Have a Case of the Motherhood Blues?

Motherhood is supposed to be a joy-filled journey -- or so the ads and Facebook memes tell us. So why does it seem as though our days are largely about nagging, supervising homework, changing diapers and shuttling kids to and from their activities? What’s wrong with this picture?

“Today’s mothers are stressed out, overworked and pulled in so many directions that it can be hard to find the pleasure in parenting,” says Barbara Siergiewicz, a certified parent coach and child development specialist based in Rockport, Mass. “But if you remember how happy you were when you got pregnant and what you appreciate about your children, instead of the challenges of parenting, you’re making a choice to be joyful.”

Follow this roadmap to restore the pleasure of parenting:

Make a Heart Connection

Set aside time every day to have a meaningful conversation with your child -- one that’s focused on feelings, not homework or chores. “Ask open-ended questions to find out what’s going on in your child’s life,” advises Siergiewicz. “For example, ‘What was the best thing that happened today?’ or ‘What was the funniest thing that happened?’” No matter where the conversation takes place -- whether over dinner or in the car -- stay in the moment by listening intently. This will create a more relaxed, closer parent-child relationship and will foster what Siergiewicz calls the “heart connection.”

Stop the Gripe Sessions

Sure, it feels good to vent to your BFFs about your kids’ picky eating or to send a Twitter feed about your mom meltdown. But making it a habit is a big mistake -- and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. “If you concentrate on the negative of parenting, it’s like pouring kerosene on the fire,” says Siergiewicz. “Negativity begets negativity -- and that will keep you from rediscovering the joy of being a mom.” Try sharing the good things -- photos of your child playing in the snow or news of a school concert -- and you’ll be rewarded with a glow of pride.

Catch Them Being Good

“Many parents expect adult-level performance from their kids, and they’re not capable of delivering it,” says Siergiewicz. This sets up a lose-lose situation, with the child falling short and the parents feeling perpetually disappointed. Rather than focusing on what your 10-year-old does wrong and nagging him about it (which isn’t very joyful), accept that he’ll make mistakes and praise him for what he does right. Saying “Thanks for putting away your toys” or “Thanks for clearing your plate without being asked” reinforces good behavior. As Siergiewicz notes, “Positive feedback will boost your child’s self esteem and lead to more of the positive behavior you want to see.” And the better the behavior, the less nagging you’ll need to do.

Clear the Calendar

Jam-packed schedules are a recipe for cranky kids and exhausted parents. Limit your child to just two extracurricular activities each week -- say, basketball and guitar lessons -- so everyone will have a chance to relax, recharge and reconnect. The less time you spend racing from one activity to another, the more time you’ll have to be in the moment with your children and simply enjoy their company. 

Create Family Rituals

Families need regular fun time, whether it’s watching a movie together on Friday night or going out for breakfast on Saturday morning. Having something that everyone can look forward to helps increase the joy. “Family rituals that are positive, loving and nurturing -- where parents and children are focused on each other -- create lasting memories that sustain us through hard times,” says Siergiewicz. (Like those days when you’re busy carpooling!)

Are You Addicted to Being “Too Busy”?

Are you crazy-busy? Of course! Who isn’t? These days, having a crammed work, kids and activities schedule has almost become a status symbol. Why, just look at all the women who post Facebook updates of everything they’ve accomplished during the day!

But being super-busy isn’t always a sign of a fulfilling life, according to Dr. Jaime Kulaga, who holds a doctorate in mental health counseling, and is the author of Type ‘S’uperWoman -- Finding the Work-Life Balance: A Self-Searching Book for Women. It actually can become a bad habit -- and a stressful sense that you need to stay busy in order to be a good wife, mom or worker.

Where does this pressure come from? Fear! “Fear is false evidence appearing real,” says Kulaga. “It can be the fear of guilt, such as, ‘I have to write long notes in the Christmas cards I send to 45 friends because I haven’t talked to them in so long.’ Or it can be fear of loss, such as, ‘I have to respond to a client’s email at 11 p.m. when I’d rather be reading a book because if I don’t, she might not give me a referral.’”

Here’s how to rid yourself of that fear and kick the busy addiction.

Ban the “Musts”
“We use the words should, must, ought and have to all the time, and psychologically speaking, they are words that will fill you with anxiety,” says Kulaga. “80 percent of our thoughts are ‘habit’ thoughts. If you say, ‘I must drop that off’ or ‘I must clean that closet,’ you’re keeping yourself in the habit of staying busy and expanding your to-do list, even if it’s not essential for you to do those things right away.” By taking the “shoulds” out of your vocabulary, you will tell your brain that it’s okay to be a human being, not a human doing.

Become a Delegator
Think you’re the only one in the house who can make the bed and fold clean clothes the “right way”? Accept the idea that there’s more than one way to get the job done -- and then assign those tasks to the rest of your family so your day isn’t totally taken up by housework. “Your husband might not do the grocery shopping perfectly, but get over it -- nothing is perfect,” says Kulaga.

Stop Being a “Yes” Woman
If you’re asked to lead a project at school or chair a committee at church, don’t cave in to pressure to make a quick decision. Instead, take a time-out with this standard answer: “I’ll need to think about this and get back to you.” As Kulaga points out, “When you say ‘yes’ immediately, you’re rewarded with a warm and fuzzy feeling, but you may come to regret it if you’ve got a full plate. Saying ‘no’ pays off later, when you actually have more free time.”

Dump the Drama Queens
Surrounded by peeps who expect you to be available 24/7 so they can vent about bad bosses and homework wars? Or pals who constantly ask you to drive the carpool and watch their kids? “Needy people will suck the last two drops of energy out of you if you let them,” warns Kulaga. “They deplete you emotionally, so you don’t have the energy to take care of yourself.” The solution: If you can’t avoid the drama queens completely, set tighter boundaries. For instance, you could agree to carpool just once a week instead of four days, or let the voicemail answer your cell phone after 7 p.m. so you can enjoy a quiet evening with your family.

Schedule “Me” Time
Make a daily appointment to do something fun that’s totally unrelated to your family or job -- and stick to it. Go to the gym, catch up on “Downton Abbey,” read a book, meditate or phone a friend. It doesn’t matter what the activity is or how long it lasts, as long as it brings you pleasure and lets you step off the “too busy” treadmill.

Healthy Relationships: Should Your Husband Be Your Best Friend?

It’s the height of wedding season, and couples across America are kicking off their new lives with heartfelt toasts that begin, “Today I married my best friend.” Misty-eyed guests smile at the sentiment -- and why not? Over the years, our culture has romanticized the idea that healthy relationships mean husbands and wives are BFFs as well as loving partners.

But is that such a good thing? A growing number of experts say no.

“Friendship is a huge part of marriage, but expecting your spouse to be your everything is unrealistic and can strain the relationship,” says psychotherapist Joyce Marter, CEO of Urban Balance LLC, a counseling group practice in Chicago. “Women need and deserve multiple people in our lives who love us and offer us support, whether it’s for a crisis like a serious illness or a daily drama with a nasty coworker. It’s not fair or wise to rely on your husband for all your friendship needs.”

Here are the top three reasons your healthy relationships and marriages can benefit from maintaining close female friendships:

 

It’s Good for Your Marriage.

Couples who are BFFs tend to be enmeshed, meaning they have few outside friendships and spend virtually all of their spare time together. In other words, they live in a bubble. How boring is that? 

“It’s a setup for too much dependency and isolation from other sources of support,” Marter explains. Far better is to enjoy what she calls a “healthy separation,” where spouses have different friends, work and hobbies that make them interesting and whole. You’ll bring more to the marriage party if you have a life and experiences outside of your relationship.

 

It’s Good for You.

Be honest -- does your husband really want to hear about your hair problems, the mom-cliques at your kids’ school, or who got the final rose on The Bachelorette? Probably not. But your BFF does! She’ll serve as a relief valve for your marriage -- think Meredith and Cristina in Grey’s Anatomy, who call each other “my person.”

As Marter points out, “Men and women process life, emotions and relationships differently. Men like to problem-solve and make decisions, but women like to listen to details, talk things through and offer empathy. We have different menus of the kind of support we can provide, and it’s good for women to have the support of a husband and a BFF.”

 

It’s Good for Your Kids

By keeping tight bonds with girlfriends, you’ll give your children the gift of positive role models and adults who care about them outside the family -- the “it takes a village” concept. They’ll grow up knowing the value of developing a strong social network of healthy relationships to rely on in good times and bad. What’s more, a mom who enjoys the support and perspective of gal-pals will be a happier, less-stressed parent. Call it a win-win all around!

How to Get Your Kids to Really Talk to You

Does it seem like an effort to get your children to say anything to you besides, “Fine” and “What’s for dinner?” Lack of communication can make parents feel closed off from their own kids.

But don’t despair! You can get kids to talk to you -- really. Try these six suggestions from experts:

1: Don’t compare yourself to TV families.
If you watch shows like Modern Family or The Middle and wonder why your kids aren’t as chatty as the kids on those shows, you’re not alone. “Parents see kids talking to their parents on TV and they start worrying that they’re not doing enough of it,” says Carl Grody, LISW, MSW, a social worker who specializes in child, adolescent and family therapy in Columbus, Ohio. “Those [TV] parents have scriptwriters and 22 minutes of airtime to solve problems. In real life, it takes longer to make changes, but the changes are real, not made up.”

2: Pause and take a deep breath.
Telling your kids you’re upset about their one-word answers will only make the problem worse. “If you seem jittery, you may be projecting this to your kids and that stress is more likely to push them away than it is to draw them in,” Grody adds. Calm down and put things in perspective. You’re probably doing better than you think in the communication department.

3: Quiet your inner interviewer.
Instead of peppering your child with questions every day, ask him just one. “This may seem insufficient, but as you have more success getting him to answer you once, your child will feel more comfortable chatting and may even start volunteering more information,” Grody says.

4: Put down your phone!
If you want your kids to talk to you, set aside your cell, tablet or any other electronic distraction, says Loni Coombs, author of You're Perfect…and Other Lies Parents Tell. Make your body language open and assuring: Turn your whole body toward your child and make eye contact. “This is important, because when there is something really important that they need to talk about, they will feel like they can come to you because they know you will listen.”

5: Make meals fun.
Since mealtimes are often when most families gather, make that time an enjoyable one. Draw out your kids by hiding questions under each plate. Or have each family member write out a question, suggests Coombs. “Everyone feels more talkative when there’s food involved,” Coombs says. “Sharing in the preparation of the meal is also a good time to talk.”

6: Consider instituting family meetings.
To create an environment where conversation is encouraged, schedule times several days a week to get together and share your thoughts as a family. “This becomes part of the family ritual and encourages conversation and sharing,” says Richard Horowitz, a parenting coach and author of Family Centered Parenting.

And to keep things going, avoid asking open-ended questions. “Instead of asking, ‘How was your day?’, which often leads to one-word answers, ask, ‘What was the best thing and worst thing that happened in school today?’” Horowitz suggests. “And always respond with non-judgmental comments.”

Photo: Corbis Images

Are You a Drama Mama? Know When to Back Off

Your child has a fight with a friend. She’s in tears; you’re furious and ready to defend her. But should you? In this age of helicopter parenting, it’s hard not to step in when you see your child in a social dilemma. But that’s not always the answer.

“In recent years, I’ve seen a trend of mothers confronting other mothers -- by phone or email, or in person -- to resolve their kids’ social issues; I call it ‘Mama Drama,’” says Joyce Marter, a psychotherapist and the owner of Urban Balance LLC in Chicago. “It’s problematic on several levels: It not only crosses boundaries, but also prevents kids from developing coping skills and learning that it’s not a perfect world where everybody always gets along and gets included.”

Laurie Zelinger, a child psychologist and the author of Please Explain Anxiety to Me! Simple Biology and Solutions for Children and Parents, agrees. “Social slights occur and recur throughout life,” she says. “You lived through them, so your child deserves the opportunity to live through them too.”

Here are some common kid dramas your child may face, and how to help her survive them -- without being a drama mama.

Drama: Your second-grader is hurt because she didn’t get invited to a classmate’s birthday party.

Solution: Don’t call the birthday child’s mom and demand an invite for your child. Not only is this rude, but it also puts the mom in an awkward position if she has limited space or money for the party.

Instead, help your child deal with her disappointment by sharing your own sadness about times when you were left out of parties or clubs. Remind her that she didn’t invite the entire class to her last birthday party, and, if the classmate isn’t a close friend of hers, point that out. Finally, suggest a get-together with her true pals. “The real problem might be that she needs more social interaction,” says Marter.

Drama: Your son complains that no one plays with him at recess.

Solution: Talk to your child about being excluded, and make supportive statements -- “I bet you never expected that to happen” -- to validate his feelings. “If you ask too many questions, you’ll sound like a detective and put him on the defensive,” cautions Fred Zelinger, a child and family psychologist in Cedarhurst, N.Y. “You’ll end up getting less information than you would in a normal parent-child conversation, where he tells you something and you respond with a comment.”

Call or email his teacher, explain the situation and ask if she’s noticed anything that might be causing the problem. Maybe your child is being left out because he doesn’t play fair or gloats too much when he wins. “You can’t force other kids to play with him at recess, but you can coach him on his behavior and how to engage a different group of kids,” says Marter. “Urge him to be assertive and say things like, ‘I want to play this game too.’”

Drama: Your 10-year-old is on the outs with her BFF -- whose mom just happens to be a good friend of yours.

Solution: Since you’re close with the other mother, it’s OK for both of you to help the girls resolve their differences, according to Marter. First, ask your daughter what caused the rift, keeping in mind that she’s telling only one side of the story. Be supportive -- “It hurts when your friend is mad at you, doesn’t it?” -- and suggest she try a heart-to-heart to end the fight.

From there, discuss the issue with your friend -- without placing blame on anyone: “It’s hard to watch our girls go through this. It’s probably just a misunderstanding. Let’s get them to sit down and work it out.” Says Marter: “Give your child the tools she needs to have an effective conversation with her friend, but don’t have the conversation for her.”

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/Jason_V