack when they are reading or studying. I love to remind them that I always have their back.”
Don’t Use Labels
“When we use labels like ‘good girl’ or ‘good boy,’ it usually means our child is going along with what we want,” notes Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW. And while these phrases might seem harmless, it can actually do some damage. “Yes, we should teach our children to be respectful and follow directions, but just because our child wants to keep playing and we need to leave the house it doesn’t mean they are ‘bad.’ If our children become accustomed to these labels, what happens in instances we don’t use them. Does that mean are children aren’t being ‘good?’
So if your child cleaned up their room, say “great job organizing your room’ instead of ‘you’re a good girl for cleaning your room.’”
Be Their Mom
Not their friend. It’s tempting to try to be a “cool mom,” but there’s a difference between wanting your kid to genuinely like you and being inappropriate. “Children have tons of friends but only one mom,” Ezell points out. “They need structure and boundaries; they crave them. Befriending your kids is irresponsible and about your ego, not their benefit.”
“Sometimes things can feel overwhelming, and then your kid goes and throws a temper tantrum or does something that makes you want to pull your hair out,” Struve says. “But as a mom, it’s important that you remain the calm and rational one in the situation. Your kids are looking for you to be their rock and their pillar of stability, so if they are losing it, and you lose it too, the situation is only going to escalate. Take a few deep breaths, collect yourself, or turn around and close your eyes for a moment. Then, once that initial anger or frustration subsides a bit, you can calmly address the situation in a more rational way.”
“Listen—really listen—to what your kids are saying and how they are saying it,” advises Varda Meyers Epstein, parenting expert at Kars4Kids. “Watch their body language. Never interrupt. Don’t come with a prepared speech, rather react to them based on what they are trying to get across to you. It will bring you much closer together, and they will learn to value your input.”
Let Your Kids Have Feelings
“Don’t tell your child that something is not a big deal when it clearly is to them,” Alalfey says. “Children feel heard when you validate their feelings. They also learn that it is okay to have emotions. Instead of trying to defuse the situation, help your child by teaching them coping or problem solving skills to help them in the future when you’re not there.”
If you’re sensing a theme here, it’s probably that, to be a great mom, you need to take care of yourself. That’s not always easy to do, so this basic, actionable strategy can help. “One small way to rejuvenate is by taking a five-minute scheduled break to sit down and sip a glass of water,” says Shah. “Start your child on a new activity and use that as your opportunity to sit down. Grab a nice cold glass of water and sip it slowly. Take some deep breaths. In a few minutes, you’ll feel re-energized and ready to go.”
Model Behaviors You Want to See
“Many parents believe that they are being selfish when they take time to themselves,” Howell says. “When I ask them if they want their kids to grow up and not take time for themselves and be just as stressed as they are, then they understand. Taking time for yourself teaches your children boundaries and models the importance of me time. This makes for happier parents and happier kids.”
Allow Yourself to Have a Life Outside of Your Kids
“Although quality time is important, so is the development of a healthy support network for parents,” says Tonia Spence, Director of Clinic Services at the Child Development Center of the Jewish Board. “Each parent should have friends they can call on to share concerns, laugh with and engage around personal concerns. Friendships also keep us balanced, so that we don’t get so focused on our children to their detriment.” And for more ways to create a loving, balanced household, check out the 30 Things Straight Couples Can Learn From Gay Couples.
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