Six Simple Ways to Enjoy Your Kids More
Updated: Jan 8
When I think about how I want to spend my time each day, I picture myself chatting with my kids while we make blueberry pancakes for breakfast, reading a big stack of books in bed, or going for a walk to watch the ducks.
And while I love that we actually do those things (now—we haven’t always), the reality is, someone’s usually crying or complaining, and sometimes I’m distracted or in a bad mood. It’s easy to let that stop me from having a good time.
If you’ve ever felt like it’s hard to enjoy your kids, this post for you. I know it can feel impossible when they’re fighting and whining and making messes (it's not just my kids—right?); and I know making time for your kids can feel overwhelming with everything else you have to do, too. But I’ve learned that enjoying my kids is up to me, not them.
I believe that when you learn to enjoy your kids right now—without waiting until they’re being sweet, or you’re less busy, or the mess is cleaned up, or you’ve had a good night’s sleep—that’s when you start to truly connect and love them on a deeper level than ever before.
Read on for six ways to make enjoying your kids a little easier:
1. Ask questions.
When you’re focused on yourself—how overwhelmed, annoyed, tired, hurt or frustrated you are—it’s hard to enjoy your kids, or anyone else. Asking heartfelt questions is a simple way to shift your focus toward others. It's also easy to do anytime; you don't need to schedule it on the calendar.
“The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.” - Henry David Thoreau
The point isn’t necessarily to get your kids to act a certain way, it’s to change how you act. I've found this even works with little babies who can't answer, because of the mindset it places you in. Here are some of my favorite ways to use questions:
Ask what’s on their minds. Listening means connecting, which means you can enjoy your kids even when they’re having a hard time (or when you’re the one having a hard time). Whatever they’re feeling—excitement or frustration—a simple “Would you like to tell me about it?” can help you start listening. If they open up, keep asking questions to find out more. Don’t make assumptions, and don’t make it about you.
Ask about the things they’re interested in. I don’t love to talk about Transformers, but my 5-year-old could talk about them all day. His eyes light up when I ask him to tell me who the good guys and bad guys are.
Ask instead of tell. It’s exhausting to try to manage every moment of your kids’ lives. Pick up your crayons. Stop teasing your sister. Share your toys. Get in your carseat. Questions can take some of that pressure off. So instead of telling them what to do, or pointing out what they’re doing wrong, ask them to solve a problem. I love watching my kids figure things out on their own.
“Where could you put your shoes so people don’t trip on them?”
"What do we need to do before we can start movie night?"
“What do you think would be a better way to handle that next time?"
“How are you and your sister going to clean this paint up?”
Ask politely. Respect feels good all around, and it’s a great way to enjoy your kids more. For example, instead of grabbing things away from my kids or pressuring them to obey, I’m learning to ask respectfully and let them make the choice, as many times as it takes.
2. Let them feel whatever they’re feeling.
It’s natural to want to help your kids feel better when they’re sad or angry. And I try to remember that soothing my crying baby or frustrated toddler is a blessing, not a burden (because it’s certainly felt like that at times.) But the point is, you don’t need to make your kids feel better so you can feel better. In fact, when you can feel calm, you’re more likely to be able to help your kids think through whatever they’re going through. Sometimes that means simply letting them be upset, or even excited, without trying to talk them out of it—or worse, act like they're wrong.
Related: How to Feel Calm, Not Just Stay Calm
Sometimes as parents, we try to manipulate our kids' emotions. We tell them they shouldn't feel so upset, or they shouldn't feel so excited because they might feel disappointed later on, or they should feel willing to help or get along with other people. What this actually does is make it harder for us to enjoy and be there for them, and often makes our kids feel worse instead of better. Why not let them feel whatever they're feeling, by naming it and helping them think through it, rather than trying to change it?
My oldest, as sweet as he can be, can also get pretty aggressive when he's angry. My first thought is usually, "What's wrong with you?" and I want to put a stop to it right away. But I've learned that the best way to help him handle his emotions is to handle my own; getting loud and physical with him only tends to elevate everyone's emotions rather than subdue them. So I let him have his moment, while I make sure to be there for the "victim" (usually his little sister—this is something I failed to do for many years until Ralphie pointed it out). Then I can talk with him calmly about losing his temper once he's cooled off, without losing mine. This feels much better all around, and works better, too.
It’s not always easy, but I think those moments can actually be some of the most rewarding as a mom. At the core of every person is a desire to be understood, and that's especially true for little people. (For more help with this, I recommend the book No Drama Discipline.
3. Let them choose.
I’ve come to believe that surrender makes up half of our happiness, and choosing for ourselves makes up the other half. We can practice both when we let our kids choose for themselves, too, even when it’s uncomfortable. Here are a few ideas:
Join their fun. I'd usually rather read aloud, they'd rather play robots. Why not let them choose? Watching them have fun (even if I'm not necessarily) can still feel pretty good.
Go with their flow. It's exhausting to try to control every moment of your kids' lives. I'm learning to let my kids find their own way to spend their time—and their own way to argue and work things out—and resist the urge to interrupt or give orders if I don't absolutely have to.
Let them choose for themselves, but don’t let them choose for you. Asking for your kids’ approval all the time isn't enjoyable or effective. So instead of asking if they're "okay" with your choice, give them their own choice to act on. ("Should we go home? now" vs. "It's time to go home. Will you find your shoes?")
Ask respectfully as many times as it takes, but ultimately, let them choose. As moms, we can find ourselves asking over and over, but maybe this isn't always a bad thing. Repetition is how we learn, and it's a chance to show persistence and patience. On the other hand, forcing kids can backfire, because they'll likely want to avoid or ignore you even more. I say, stick to your guns, but learn to do it without giving in or getting upset.
Remember, every choice your kids make is a chance for them to learn. That's true for mistakes, too. With this outlook, you can always figure things out together, and very little has to be an actual problem. When we see bad days, and even bad choices, as chances for growth and encouragement, we can enjoy life with our kids much more.
4. Share what you love, too.
This has become one of the greatest sources of joy for me. For years, I let my kids dictate how our day went because I didn’t know what I wanted. Since I’ve taken the time to figure out what I enjoy and plan it into my life, I feel much more content, and I love sharing those things with my kids. For me, that means:
Reading and building our own library
Spending time outdoors, climbing trees, going for walks, picnics, hikes
Music and singing, especially folk songs
Flowers and gardening
Pressing flowers, collecting pebbles, shells and little bits of nature to display
Devotionals, scripture, poetry, art, history
Having time to relax at home, including alone time for everyone (the always sacred "quiet time")
Service and gift-making
Painting, hand-lettering, photography—anything creative
Making our home a beautiful, peaceful place
Thrifting, shopping second-hand, living simply and low-waste
Writing and blogging
These aren't necessarily things I'm good at, but they are things I enjoy. And so I'm learning alongside my kids. In all fairness, it can be frustrating at times to want to do these things, and feel like I'm not able to (because my kids just made a puddle out of their tea party in the bedroom). But I think that's true for any new change or accomplishment; it's not always going to come easily. The key for me is to enjoy my interests with my kids and get them involved.
I highly recommend making your own list! Write down 5-15 ways you want to spend your time, including things you already do. It's a good feeling to know that you’re choosing the way you live every day. Then, whatever you’re not already doing, start adding those things into your life, one by one, and share it with your family, too.
5. Make ordinary moments more fun.
When my husband started working more late nights and wasn't there to help out with bedtime, I quickly realized that I could either spend an hour putting our kids to bed feeling stressed, or spend that same hour feeling relaxed and enjoying my kids.
Likewise, I used to hate waking up in the morning. I’d spend an hour or more dragging myself around trying to get everyone ready for the day, resenting having to be awake instead of enjoying myself. Everything changed when I decided I wanted to make the most of that time with my kids.
Now we greet the day with love and gratitude, chat while we make beds and get ready for the day (then they fight and make messes while I shower), and sing while we make breakfast together. I enjoy my mornings so much more, and I find it easier to wake up, too.
Look for opportunities to enjoy those ordinary moments together: riding in the car, tying their shoes, washing dishes. Even disciplining them can be a chance to connect and feel love.
6. Build their beliefs.
There's no better feeling as a mom than watching your kids learn and grow. As moms, we help build their beliefs about the world around them—about everything from chores to church to self-esteem. Our beliefs, moods and attitudes help shape theirs.
So if you're wishing bedtime was a little less hectic, start talking about how good it feels to relax in bed after a long day. If you want to end meal-time battles, tell them how much you love having dinner with them. If you want the house to be clean, make it seem so fun and easy they won't want to miss out.
You get to enjoy that time with your kids, because you're shifting your own way of thinking first. So tell them that they’re good at helping. That they’re smart enough to figure things out. That they’re polite, respectful and kind. That they’re a good brother or sister. That they can say sorry and make things right. You can help them believe what you want them to believe, and while it might not change their behavior right away (new behavior actually takes weeks or months to form), it can make everything more enjoyable in the meantime.
I remember feeling completely overwhelmed with three kids under four, and thinking, “But they’ll never be little again!” I felt a sense of urgency to learn to really enjoy my kids, and I've come a long way. I’m not naturally easy-going or fun-loving; in fact, the opposite is true, and that’s why I write about this. When I feel annoyed or frustrated with my kids, it’s actually my own insecurity and fear surfacing. I’m learning to work through those problems with God, instead of blaming them on my kids. Heaven knows, I'm far from perfect, and my kids aren't either.
But the point isn’t to be perfect, it’s to be able to be present and enjoy your kids right now, as they are. And that means being willing to embrace quite a bit of imperfection. So here's the takeaway: enjoying your kids is completely up to you. It's not about changing the way your kids act; it’s about changing the way you act. And that's a good thing, because changing yourself is much easier than trying to change someone else. That’s what love is, I suppose.. And it's the most enjoyable feeling in the world.
Here's to more good days,
Tell me, what would you add to this list? Do you find it easy to enjoy your kids, or downright impossible at times? I’d love to hear! Comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.