The 5-step process this neuroscientist and mom of 4 uses to be a happier parent – Fortune

As the saying goes, “Happy wife, happy life.” But does it stand to reason that a “happy parent, happy family” could also be true? Sure, it doesn’t rhyme, but the sentiment remains the same. 
Although happiness is a great thing to strive toward as parents, it shouldn’t be the end-all and be-all, warns Caroline Leaf, Ph.D., author of How to Help Your Child Clean Up Their Mental Mess, a cognitive neuroscientist, mental health expert, and mom of four. 
“It is unrealistic to expect to be happy all the time, and setting that as a goal can harm our confidence, motivation, perspective on life, and even our identity because we may think there is something wrong with us as parents if we aren’t happy all the time,” she says. “Happiness should not be the goal, but rather part of the goal of parenting to the best of our abilities.”
Rather than constantly aiming for happiness, Leaf suggests practicing calm acceptance, acknowledging that parenting is hard, and understanding the experience will come with a whole host of mistakes. Allowing yourself to feel all of the feels, including disappointment, frustration, and fear, is better than pursuing “happiness or bust.”
“It is important to remember that happiness is a feeling, and it can change rather rapidly depending on the context,” Leaf explains. “If we base our goal on a feeling that changes, we will end up disappointed.”
Instead of making happiness the goal, she encourages parents to embrace the highs and lows of parenting. One such way is the five-step method she founded 38 years ago, which serves as the premise for her mind management app, Neurocycle
“Picture you’re picking your child up from daycare and your toddler is throwing a tantrum. It’s very difficult to focus and there’s the temptation to lose your cool,” says Leaf. “By getting clarity in your mind and completing a mindfulness exercise, such as a meditation or breathing technique, you’ll be able to calm down.”
In this scenario, she advises parents to take notice of how they’re feeling mentally and physically before responding to their child and, when possible, to continue along the five-step method.
That “active reach” could be completing a daily gratitude ritual, allowing yourself to enjoy simple moments with loved ones without focusing on the mistakes, or creating a designated “mind management zone” in your home for both you and your kids to use when in need of a mental time-out. Whatever the case, Leaf encourages parents to approach parenting, much like love, as a verb, not a noun. 
“Parenting is a constant process of growing and learning. It’s impossible to know what to do all the time,” she says. “You don’t have to know everything; you have to grow into it. It is not about being perfect or always knowing what to do and when to do it. Understanding this will bring fulfillment and help you through the inevitable challenges of parenting.” 
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