There’s no way around it: It’s tough to be a parent. Between working, attending school events, and making dinner, there are lots of responsibilities that come with the job of parent extraordinaire. And because parents want the best for their kids, they are more prone to focusing on the things they didn’t do—like missing dinner because of a late work night—as opposed to patting themselves on the back for what they did do.
“Life is busy and the to-do list always long,” says mother of two Katie Shorkey-Mrdjenovich of Pittsburgh. “I can definitely put pressure on myself to be ‘on’ all the time.” But Shorkey-Mrdjenovich has learned what experts deem the “art of letting go”—taking opportunities to notice the moments where she does set aside time to get on the same level with her children, 2-year-old Lilah and 11-month-old Sophie. “At least once a week, we have a pajama day,” she says. “This is our day to be home and play—no rushing.”
This method of parental “modeling” is very important to accomplishing a positive family balance, says Marla Deibler, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist and executive director of The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. “When we focus on our negative self-impressions and criticisms, we demonstrate these negative self-perceptions to our children,” she explains. “They may, in turn, learn to be critical of themselves, overlooking their accomplishments and positive attributes. Praising our accomplishments—even if small—as well as praising those of our children, promotes healthy self-esteem and further desirable behaviors.” Here, a few moments to commemorate:
Victory: You set aside an hour for playtime.
Why celebrate: It might not seem like a lot, but penciling in time to step into the role of playmate can make a big difference. “My husband and I make an effort, every night, to get up from the dinner table, leave the dishes and leftovers in a heap, and go outside for a walk with the whole family,” says Alaina Shoemaker of Miamisburg, Ohio, mom to 9-year-old Mia and 2-year-old Monroe. “In that half hour or hour, it feels like I am making up for the fact that I might have worked late last week, or I rushed them out the door that morning. That hour is my time to just be Mom.”
Victory: You turned a chore into a fun activity.
Why celebrate: Household duties can take up a large portion of any parent’s time, but showing kids that chores can be fun not only gets stuff done, but also lets you be with your little one. “To ensure that my daughter, Mila, who is two, cleans up her toys when she’s done playing with them, we sing a ‘cleanup’ song as we’re picking them up,” says Lauren Yost of Fayetteville, Pennsylvania, who is also mom to 7-month-old Lilia. “I know this tradition will carry on with Lilia because her eyes light up as she watches Mila sing and dance as she’s cleaning. It makes the chore positive and fun.”
Victory: You made a parental goof, but managed to keep on moving forward.
Why celebrate: So, you lost your temper, huh? No parent wants her child to see her upset—but the important part is that you recovered. And by treating the moment as a learning opportunity, you can explain why you should have opted for a “time-out” as opposed to getting angry. Stefanie Weiss, a mental health consultant in New York City, is quick to remind parents: “Don’t put so much pressure on yourself that you have to be the ‘perfect’ parent. You will mess up—you’re normal!”
Victory: You braved the weather and hit the great outdoors.
Why celebrate: Snow, rain, and extreme heat can all make it tough to head outside. So, when you do manage to wrangle everyone together, bundling up or slathering on the sunscreen, consider it a parental win. “We are a garden-loving family,” says Heather Morocco, mom to Ella, 8, Chase, 6, and Miles, 4. “A great activity is to let them create their own salads! It’s been such a fun way to keep them involved in every step of the summer garden.”