Last month, I read a great book on parenting called How to Be a Happier Parent: Raising a Family, Having a Life, and Loving (Almost) Every Minute by K.J. Dell’Antonia. I first heard her speak on my all-time fave podcast, Sorta Awesome, and I knew I wanted to read her book as soon as I could. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I go into reading parenting books with this grand idea that they’re going to give me all the answers, that as soon as I close the book I will automatically become this super mom, know how to approach any situation with grace, and just end up raising the best kids ever. Super unrealistic, right?
As I read this one, though, I noticed a pattern. The chapters in the book cover things that tend to annoy us as parents, things like discipline, dealing with food, chores, screen time, etc. And while she did have some GREAT concrete ideas for how to make those things more bearable and actually better for our children and families in the long run, she also spoke quite a bit about changing our own perspectives around these issues. For example, yes, teaching kids how to unload the dishwasher is so time consuming; it’s way easier to just do it yourself. But if you shift the perspective from “ugh this is so annoying right now” to “I’m training them to be independent adults”, then the 50 million times you show them where the wooden spoons go feels like you’re doing something productive rather than just mundane.
Thinking about perspective led me down another thought rabbit-hole. I know I’m not the only one in this life who struggles with contentedness. If you’ve been with me here for a little while, you know that about a year and a half ago, we moved into a new house. We decided to build the house from the ground up, because one, it actually saved us some money, and two, we are both a little opinionated about what we want in a house, and the previously owned houses we were looking at didn’t cut it. So, we picked out the floor plan and the cabinets and the countertops and the tile and we had them pour a bigger concrete pad in the back and widen the garage. All great things.
Almost immediately after we moved in to our new home, I noticed myself thinking, hmm, I really wish the kids’ bedrooms were bigger. I really wish we had gotten those window boxes in the kitchen. Dang it, we should’ve done the upstairs playroom addition. I mean, I was thinking this, WHILE I WAS UNPACKING OUR BRAND NEW HOUSE. It was absurd.
Every now and then (okay, lots of times), I catch myself still doing this. Not just about the house, but about any situation, relationships with people, my own parenting. The “if-only”s send my thoughts reeling about how what I have or what we’re doing just isn’t enough, or isn’t good enough, and when I catch myself, it actually kind of scares me. Like, why can’t I just be grateful?
One night, I finished doing an at-home workout in my bedroom. We have this cute little bay window area where my husband built me this cute little writing space. But underneath that, there’s a few dumbbells and a foam roller, and I have enough space to do some exercise. Well, that particular night, as I was lying on the floor recovering my breath and trying to feel my legs again, I looked up at the ceiling. From my spot on the floor, I could see the angles the roofline makes in our room. I could see the white doors leading into our light and airy bathroom. I could even see all the way into the living room. And, I realized, perhaps for the first time, my house is beautiful. It’s big enough for us and it’s cozy and it’s simple and bright. All it took was a little change in perspective, just like the author of that parenting book said over and over.
So, besides laying on the floor of your home like a psycho, how else can we work to change our perspective when we feel discontent? And please know, I’m not talking here to anyone in the middle of a season of grief or illness or stress or financial hardship. I would argue that the feelings in those seasons go way deeper than discontent. No, my message is for my friends out there who, like me, have pretty much everything they ever asked for, but still struggle with feeling like it’s not enough. Here are some ways I’ve found to battle this discontented feeling:
- Gratitude. Gratitude changes perspective pretty quickly. Some people keep a gratitude journal (I don’t just because I’d forget every day and then feel guilty about it), but even thinking about what we’re grateful for is a powerful exercise. Just the other day, while cleaning toddler throw-up out of the carseat (my least favorite mom job to date), I just prayed over and over, thank you Lord for my washing machine. Thank you Lord that he’s not sicker. Thank you Lord for the YouTube user who knows how to take this stupid carseat apart. Thank you Lord for my husband, who I know will come home and finish the icky job later. It made the gross task go by quicker, but I also felt less cranky about having to do it in the first place.
- Another way to change perspective, especially in our relationships with one another, is to see people for who they truly are, instead of who we want them to be. This means remembering their hurts and their experiences. It means having realistic expectations and being slow to judge. It means giving space where space is needed. It means being a listening ear rather than a fount of suggestions and easy fixes. It means assuming positive intent when they do something that just makes you so mad. I’ve found that this practice is so much easier to do with strangers or with people you don’t know very well. It’s the hardest to do with those closest to us.
- Empathy. Shifting your perspective around empathy means to actually take on another’s perspective. This is huge. When you stop to put yourself in another’s shoes, suddenly you see things totally differently. Like, maybe your toddler’s screaming in the car because the music is just a little too loud for him. Maybe your five year old is crying about something that happened at her birthday party six months ago because her little brain is actually exhausted from school. I try to remember similar situations that made me feel a certain way and then to act with compassion. By no means have I perfected this; it’s hard. But I feel like it’s a really important thing to put our energy into.
I’ve been thinking about discontentedness for such a long time, and I’m glad I could finally put together some coherent thoughts about the topic. But, what do you think? Could it be that the answer to our discontentedness simply lies in the ability to shift our perspective? In doing so, could we be happier, more content parents? Partners? People? I sure hope so.
Notable fiction I’ve read lately:
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. This YA book is set in the 1980s in El Paso, Texas. It follows the junior and senior years of Ari, a boy whose brother is in jail and has basically been forgotten by the family, whose father’s trauma from Vietnam have left him emotionally unavailable, and who doesn’t have a friend in the world. Until he meets Dante at the swimming pool. Dante is full of life and confidence and he sees something in Ari that he can’t even see in himself. The relationship they form is so tender and honest and I just loved the story and both boys so much.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This one is set in Nigeria, the author’s home country. It follows the life of Kambili and her brother Jaja, growing up under the tyrannical guidance of a devout Catholic father who struggles with anger issues. I was completely consumed with their life and their culture, and learned so much. There is pain in Kambili’s story, sure, but also a beautiful sort of resilience.
Thanks for reading and until next time, peace and love from my household to yours.