Out & About: Author Talk at the Montshire Explores How to Be a Happier Parent

  • Author and Lyme resident KJ Dell’Antonia will discuss her book “How To Be A Happier Parent: Raising A Family, Having A Life, and Loving (Almost) Every Minute” on Sunday, Nov. 25, at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich. (Courtesy photograph)

  • Author and Lyme resident KJ Dell’Antonia will discuss her book “How To Be A Happier Parent: Raising A Family, Having A Life, and Loving (Almost) Every Minute” on Sunday, Nov. 25, at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich. (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Correspondent
Wednesday, November 21, 2018

KJ Dell’Antonia knows a thing or two about parenting.

Not only does the Lyme resident have four children, ages 12, 13, 14, and 17, but she also edited The New York Times’ parenting blog from 2011 to 2016.

Dell’Antonia’s latest venture is a book: How To Be A Happier Parent: Raising A Family, Having A Life, and Loving (Almost) Every Minute.

From 2-4 p.m. this Sunday, Dell’Antonia will be at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich to share her humorous observations about raising kids and talk about what she has learned about finding happiness as a parent.

Dell’Antonia discussed the book and her outlook on parenting in a recent interview. It has been edited for style and clarity.

For more information about Sunday’s free event, visit montshire.org or call 802-649-2200.

Question: As a journalist, you spent a lot of time reporting on how social and cultural changes are affecting how we relate to our families today, and the amount of pressure parents feel. How did that influence the book?

Answer: There are a lot of external things that we can’t change, but here we are. If you are a parent right now you are parenting right now. It would be great if society changes, if we get some policy changes, but realistically those things probably aren’t going to happen in time to help those of us who are parenting right now. I wanted to explore the idea that these are the cards that we have been dealt; these are the kids we’ve got; these are the choices we’ve made. And a lot of us aren’t feeling great about it. What can we do to feel happier right now?

Q: Is the key to being a happier parent about specific hacks or just changing our perspective and expectations?

A: It is absolutely both. When I started reporting, I made a list of things parents struggle with: mornings, homework, chores, vacations, sports and activities, discipline, all of those things. In every area I looked what modern parents are dealing with — what we’ve got coming at us and what we can’t change — and then asked how to look at that differently. How do you change your perception?

Then, I asked people who are happy in that area, because most of us are fine in one area or another, right? You might think “well, mornings, that’s cool, but chores oh my god.” Except we are sort of universally flipping out about screen-time, but that’s OK. The key is to look in an area where you are unhappy and then decide: Is this something I need to think about differently or is this something I can actually change?

Q: One area you were struggling with was driving your kids to their activities, which I’m sure many Upper Valley parents can relate to. Did you learn any great hacks for dealing with that?

A: The aha moment for me was more of a perspective change. I realized I’m actually making a choice around this: I am not a helpless victim around my children’s sports schedule. If I didn’t want to drive them I could hire someone to do it, or carpool, or just say no.

If you’re not doing any of those, on some level, you want to drive your kids.

I realized that this is something I’ve chosen to do, and I might as well feel good about that choice and why I made it. For me, that has made an enormous difference in how I process every day.

Q: The holidays are supposed to be such a joyous time for families, but the stress can get the better of us, which is what sometimes happens with parenting as well. Any tips for getting through this season?

A: If someone asks me to do something and I would want to do it right this minute, then I will say yes. If I don’t want to do it now, I’m not going to want to do it tomorrow. If I don’t want to go caroling with you right this second, I don’t want to go caroling at all.

When you say yes to something that you don’t want to do, you are saying no to something you probably do want to do, because there is only so much time and we cannot do everything. Because of that, I’ve boiled down the holidays to the things I really like to do.

Q: Has feeling happy just become another thing that parents feel they should be doing?

A: There’s this idea that we need to make parenting more fun, so I made a list of fun things. And every time I looked at this list I wanted to cry. I don’t want to do fun things; I don’t want to do anything! I just want to sit.

I realized I just don’t want to do more. I want to enjoy the things that I am already doing and feel more up on an average day. Luckily, the simplest thing that you can do to try to be happier on a day-to-day basis is pretty much try to feel happier on a day to day basis. If you want to feel happier you can probably pull it off.

Q: What does that actually look like?

A: When you are in the car, when you are leaning on the counter in your kitchen having a pause, when your kids are begging you for one more story, take some breaths and look out at the horizon. That invites your brain to take a larger, big-picture view of the world.

Most of us in the Upper Valley have it pretty good. We have shelter, we have the warm clothes that we need, we have enough food to feed our family, we have great community. Not everyone has all of these things, but by and large, if you are thinking about these things, you are probably in a pretty good place.

A lot of us don’t like to admit it because we feel guilty about it, but you don’t take anything away from other people by appreciating that you are in a good place, in a good moment, and should feel pleasure in that. In fact, when you feel that, it makes you even more able to help others.