Adriana shares how important joy can be to your experience as a parent, and gives practical strategies for how to prioritize joy in a time where raising kids seems harder than ever.
What brings you joy? We’d love to read about it! Share with our community via Instagram @birthfulpodcast.
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Related Birthful episodes:
- Over 3 Million People Took This Course on Happiness. Here’s What Some Learned, New York Times
- The Science of Well-Being, Coursera
- The Science of Happiness, edX
- Our obsession with happiness is making our kids miserable, The Washington Post
- Coping with mommy burnout, UCI Health
- Motherly’s 2021 State of Motherhood Survey Results, Motherly
- Does Anyone Want to Hear About Burned-Out Moms Anymore? The Cut
- Signs you have pandemic parenting burnout and tips for giving yourself a break, Care
- Black Joy Isn’t Frivolous—It’s Necessary, Self
How to Bring More Joy into Your Parenting Experience
I’m Adriana Lozada and you’re listening to Birthful, and this is where I take about 10 minutes or so to talk to you one-on-one about a topic that we should dive deeper into. And this week I wanted to focus on the importance of bringing some more joy into your life. And that’s actually a really, really important thing during pregnancy, birth and postpartum. But before we get to the joy, we have to talk a little bit about the not so great stuff. Compared with past generations and even though we have a gazillion more baby gear items at our disposal, in many ways it is much harder to parent now than before. Current cultural parenting trends have increased the pressure on what it means to be a “good parent” and that comes with a lot of horizontal violence as shown by the ongoing mommy wars.
It’s also more expensive to have kids. And with diminishing support systems having to take care of kids without much of a break, then creates a constant low level stress that can impact longterm health. And all of that is without the increased difficulties brought on by the pandemic, which also has given us a new awareness of the term languishing, as opposed to thriving, which is something many of us are feeling and also generalized burnout.
Working moms have been hit hard. The available statistics show that more than half of working moms are experiencing symptoms of burnout, which in December was about 9.8 million working moms in the US, that were experiencing symptoms. And then since they started the pandemic and through January of this year, 2021, 2.3 million women have been pushed out of the workforce due to increase demands at home with low-income women and women of color lagging behind other groups in how fast they are returning to work and being able to recover financially, which makes the financial stressors even worse.
Now, according to the stress in America report from the American Psychological Association, 48% of parents said their stress had increased during the pandemic and 75% of those with kids under 18 said they could use more emotional support, with the nearly half of those with kids doing remote learning at home reporting that their mental health had worsened.
The truth is that life is super hard right now with many external forces depleting, our joy and recommendations of practicing self care can seem frankly ridiculous if you find yourself having less than an hour a day to yourself without any family or work responsibilities, which is what 63% of people said in Motherly’s Annual State of Motherhood report. So for long-term these continued levels of stress can negatively impact your immune system, your endocrine system, nervous system, and your mental health, basically all of you. Now, this isn’t to say that parenting is all doomsday, even in times of COVID. A study from Princeton University and Stony Brook University found that parents and non-parents alike have similar levels of life satisfaction, but parents experience both more daily joy and more daily stress than non-parents. So truly a roller coaster.
And because there are so many ups and downs, it does matter if you are more intentional and mindful about those moments of joy, those peaks, because you’re going to get lower lows throughout the day. Similarly, Dr. John Gottman from the Gottman Institute, who’s done longitudinal studies on parents for over 20 years found that while 67% of new parents experienced a precipitous drop in couples satisfaction in the first three years of a baby’s life, the relationships that had a 5:1 ratio of positivity to negativity during conflicts were the ones that were able to get through those difficulties as opposed to end up in divorce. So what seems to be very clear is that joy runs deeper than having fun or temporary happiness highs. It comes from within. So the point of this episode is to invite you to be more mindful of increasing that joy, not as something to add to your to-do list, but as a counterbalance to it.
And it would be remiss of me to do an episode on joy and the importance of joy and not recognize how Black communities have been and continue to show us that joy is an act of resistance that can help us become more resilient. In fact, this is the cornerstone of the Black Joy movement. So what are some ways you can increase joy in your life? You probably have some great ideas of what works for you. And this continues to be a work in progress for me, but here are some suggestions based on the research that I did. So first of all, gratitude. Gratitude seems to be a practice that helps shine light on what’s going right instead of what’s going wrong and really can bring joy. At the same time, you can create a reward or a form of celebration on a daily or weekly basis when you reach milestones, that can also help you increase your joy.
Similarly, you can schedule things that you can look forward to that will then create those moments of happiness throughout your life, and mix up the daily grind. It could be on a weekly, on a daily, on a monthly basis, and those things can also give you a sense of meaning or purpose. It can also be helpful to create rituals, to acknowledge the joy and be mindful of when it’s happening. So for example, something as simple as taking a deep breath and grounding yourself before having your breakfast, or having your lunch, or at anytime you’re going to sit down and eat. Just having that moment of pause and acknowledgement can be really helpful. Along with rituals, you can also create family traditions that can center around milestones, or traditions, or whatever you want. Kids tend to really love these traditions that are unique to their family and give them a sense of grounding and something to look forward to as well.
Now, in terms of the little free time you have to yourself, try to invest that doing something that feeds you and you can term these little things happiness snacks, and basically just Marie Kondo it. Do something that brings you joy, just for the joy of it. You can dance, you can sing, you can listen to music. It can be short little spurts throughout the day because we know how hard it is to get continuous amount of time to just do joyful things for the heck of it. So you could tie this joyful event to a daily activity. So you can dance to your favorite song while picking up the living room and sing along. Or you can call a friend or loved one while making dinner. Or you can listen to your favorite podcast while going on a walk. You can take a silly picture together with your family every day and see if you can do that photo just for yourself, not necessarily for social media.
And of course, don’t forget about the basics. Sleep, move, laugh, hydrate, find ways to have more nutritious foods every day, because chances are your body is deeply exhausted and depleted. So try to pay attention to what your body’s telling you, tune in and respond without guilt and without, “I should be doing something else.” Another thing you can do is try to create space for impromptu fun as the opportunity arises and not over-scheduling yourself can help with that. This is what I call the sense of, why not? If you have kids, they can present you with lots of opportunities for being whimsical or silly. So then go, “Why not? Let me just take off my shoes and go run in the grass.” Because you think this is what we’re doing right now. And also, remember that hugging for longer than six seconds is something that gives your body all sorts of joyful signals and creates production of really great hormones.
So in a pinch, hug somebody that you care for for six seconds or longer. And then to bring more joy to your obligations and increase the opportunities for downtime, see if you can adjust your expectations towards goals of imperfection, which may increase feelings of achievement instead of failure. So for example, instead of striving to make home cooked meals every night, strive for having takeout once or twice per week, if it’s in your budget. Basically you’re flipping the goal and you’ll be feeling really great about having takeout instead of going like, “I didn’t do a home cooked meal.” And if you happen to be the type of person that can prepare their clothes and their breakfast, and as much as they can the night before, go for it, this will make the start of your day more joyful and less hectic, and it will even feel luxurious.
Another thing you can do to create space for joy in your life is to actually schedule some downtime in your calendar and see if that downtime can be screen and device free. So as you can see from these suggestions, the idea is to try to create space for joy on a daily basis, not something that is going to happen in the future. Now at the same time, I’m not saying that you need to assume a state of toxic positivity where everything’s great because that does not serve the complex and multifaceted being that you are and it does not work with the current realities of our life. It is important to acknowledge whatever feelings are coming up by naming them and feeling them and actually embracing the times you are not happy in the long run does help you to be more happy. Pregnancy is a great time to set habits and to start practicing what you will model for your children.
So if you’re pregnant, start working on this now, and then you can also focus on bringing more joy and pleasure into the birth room instead of anxiety and fear. You could even see if you can bring some laughter to your birth as that releases some lovely endorphins that help lessen the intensity of the experience. And then during postpartum, all of these practices will hopefully help you slow down without guilt and make sure your mind and body are getting what they need as you honor that time of recovery and discovery of your baby with lots and lots of joy.
And if you want to share with us some of the ways that you’re bringing more joy into your life, then you can connect with us on Instagram, @birthfulpodcast. And to learn more about Birthful and my birth and postpartum preparation classes go to birthful.com.
Birthful was created by me, Adriana Lozada, and this episode was produced by LWC Studios: Paulina Velasco, Jen Chien and Kojin Tashiro. Thank you for listening to and sharing Birthful. Be sure to follow us on Apple Podcast, Goodpods, Amazon Music, Spotify, and everywhere you listen, and come back for more ways to inform your intuition.
Lozada, Adriana, host. “Birthful: How to Bring More Joy into Your Parenting Experience.” Birthful, Birthful, February 9, 2022. Birthful.com.
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