Summer break is usually a welcome relief after a busy school year, but all that newfound time together also can have family fuses running shorter than usual. What can parents do to keep things running smoothly?

“Unhook” your parenting.

What does this mean? Parents are problem-solvers by necessity, and unhooking your parenting won’t change that fact. However, what unhooking your parenting does mean is that your happiness and your sense of inner calm and balance need not be attached to that of your kids.

If I lived by the statement, “You are only as happy as your least happy child,” I would be one unhappy cookie. As a matter of fact, I was one unhappy cookie until I took my happiness into my own hands and heart and unhooked it from my kids. This doesn’t mean abstaining from your job as parent or caretaker, and it doesn’t mean you won’t help your kids through any tough moments that arise. It simply means that you do all this while nurturing a mindful space within yourself where your inner joy lives, regardless of whatever else is going on.

Three practices for unhooking your parenting

Do the giving-and-receiving-compassion meditation: Get in a comfortable position, sitting with your back relatively straight and relaxed. Close your eyes gently. Take three deep, nourishing breaths. Find your breath where you notice it most easily. It may be the bottom of your nostrils, your chest or your belly. Tune in to your breath. Watch your breath for a few minutes.

The next part of this meditation can be done in many ways and in many situations. To unhook your parenting, I would recommend one of two ways:

  • You can breathe compassion in for yourself and out for the other person who is hurting, whether it is your child, yourself or another parent.
  • You also can breathe in the other person’s suffering and the suffering of all the people in your situation (including yourself) and breathe out peace and light.

Use a here-and-now stone: Select a stone from your yard, a craft store, the beach or a garden store. Choose the stone that calls to you if you have a big assortment. Once you have your stone, spend a few moments really looking at it. Notice the range of colors, textures and temperature of the stone. Rub your fingers on the stone. Move the stone around in your hand. Think about the fact that the stone might be billions of years old.

While you are focusing your attention on the stone, guess what you are not thinking about? You are not going down the rabbit hole of a storyline about how awful your situation is because of whatever mess you are slogging through right now. You are focused on your stone, thereby giving your brain a much-needed break from the chaos.

Make a list of what gives you joy: Think of all the things that give you joy. Brainstorm with yourself and take a moment to list as many things you can think of, even little things like a soft pillow to sleep on or talking to your best friend. Live music is a big joy-giver for me, so I have that on my list.

Look at your list first thing in the morning and set your intention to do something from your joy list that day. Look at the list at night and review what you did from the list and how it made you feel. You will notice how your outlook improves when you are giving yourself specific experiences that give you joy.

I cannot recommend this highly enough. You only have to write the list once, but feel free to add to it as you discover new things that bring you joy along the way. When you are feeling joy, let it fill you up for a few breaths so that you are installing that positive mental state and rewiring your brain for more happiness and resilience.

A plan for happiness can act as a positive touchstone when life throws its most challenging moments your way. Add these three tips to your parenting tool kit and you’ll help your whole family by creating a more balanced, more joyful and more peaceful you.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Julie Potiker