“I found myself saying, ‘Stop licking your brother’ to my 12-year-old son on our most recent vacation,” KJ Dell’Antonia laughs.
She’s no stranger to crazy stories or complaints in the realm of parenthood. As a contributor to The New York Times and former editor and lead writer of the Motherlode blog, and now author of How to Be a Happier Parent: Raising a Family, Having a Life, and Loving (Almost) Every Minute, she has spent a good portion of her career navigating her way through the zigzag path of being a parent. What Dell’Antonia realized after four kids and countless stories from writers and readers was that parenting can be a real bummer sometimes.
“We have this personal chaotic life where there’s a frantic sense and it feels like we’re not really finding much enjoyment in it,” Dell’Antonia says. “And I just kept thinking: ‘That’s not really what I signed up for.’”
It’s no secret that parents need to vent sometimes: After all, they deal with some pretty weird stuff. Dell’Antonia realized she needed a change when one of her close friends, whom she had spent hours complaining with, went through a divorce.
“That was definitely a moment of just, ‘Oh god, I don’t want that at all, and if that’s what somebody who sounds like me wants, then I don’t want to sound like me anymore,’” she explains.
From there, she found that happiness is attainable: You just have to work for it. Dell’Antonia had already spent much of her career covering parenting and happiness in the Times and Motherlode, but creating a book was both different and liberating.
“I got to go much deeper in the book. I got to write about things in the book that are kind of ‘boring.’ I had the opportunity to go really deep and the opportunity to be really practical about everything,” she says. “I got to just say, ‘Hey, sleep really matters.’ You know, before, I couldn’t really talk about sleep unless there was some new research study, and this was my chance to be like, ‘No, there’s so much research on this!’”
Dell’Antonia also conducted extensive research to ensure that her advice was accurate and spoke to the masses.
“I worked with a professor from Fordham University, and we put together a piece of research study that would reach a thousand people, and we ended up with 950 good answers, with people who reflected the demographics of the U.S.,” she says. “And did I reach out to a thousand of my closest Facebook friends? Absolutely. Lots of quotes and practical advice are from people I know or people who have written for me!”
After the various entries, Dell’Antonia began writing. As she wrote, she started to notice that the same few phrases kept popping up — phrases that turned into her 10 essential mantras.
“They’re not in there because I said I would like to have 10 mantras. They’re in there because they kept coming up,” she says. “Every chapter, I was like, ‘I’ve written these words before, damn it, I’ve written this before. Oh, I’ve written this before, I can’t say it again!’”
And all these are words she says to herself daily; it just depends on the circumstance of the particular day.
“I would say one of my favorites right now is: ‘What you want now is not what you’ll want later,’” Dell’Antonia says. “I have to remind myself that it’s easier now to do it yourself, but it’s not easier later to have done it yourself.”
The key takeaway from How to Be a Happier Parent is for parents to know that parenting is worth the effort.
“You can try to be happier, we can try to enjoy things more, that it’s okay,” Dell’Antonia says, adding, “We have a lot of guilt, we don’t feel like we deserve to be happy, and we can’t be happy if our kids aren’t dancing in the streets holding balloons.”
But she wants to change that notion and reiterate that happiness goes beyond your children’s happiness to include your own: “It’s good for everyone if we put forth the effort to look around and enjoy what we’ve got.”
To learn more about How to Be a Happier Parent, visit kjdellantonia.com This article first appeared in New York Family Magazine.