It should have been simple: grocery shopping, carpool pickup, home. The shopping went quickly and I pulled in the checkout line with 15 minutes to spare before I had to pick up the dreaded junior high carpool.
Unluckily, I stood in line behind a woman who had a coupon for every item, demanded a price check on several items and even made the checker rebag half her order. I checked the time anxiously, debating if I should simply abandon all my groceries on the conveyor belt and race up to the junior high. I called my teenage son at home and he assured me he'd leave right this minute and pick up the carpool.
Yep, he forgot.
When I pulled into the driveway 15 minutes later and found that ONCE AGAIN I had failed carpool duty, I lost it. I yelled, I threw the keys, I slammed doors.
And then I felt awful.
Every day I told my kids, "Be calm. Keep your temper. It's not worth getting upset about." and then I lost my cool over a silly junior high carpool.
It's hard to be the parent of a teen.
You want to be a great example, you want to be loving and kind and patient, but most parents have teens during some of the most challenging years of their life.
You're getting older, you're dealing with health problems, financial issues, problems at work, multiple responsibilities, your parents need more help and teenagers are challenging (and forgetful).
Maybe you've heard of the U Curve of Happiness? It’s a phenomenon documented by researchers all over the world revealing decreased happiness for adults in their 40s and 50s. It’s not our teens fault, the U Curve is true for people with and without children. But it just happens to fall during the years that many of us are parenting teenagers.
I'm not bringing up this U Curve to be depressing. It's just a heads-up that if you're the parent of a teen you should give yourself a break, examine the stressors in your life and take better care of yourself.
These days, I've stopped freaking out over missed carpools (the kids just walked home and nobody cared) and I've been coaching parents on how to communicate with their teens and have more joy in their home. When I'm coaching parents, I hear over and over, "I want to be a great parent, but I need to feel better first."
We all want to feel vibrant and alive and have the energy to enjoy life with our family. We want to teach our kids to love who they are, to contribute to society, to gain strength, knowledge, and go out and do good in the world.
Not one us wants to set a bad example for our kids. No one sets out to be a hypocrite by telling our kids one thing and doing another.
But we’re tired. And parents often feel frustrated and overwhelmed. Most parents I know need a little TLC. The solution isn’t to beat ourselves up over our failings, rather we need to take better care of ourselves so we can take better care of the people we love. The following are not simply nice suggestions, these are scientifically proven ways to increase your happiness. Of course, you could do the traditional midlife crisis and go out and buy a nice sports car (and if you can, you should!), but these cost nothing and have longer lasting effects.
- Speak kindly to yourself. You know that negative self-chatter in your brain? Turn it off. Start saying positive words to yourself. Your brain takes you very seriously and if you tell yourself you are a loser, your subconscious mind will work to make that true. Tell yourself, “I make good use of time.” “I am an excellent parent.” “I love vegetables.” Your brain will work to make those statements true. If you can’t say nice things to yourself, who else is going to do it?
- Establish a gratitude practice. Gratitude reigns as the healthiest human emotion. You can get a notebook, keep a journal, and/or simply notice the good things that happen in your day. Still, the most powerful gratitude practice is listing what you are grateful for as you go to sleep. This calms your subconscious and will stave off nighttime worrying while priming your brain to focus on the good in your life.
- Create a fast, fun morning routine. Look, musicians tune their instrument before their performance, we can tune our brain to take on the day. Spend just a few minutes in the morning to plan your day, read something inspiring and think about how you want to show up in your life today. This habit gives your brain a heads up for the day ahead and will help you live into the kind of person you want to be.
- Get outside. Humans need sunlight. Research shows a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced anxiety and depression. Plan outdoor time into your day even if it’s just a longer walk from your car to your office or a ten-minute stroll at lunch. Even looking out the window can boost your mood. Next time you feel the need for a cookie or a caffeine boost, try stepping outside for a minute to receive a similar dopamine hit with zero negative consequences.
- Look for positive evidence in your life and about your teens. Our brains have a negativity bias; it’s an ancient defense mechanism to keep us safe. In primitive times, the negativity bias saved our ancestors from predators, starvation and freezing to death. In the modern world, the negativity bias works overtime looking for problems and often prevents us from seeing the good in our life and in our children. Take some time to write down all the evidence you have an AMAZING life, you have AMAZING children and watch your life satisfaction increase.
Yes, midlife offers multiple stressors. Yes, parenting teens can be extraordinarily challenging. But taking time to care for yourself will help you not only survive, but thrive during these years. These simple habits can help you become the best version of yourself, set an exceptional example for your teens and turn that U Curve upside down.
Also, I advise self-checkout as a stress reducer. Or better yet, grocery pick-up.