If you’re a parent, no one needs to tell you how exhausting 2021 has been. As Kate Auletta, our wonderful former HuffPost Parenting editor, wrote in the fall: “I am so fucking tired. I am so tired of being tired.”
It’s now several months later, omicron’s here, and there’s no apparent end in sight. School closings have surged by 82% over the past few days. I’m writing this with my preschooler sitting next to me.
If you’re anything like me and Kate, you don’t like feeling this way. I desperately wanted to become a mom, and my children are the great joys of my life. So how can we all reconnect with our sense of joy as parents, even as the world continues to be kind of a mess? Here are five simple strategies that can help in 2022.
1. Notice your child
Not in a big picture, “appreciate their soul” kind of way. (Although yes! Do that!)
Instead, if you want to tap into the crazy big love you feel for your child, stare at them.
“The first thing I recommend to parents is to simply spend a few minutes noticing their child each day. The way they smile, the look on their little face while they are engaged in play, their excitement as they tell you a story, the weight of them in your arms as you carry them to bed,” urged psychologist Sarah Conway, founder of Mindful Little Minds. “There is so much joy to be found in these small moments.”
Noticing your child is a particularly good thing to do if your child is testing you. Ashurina Ream, founder of Psyched Mommy, said she often reminds herself that it’s important to remember who your child is instead of what they’re doing — particularly when what they’re doing is driving you crazy. And one way to remember who they are is to just look at them there in front of you.
“Look at them! Their small hands. Their eyelashes. Their cheeks,” Ream said.
2. Hold each other and breathe
This is another strategy that might sound kind of woo-woo, but it’s all about tapping into your sense of mindfulness and connection and it really couldn’t be simpler.
Conway recommends an “eight-second hug” at any point when you need to destress and reestablish connection. “Research suggests that hugs that last eight seconds or more help us reduce stress and tension,” she said. “At the eight-second mark, we lean more deeply into the hug, our breathing becomes more rhythmic and our bodies soften and relax.”
I can personally attest to the power of hugging your kiddo and taking a few breaths together, because it’s something I’ve been doing in my own family since writing a story about meditations that can help parents keep their cool during a tantrum. We do the three-breath hug: I bear hug my children and we take three deep breaths in and out together. It’s almost painfully simple, but it’s also kind of magical.
3. Take a hard look at how social media is making you feel
If you’ve found a good balance and posting and scrolling through social media brings you joy, skip this tip and carry on.
But there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that many parents feel pressure to keep up on social media and to document everything — and also to compare. It’s also easy to get bogged down in all of the advice. (Yes, like this article.)
“Just do stuff to be in the moment rather than trying to share,” Ream said. If you need some inspiration, these stories of real people who stepped away from social media for good are pretty interesting.
4. Commit to 10 minutes of focused time with your child every day
“Immerse yourself in something your child finds joy in for 10 or 15 minutes a day,” recommended Kimberley Bennett, psychologist and founder of The Psychologist’s Child.
Spending 10 (or 15 ... 20 ... whatever you can spare) minutes a day connecting with your child over whatever they want to do might sound like another to-do on an already long list, but every single expert I spoke to for this piece mentioned how powerful it is for your family’s sense of joy and connection.
Bennett laid out some ground rules you should try to stick to if you can: The time you give your child should be distraction-free, so put away your phone. And let them lead you in what they want to do. (In my case, that probably means more Pokemon than I’d like.) Also, try to focus on only one child at a time, though Bennett acknowledged that’s not always possible.
The most important thing about the 10 minutes of togetherness? “Do it with intention,” Bennett said.
5. Ask for more help
It’s impossible to feel really joyful if you’re utterly rundown. So in 2022, try to ask for more help than you usually do, in whatever form that takes.
If you’re having a difficult time right now, that might mean therapy. “Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness,” Jessica Gold, an assistant professor and director of wellness, engagement and outreach in the department of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis, previously told HuffPost’s Lindsay Holmes. “Of course the mental health system is inherently broken and saying ‘get help’ is a privilege, but if you feel you could benefit from getting help, I will always advise trying to find support professionally.”
It could mean asking a family member to babysit so you can have an hour or two to yourself, even if they didn’t offer. Maybe it’s telling people what you really need right after you’ve had a baby. Or maybe it’s finding a friend you can touch base with when you’re having really tough parenting days.
If the pandemic has made anything clear, it’s that we’re all connected. In 2022, ground yourself in that truth and refuse to go it alone.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.