Parenting is joyful…and sometimes (often?) frustrating. Wouldn’t it be easier if we were able to laugh about it more often? That’s what Betsy Kerekes advises in her newest book, Be a Happier Parent or Laugh Trying (Our Sunday Visitor, 2019).
I knew Betsy before marriage and kids. We were at Franciscan University together and she worked with my wife. We kept in touch over the years but never lived close. While reading her book, I found myself wishing Betsy had been next door all those years. I could just imagine talking with her about my latest parenting predicament across the fence … like Tim Allen’s neighbor, Wilson, in the TV series Home Improvement. Her solutions are so practical, insightful, and, well, humorous, I’m sure I would have laughed a lot more and tore my hair out a lot less.
Here’s my interview with Betsy Kerekes.
It’s no secret that parenting is hard and can be frustrating at times. What would you say are your top five tips for being a happier parenting despite this?
Number one would be keeping a sense of humor. Stuff happens. When you’re a parent, stuff happens pretty much on a daily basis. Maybe if you can’t laugh about it at the time, you can still find humor in it when you later tell your spouse/mother/sister/closest 1,000 friends on Facebook. All parents can relate, commiserate, and laugh along with you. If you don’t laugh at the craziness that is parenthood, you may be tempted to cry, but laughing is much more fun.
My next tip would be to anticipate and accept these difficulties. Parenting is messy and complicated. Once you bring a tiny human into your home, all rules of civilized society go out the window. Bodily fluids have a way of not going where they’re supposed to. This is the life of a parent. Knowing in advance that unpleasantries are going to happen, makes it easier to roll with the punches. When a tub of mayonnaise is dumped out on the kitchen floor or an entire Costco-sized bag of goldfish are spilled and ground into the living room carpet, sigh deeply, then get to work cleaning it up with the knowledge that some day your kids will be old enough to clean up these messes themselves, and even make you breakfast in bed without danger of burning down the kitchen. Buck up. It’s all just part of the job description. It will get easier.
A third and related tip is learning to stay calm in these negative situations. We may not be happy, of course, but we can handle them better by keeping our cool. Taking deep breaths certainly helps, but flying off the handle helps no one, not ourselves, and certainly not our children. If one of them breaks a lamp, as a classic for instance, handling that situation calmly conveys to our kids that we want them to feel safe coming to us and admitting when they’ve made a mistake. If we explode and unleash our irritation and frustration on them, they’ll learn to keep tight lips the next time something goes wrong for fear of our reaction. Plus, negative reactions can subtly teach our children to lie to us to avoid such future displays.
My fourth tip for happier parenting is learning to let go, specifically of any ideals for perfection: a perfectly clean house, a schedule followed to the “T,” or perfectly balanced nutrition consisting of gluten free, fair trade, non-GMO, paleo, Keto, non-allergen food at every meal. It’s not possible to be a perfect parent, or perfect anything while on Earth. We can, however, be super parents to our kids by showing them lots of love and attention. That’s really what they want and need more than anything else. Well, okay, feeding and clothing them are good things, too.
My fifth but certainly not least piece of advice is maintaining the strength of your marriage. Parenting is a tough job that isn’t meant to be done alone. Be grateful for your spouse’s help and don’t forget to express that gratitude. Also, don’t neglect time alone with your spouse to remember why you fell in love with each other in the first place. As parents, we want the best for our kids, and the best is being raised by happily married parents. This gives them an example of what a strong, healthy marriage looks like and keeps them from all the negative, life-long consequences that come from being a child of a broken home.
Why is this book important today?
In this secular world where children are treated as burdens on our personal freedom and our planet’s resources, setting an example of happy parenting can help dissuade people of those lies. We do this by finding joy as parents today and every day, despite the hardships.
For instance, true statement: toddlers are tough. Also true: toddlers are adorable and fun. Focusing on that second aspect will help us be happier. At every age and every stage of our children’s lives, there are pros and cons. Rather than thinking we’ll be happier when the baby is no longer a baby, the toddler is no longer a toddler, the teen is no longer a teen, we must find the joys that come with each of those time periods.
You’ve likely heard “The days are long, but the years are short.” As our children get older, we see the truth of that more and more. We can make the most of the time we have with our kids by enjoying every bit of parenthood, the good and the bad, even if for nothing more than the comic relief.
Can you share one of your favorite passages from the book?
The first that comes to mind is when I sent my six-year-old to deliver lemons and oranges from our yard to the widow next door. Worried that she might rudely deliver the fruit and leave without a word, I called to her, “Don’t forget to say, ‘You’re welcome.’”
When she returned, she gave me the full report: “I rang the doorbell, and when the lady opened the door, I said, ‘You’re welcome!’ and handed her the bag.”
As a homeschooling mom who also works part time from home, how did you find the time to write a book, especially with a toddler underfoot?
Fortunately, most of the time I spent writing this was when my youngest was still a baby, so he slept a lot. And I did not. You do the math. Actually, I’m one of those people who can’t stand being idle. Or I’m a glutton for punishment. The line gets blurry.
In truth, writing is my happy place. When it’s something you love doing, you find the time. Having a strict deadline imposed on you by your publisher also helps.
Thanks so much, Betsy. I certainly enjoyed reading your book, especially all the humor you include.
Humor is definitely key. Just like I wish for parenting to be a happy experience for all, I wanted reading this book to be enjoyable for all, too.
Where can people find the book?
Be a Happier Parent or Laugh Trying is at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and possibly a Christian bookstore near you. The best way to get it, however, is directly from Our Sunday Visitor, which offers free shipping within the U.S. (Let’s support our Catholic publishers!) Thanks again, Marc!
More About Betsy:
In addition to authoring Be a Happier Parent or Laugh Trying, Betsy Kerekes is coauthor with Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse of 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage (Ave Maria Press, 2013) and 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person (Ave Maria Press, 2016). She has contributed articles to Aleteia, MercatorNet, Catholic Lane, Catholic Exchange, Catholic Mom, The Southern Cross, The Christian Post, and Creative Minority Report. She has been a frequent guest on Catholic radio nationwide, was a guest on EWTN’s “Women of Grace,” and does public speaking. Kerekes serves as editor and director of publications at the Ruth Institute, where she also writes weekly newsletters and manages the blog. She homeschools her children and writes about her experiences in motherhood at parentingisfunny.wordpress.com. She can also be found on twitter @BetsyK1
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Copyright 2019 Marc Cardaronella