I'm rushed nearly every afternoon and evening shuttling my 9-year-old daughter, Alison, to scout meetings and piano lessons, helping my 14-year-old son, Andy, with school projects, getting dinner on the table, washing a load or two of laundry, and making last-minute runs to the store and library. By the time nine o'clock rolls around, I'm exhausted and irritable, and don't have a lot of energy left over for my husband—or myself. I cherish my kids and love being a mom, but I wish that parenting felt less like hard work at times. "Enjoying your children's company is essential to good parenting," says Kay Willis, a mother of ten grown children in Rutherford, NJ, and coauthor of Are We Having Fun Yet? (Warner Books). Start with these mood boosters today.
Denver-based Pamela S. Kramer, mom of two, writes on psychology and parenting.
Pick Activities Everone Enjoys.
If the idea of snapping on a pair of in-line skates or watching the same horror flick for the third time fills you with dread, don't do it—no matter how much your kids clamor. Instead, suggest family diversions that please you—perhaps taking the dog for a walk, bike riding, gardening. "It's difficult to put on a smiley face and go through the motions doing something you really don't want to do," says Wade Wahl, Psy.D., professor of psychology at Northwestern College in St. Paul, MN. "Ultimately, kids know if you're miserable or bored and would rather be someplace else."
Share Your Favorite Games.
When their kids were 8 and 12, Wahl and his wife, Char, taught them how to play pinochle. "Many people think pinochle is too tough, but our kids learned it in a day," he says. Now, three years later, the Wahls and their children, Dustin and Callie, have pinochle marathons. "Send kids a positive message by teaching them things adults enjoy."
Make A Date With Your Kids.
Every Sunday, review your week's activities ahead. Then block out a half hour each evening to, say, work a jigsaw puzzle or read aloud a Harry Potter book. Scan TV listings for science programs, game shows, and sitcoms you like watching together (post dates and times on the fridge). The Wahls rotate who chooses the activity. "It's easier to be enthusiastic about something that's not my top choice, because I know I'll soon get to pick the event," Wahl adds.
End Homework Hassles.
Establish a regular time and comfy place for homework. Then back off—unless your child is truly having a problem understanding the assignment, says John Rosemond, author of "Because I Said So!": 366 Insightful and Thought-Provoking Reflections on Parenting and Family Life (Andrews McMeel). Hovering over their homework undermines kids' self-confidence and encourages them to lean on you. When your youngster refuses to get started or can't seem to finish his lesson, say, "Homework is your job. If you don't complete it, the sleepover this weekend is canceled." Follow through.
Put Down That Broom!
Think it's easier just to unload the dishwasher than to ask your child to help? Only if you want to feel like a maid. Doing too much for your kids deprives them of the opportunity to learn the skills they eventually need to be self-sufficient. List household chores, call a meeting, and decide who's doing what. Or write chores on index cards and deal them out weekly.
Get Out Of Your Rut.
Weary of chauffeuring kids around? Make a deal with another parent to take turns at the wheel. Try a new radio station while driving. Take up a fresh hobby—needlepointing, reading mystery novels—while waiting for your child.
Squash Sibling Squabbles.
Fighting can become a bad habit. Just as you teach children other life skills, show them how to negotiate and be kind. Wahl became a happier father when he stopped seeing his kids' fights as intrusions and started using them as teachable moments. "Even while driving, I'll pull over if necessary and say, 'How do you want to handle this?' It's amazing the ways they come up with to solve their problems."
Devote at least 20 minutes daily to a parental "time out." Go for a walk, write in your journal, read a travel magazine. Tracy Barta, a mother of three boys, ages 4, 6, and 8, in Zionsville, IN, quilts to relieve stress. "It makes me happy to see the patterns come together," she says.
Nurture Your Marriage.
"The happiest parents keep romance alive," says Willis. Hold hands. Make love. Spend time every day connecting. David Goldsmith and Marie Motroni of Santa Fe, NM, have a standing order with a sitter on Saturday nights. "We go to dinner, see a movie," says Goldsmith. "Married 15 years, our relationship is as strong as ever."
Find Parent Pals.
Develop friendships with other moms and dads. Get support from those who are going through similar family experiences.