‘21 days to happiness!’ ‘30 days to a happier family!’ ‘12 weeks to a better you’. Wow these are big promises, and will probably sell books! But as the saying goes, ‘if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is’. While parenting self-help authors are well meaning in offering their wisdom and expertise, and certainly most suggestions are well intended, I am concerned by this ever increasing expectation that we need to somehow be ‘happier’, and that if family life is not ‘all peaches and cream’ there is something wrong with us. Reading things that give the false hope of some kind of family utopia, is more likely to elicit unhealthy perfectionism, anxiety and guilt. We will drop our kids off at school and see other families seemingly doing things with ease, thinking that we must be doing something wrong. The truth is, behind the public façade that we all try to maintain, everyone struggles. Family life can be tough.
For Michelle and I, trying to raise four kids, life is hectic, if not chaotic. We are the classic modern duel income family! Weeks go by in a whirl, sometimes leaving my head spinning. I certainly try hard to contribute my best at home, but some days are just bad days and I am glad to go to bed, re-boot, and then start all over again in the morning. I do my best to find moments of peace, like lying down in the grass at our local park, taking a morning walk, brushing my teeth mindfully, or just trying to be present with my kids and show good active listening. But I certainly wouldn’t describe my family life as bliss. There are moments, more often than not I am glad to say, where home life is good and we are happy living life together. That’s good enough I reckon.
As a father, in particular, I feel I am in uncharted territory. My life as a dad is very different to my own father. In the space of a generation men have gone from being the sole breadwinner, to the current state of affairs where dads need to pull their weight equally on the domestic front. Most weekends Michelle and I divvy up the domestic tasks – the old divide and conquer approach. There is no gender divide in our relationship. I’ll cook, while she will do some cleaning or the grocery shopping. I remember one day my kids walked in the kitchen and poked fun at me – there I was wearing an apron cooking muffins for school lunches, while Michelle was outside pruning the hedge. I could see the funny side, but that’s how we roll. We play to our strengths as a couple and get the business of family life done. Sometimes there is bickering or complaining, especially when we try to marshal the children to do their jobs. There isn’t always merry whistling of a happy tune. Sometimes I can mumble some fairly colourful language while cleaning the bathroom. But we get things done, and family life keeps rolling on. On a good week we will have a family night, playing games and eating treats. On other weeks we crash on a Friday night in front of a movie, wine glass balanced in one hand (the parents I mean, not the kids).
I remember many years ago there was an adage that we as parents should try to get it right 80% of the time, and then let the other 20% go. ‘Good enough parenting’. It’s about making progress day by day, and picking ourselves up and trying again after a bad day. Isn’t that what family life is really about? That is certainly a better lesson to teach our kids through example. ‘Roll with the punches’, ‘be your best’, ‘go easy on yourself’, ‘get back on the horse’, ‘just keep swimming, just keep swimming’. These are the kind of messages we teach our kids, but truthfully, as parents in this busy world, these are the messages we really need to repeat to ourselves. So to hell with ‘21 days to a happier you’, ‘make your family the perfect utopia’, or whatever spin is being sold, I’m just happy to get it right 80% of the time. Here’s to good enough parenting (insert chink of glass sound here).