For 2017, I am blogging my way through Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Read here to see my intro post.
Lighten Up – Parenthood
For April, Rubin focused on parenthood, specifically her effort to “lighten up” when it came to parenting her (at the time of writing) two young daughters.
I totally get this. Parenting babies, toddlers and preschoolers is hard, y’all. I’m a decade out from it, but trust me, I haven’t forgotten. Rubin writes of the research, “Marital satisfaction nose-dives after the first child is born and picks up again once the children leave home” (91).
Picks up again once the children leave home.
I know when the kids are young, and you haven’t slept in
years months, and you’re cooking dinner with a baby on your hip and one wrapped around your knees, and you are, literally, assisting little human beings with their shit and snot, that the thought of those little people having the independence to wipe their own asses, never mind make their own snacks, seems so intoxicating and alluring that anytime in the future seems like a better alternative.
People, I survived the early years of three offspring delivered in a 4 year span. They eventually grew older, started sleeping and taking care of their own bowel movements, and I had several blissful intermediary years of post-early childhood but pre-adolescence. Those were the magical years.
I now have 3 teenagers living at home. To follow up on Rubin’s notes about the impact of children in general on happiness at home, “Marital satisfaction, which typically declines over the course of marriage, reaches its all-time low when the oldest child reaches adolescence.” To put it simply, if having kids at home is stressful and exhausting and on a day to day basis lowers general levels of happiness, then having teenagers at home is the bottom of the barrel.
Let it be said, before I go any further, that I actually have really good kids. I mean, I hit the jackpot. Furthermore, after working with teenagers for nearly 20 years, I’m going to make the claim that I *get* teenagers more than the average parent. So I have a leg up.
I’m not sure how “light” my load is.
Here is the problem with me (and I totally own this as my own dysfunction). I just can’t not worry,
nag remind, obsess, stress, and perseverate over any little box that is left unchecked. It’s not even so much that I want to control the outcome, rather once something is on my radar, on my to-do list (even if it’s not my list, but someone in my orbit), I can’t let go of it until it’s taken care of.
Let me give you an example.
My oldest child was recently invited to apply for the National Honor Society. He was given the invitation to apply on a Friday, with a Wednesday deadline to declare his intention. So the 5 days went something like this:
Friday: Me to him: “So what do you think? Do you want to go for it?” Him: “I don’t know. I’ll think about it.”
Sunday afternoon: Me to him: “Don’t forget you need to decide by Wednesday.”
Monday after school: Me to him: “Have you made a decision about National Honor Society? You need to decide by Wednesday.” Him: “Um. No. Still thinking about it.”
Tuesday morning before school: “Okay, so you’re going to your Dad’s tonight. Don’t forget that application is due on Wednesday if you want to apply.” Him, noncommittally, “Mmm”
Wednesday afternoon: Me to him: “So what did you do about National Honor Society?” Him: “Meh. I didn’t apply.”
First, slow clap to my oldest for his A+ game on dealing with a type A mother. But more importantly, while I disagree with his choice not to apply, I really wasn’t ever pressuring him on what to do. The decision was all his. I just needed to get it off my list. Now imagine this times 3 very busy children with a myriad of activities. A husband, who loves to be helpful and take things “off my list” but doesn’t quite have my rapid-fire timeframe for checking things off.
And the kicker: 103 seniors who I shepherd through a multi-faceted senior program with multiple components, plus 30 kids in English class, plus 11 advisees.
“Light” I am not.
So, where does that leave me? Because, listen, while this project is about happiness, it’s not about fantasy. I have been like this my entire life. It’s part of the reason why I am excellent at my job, highly productive, and high achieving in multiple facets of my life. But I will also never be “laid back”. “Light”, if you will. I am okay with this. That doesn’t mean I can’t dial it back a notch.
So, I’m working on letting go. Only reminding my kids once or twice instead of daily (and yes, I know that better serves them. Again, this isn’t about me trying to helicopter parent them into a certain outcome, rather my own obsessive list-making). Trying to let Jesus take the wheel instead of feeling responsible for others’ choices (especially the 103 young adults that I am kicking, nagging, cajoling and pleading with to get across the finish line).
My goal, like Rubin, is to modify my natural proclivity for order and control so that I’m lighter. She wrote (after working on lightening up), “The difference was that, although my nature was unchanged, I had more happiness in my life each day; … through my actions I was successfully pushing myself to the high end of my inborn happiness range” (111).