Science backs up what we already know: parents are more stressed than non-parents.
A 2015 study by the American Psychological Association found that parents "continue to report higher stress levels and are more likely to report they have experienced at least one symptom of stress in the past month than Americans overall."
This report is far from encouraging but it misses something I've personally seen after years of PTA meetings, volunteering and carpool: There are a lot of happy parents out there and usually, they’re not the buttoned-up ones who seem to have it "all together."
In fact, the happiest parents sometimes get their kids to school a couple minutes late, having just rolled out of bed, disheveled and not necessarily wearing clothes that match. These moms and dads may look out of breath, but they don't seem fazed. Some may even be laughing, chatting it up with other parents about how once again they're going to be late for work. What's their secret?
Drawing on my own experience, I think part of the magic comes from doing the opposite of what my own parents did. They were continually stressed out. I didn’t want to raise my daughters in that environment. Here are a few things I practice regularly (and still do) that I believe make all the difference.
1. Have a date night together
Happy marriages produce happy couples and happy families. Making time for your spouse is a no-brainer. You need to go out, just the two of you. If you can't do it once a week, make it happen once a month. Also, look for ways to spend some time together on an ordinary weekday. It can be as simple as sharing a glass of wine before bed.
2. Rethink the family dinner
Schedules these days are insane. Not every family can sit down together for dinner every week let alone every night. So stop pressuring yourself.
"It turns out there are only 10 minutes of productive conversation in any family dinner," says Bruce Feiler, New York Times bestselling author of The Secrets of Happy Families. "The rest is taken up with take your elbows off the table and pass the ketchup."
According to Feiler, researchers found you can take those 10 minutes of conversation and have them any time of day. There's nothing inherently special about dinnertime. Even breakfast together once a week will provide the same bonding benefit.
Bottom line: Make family time and conversation a priority but do it on your own schedule, rather than trying to create the “Leave it to Beaver” picture you may have in your head.
3. Give up perfection early
It's a good thing if your kids know you're not perfect. Sharing stories, especially embarrassing ones, of when you messed up at their age will not only provide a laugh or two, it'll teach a valuable lesson: Nobody's perfect and life can be messy. It'll also encourage them to come to you when they've made a mistake and need help.
4. Make a “playdate” with a friend
Grown-up play dates should be a requirement. Who can make you laugh out loud more than your best friend? And no one else can remind you quicker that you're more than just a parent and a partner .This is important so schedule yourself some regular "play time" with those closest to you. Besides, if you value these relationships and demonstrate that, your kids will too.
5. Talk about your feelings
Too many people don't talk about how they're feeling, and it can be especially hard when you're a parent and crazy busy. But talking about your feelings — especially if you're angry with your partner or child — can help avoid blow-ups and screaming matches. You'll be dealing with things before they get bigger than they really are. You'll also be teaching your children that feelings, how we treat one another and communication matter.