Joy Fixes for Weary Parents: 101 Quick, Research-Based Ideas for Overcoming Stress and Building a Life You Love

Joy Fixes for Weary Parents: 101 Quick, Research-Based Ideas for Overcoming Stress and Building a Life You Love

by Erin Leyba


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Monday, April 26


Modern parenting presents fresh challenges, including unrelenting time pressures, lack of support systems, and work demands, that often leave parents drained and worn-out. Erin Leyba, the mother of three young children, has been counseling parents on these issues for almost twenty years. She has developed techniques that help parents not only cope but also feel joy — in their parenting and in their relationships with their partners. Leyba draws from the latest research about child development, attachment, successful marriages, and mindfulness to create effective, doable solutions for balancing, simplifying, and communicating. She presents powerful tools that parents can use right away to de-stress, stay energized, and create more warmth and passion with loved ones. Whether new, veteran, overwhelmed, exhausted, or just interested in doing better than they are, parents will find proven help here.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608684731
Publisher: New World Library
Publication date: 04/14/2017
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Erin Leyba, PhD, an individual and marriage counselor, specializes in helping parents of young children. In addition to her popular blogs, she speaks often to parenting and childcare groups. Leyba lives in the Chicago area.

Read an Excerpt

Joy Fixes for Weary Parents

101 Quick, Research-Based Ideas for Overcoming Stress and Building a Life You Love

By Erin Leyba

New World Library

Copyright © 2017 Erin Leyba
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60868-474-8


Design a Life You Love

1 Grieve Your Former Life

Maybe you used to sip martinis on red velvet couches, fish in the northern lakes, or read the entire Sunday newspaper. You may have done so much yoga you could balance on one hand, or maybe you never missed a single Italian Sunday night dinner at Grandma's. Now handstands are out of the question because your arms are too tired from holding your wiggly baby while vacuuming the entire basement, and Sunday dinner is the very time of day when your toddler acts like a caffeinated chimp. It's not just the activities that are hard to let go of — it's the piece of your identity that was Velcroed to them.

If you've moved, changed jobs, lost friends, or been unable to pursue the interests you once loved, be gentle with yourself. Honor your feelings of loss, or you may notice underlying sadness down the road or subconsciously blame your partner or kids for the inevitable changes in your life.

Mountain Libraries

Josh and Teresa had always loved the mountains. They were excited about their first trip to Colorado with their twin toddlers. They had planned on strapping them into baby carriers and doing a ton of hiking, but the kids lasted about four minutes before they cried to get out and run around. When Josh and Teresa let them out, they wanted to jump off high, scary boulders, sprint down steep, scary trails, and throw big, scary rocks at each other.

When they tried biking, the kids cried about the helmets they had to wear. When they rode in the bike trailer to the playground, the kids thought hurling their snacks and shoes over the side was hilarious.

Their version of sharing the mountains with their babies never did happen. They found that they had the most fun by going to playgrounds and libraries in various mountain towns. It took a lot for them to embrace the children's library in Estes Park when they were used to using the town as a base for backcountry skiing.

Desk Job

Zoe, a marine biologist, loved her job helping fisheries engage in sustainable practices. She spoke three languages and traveled to South America, Europe, and a number of Caribbean islands. When she had a baby, she took a desk job that was a better fit for family life. A part of her ached for the smell of seawater, traveling, and being on the front lines. Zoe met with her boss and mapped out a career plan that would let her get back to traveling in a few years — a step that helped her relax about her present situation.


Write a letter of gratitude for all of the experiences from your prebaby days that you had to leave behind. If something's on hold, estimate how long it will be before you can get back to it.

2 Build a Fortress around Your Passions

When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life. — Jean Shinoda Bolen

Parenthood hurls your identity into the air like a bag of confetti and forces it to settle in a new formation. As you feel that whirlwind taking hold of you, identify the things that keep you feeling vibrantly alive — your core joys — and wrap them up for safekeeping. If you swap every bike ride for a toddler birthday party and every date night for another trip to Home Depot, you will certainly lose your mojo.

Engaging in hobbies, interests, and leisure activities lowers stress, improves interest and mood, and lowers heart rates (Zawadzki, Smyth, and Costigan, 2015). The neurologist S. Ausim Azizi explains that enjoyable hobbies stimulate the brain's septal zone, which is associated with pleasure, as well as the brain's nucleus accumbens, which controls how people feel about life (cited in Zimmerman, 2007). Instead of thinking of boundaries as keeping things out, see them as circles protecting the things you hold most dear. If your core joy is tinkering with your car, block out some time to putter away at it. If it's baseball, catch some games. Although it's hard to get out of the house when a pile of laundry stares you down or a child begs you to play another round of Candy Land, feeding your inner self — even for an hour — helps you be more present, creative, and full of life when you get home.

A Thousand Hues

On Sunday afternoons, while her mother watched the kids, Ann tiptoed to her basement, set up her huge, slightly wobbly easel, and painted. The upstairs sounds were muffled — yips from her dog, off-tune nursery rhymes, her toddler's cup falling and spilling. In the quiet basement, she heard only the gentle swirl of her paintbrush as she mixed colors into a thousand different hues. When she came upstairs for dinner, she was brighter, as if the colors had soaked into her. "You painted, Mommy, didn't you?" her daughter would ask, smiling. "I like it when you paint."


Identify a pastime you want to build a fortress around.

3 Create Rituals around Your Priorities

The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. — STEPHEN COVEY

The first five years of parenting are intense. Young children siphon energy right out of you, as if their umbilical cords were still hooked up. They need so much of your time that it's hard to squeeze in even a TV show or an hour at the coffee shop. To put things in perspective, if you live to be a hundred, this consuming time of each kid's early childhood accounts for a mere 5 percent of your life. To make time to fry special letter pancakes for your toddler or play 122 rounds of hide-and-seek, you may need to work less, hire a handyman, or skip that basketball game.

Many parents' days blur together in a stream of serving snacks, going to the doctor, or struggling to pay the bills. Instead of letting these tasks consume you, create rituals around the activities that are most important to you. For example, go on family bike rides on Sunday afternoons, or have breakfast with friends every Saturday morning.

Saturday Afternoons

Ashley worked full-time, and after putting her son to bed, it was too late for her to go inline skating like she used to. She realized she missed the outdoors and felt cooped up and claustrophobic. She cut back on her four-year-old's Saturday sports classes so she and her family could spend Saturday afternoons at the lakefront. Their Saturday picnic became treasured family time for riding bikes, building sandcastles, and playing at the park.

Shabbat Dinners

Rachel treasured Shabbat dinner at her parents' house every Friday night, even when it became harder to attend with her three young children in tow. Not only did she get some time to reflect and rest at this weekly gathering, but it gave her a chance to see her sister, two brothers, parents, and grandparents on a regular basis. Upholding this tradition gave her children the time and consistency they needed to develop close relationships with all their cousins as well.


Describe everything you love doing or would love doing with your children before they turn ten years old. Draw pictures, sketch phrases, or free-write.

4 Follow Your Own Enthusiasm

One dad treasures his sunrise walks with his baby daughter. He takes photos of beautiful sights he sees along the way, posts them to Facebook, and labels them "Morning Walks with Ana." Another takes his seven-year-old and a bunch of neighborhood friends on bike rides in the Blue Ridge Mountains. One mom works ten-hour days so she can take Fridays off to go on beach adventures with her four-year-old, while another takes her son fishing on Saturday afternoons. One dad, who is a chef, treasures the special time he has chopping vegetables and preparing dinners with his enthusiastic six-year-old son. When you do what you love, kids love to jump right into it, just like a pile of leaves.

Identify the ways you most love spending time with your children — like going out to breakfast, fixing things, or building snowmen — and make them happen. Children love knowing that you actually enjoy spending time with them, instead of fake-smiling through your zillionth trip to the mosh pit of a children's museum.

If your daughter likes to dress up, have a "glamour night" once a month when you do her hair up fancy, let her wear high heels, and help her try on your jewelry. If you love taking your son mini-golfing, make it a special, twice-a-summer outing with hot dogs and ice cream. If you like hiking around the arboretum with your baby, do it every Sunday morning.

Consider making a bucket list, putting your dreams on paper to increase your chances of completing them. (While there's some value in the backlash of "f$!#-it lists," which make fun of this idea and highlight the importance of living in the moment without an agenda or to-do list, bucket lists help you prioritize your passions.) The important thing about bucket-list items is not whether you do them, it's how you do them. If you took your daughter to a baseball game but were stressed about getting there on time, frustrated because she wouldn't eat the hot dog because it was in a bun, or annoyed that she whined to go home in the third inning, it would feel like a waste. However, if you sang to favorite music on the way to that game, didn't care when you arrived, let her eat whatever she wanted, and appreciated the two innings you did get to see (before taking her to a nearby playground), then you'd remember it fondly.


It was a sunny fall day, crisp and breezy. When Kate thought about what she would be happiest doing with her children that day, it was going into the forest. So they put on their jackets and had great fun hiking, crunching and burying each other in leaves, climbing on logs, and rolling down hills. A sliver of afternoon light caught on her daughter's hair, leaves stuck to their shirts like burrs, and there was a rustling so beautiful, so powerful, but so subtle they strained to hear it even though it was all around them. Colors were everywhere, glowing in the sunlight.

Kate knew that kids love to be outside almost anytime. However, that day she realized it was her own enthusiasm that was contagious.


Imagine a day with your kids when you could be aglow with enthusiasm. Where would you be? What three things would you be saying? What three perks or bonuses could make the day even more memorable?

5 Surround Yourself with the Good Stuff

I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all. — LAURA INGALLS WILDER

Ecological systems theory posits that you have the best chance of improving your behavior or feelings if you change your surrounding environment as well. If you don't, your old "system" will tug you right back to where you were before. Filling your space with the good stuff — whether it's hip- hop music or white lilies or bright sunlight — can ground a good mood and give it roots. Beautify your home by bringing in fresh flowers and plants. If you're susceptible to the winter blahs, use full-spectrum light bulbs or a light box, light a candle, add an extra lamp, open the shades, or spend time in the brightest room of your house.

Household clutter and unfinished business in a home can contribute to stress and depression (Kelley and Kelley, 2012), whereas a home that feels restful, restorative, and tidy is associated with lower stress (Saxbe and Repetti, 2010). One study by the researcher Jeanne Arnold and colleagues on middle-class homes in Los Angeles found that "managing the volume of possessions was such a crushing problem in many homes that it actually elevated levels of stress hormones for mothers" (Sullivan, 2012). A number of parents have reported greater happiness and a feeling of getting their lives back when they purged their possessions and provided only a few toys instead of "bins and bins" of them (e.g., Brown, 2016; Lansbury, 2014a).

Spending time outside is restorative, too. Go to the park after school or take a walk after dinner. Eat outside, grill outside, or plant a garden. Moderate exposure to sunlight helps your body produce vitamin D, maintain a healthy immune response, regulate important hormones, and produce endorphins (Mead, 2008). One study showed that walking in a natural setting for ninety minutes significantly reduced activity in the part of the brain linked to mental illness (Bratman et al., 2015). The researchers suggest that walking in nature is a vital part of preventing or treating depression. (Walking in an urban environment did not have the same effect.) Another study found that taking a walk for thirty minutes just three times per week at lunch increased inactive workers' enthusiasm and sense of relaxation and reduced nervousness (Thøgersen-Ntoumani et al., 2015).

Be careful of what you let into your life. Don't pollute your head with too much violent TV, traumatic news shows about missing persons, or internet scare stories about mosquito-borne super-bugs. Exposure to negative events through media sours your mood and acts as a form of secondary trauma. For example, participants in one study who were shown fourteen-minute negative TV news bulletins showed increases in anxiety, sadness, and the tendency to catastrophize a personal worry (Johnston and Davey, 1997).

Fart Machine

Candace was tired of watching the depressing news every morning, being super professional, and always having serious conversations. She made a conscious effort to bring fun back into her life. She changed her regular music to include upbeat playlists, watched comedy shows instead of the news, opened her curtains every day, painted her bedroom orange, clipped and sent cartoons to her friends, and put comic strips and jokes in her work presentations. She told friends and family she was on a quest to be more lighthearted, which motivated them to give her a fart machine, tell her jokes, and surprise her with pranks.


Identify one environmental change you could make right now in your home that would bring the biggest improvement in your mood.

6 Value Who You Are, Not What You Do

Before kids, it's easy to center your identity on the things you do, such as competing in triathlons, fixing up cars, or surfing in Australia. You may have thought about yourself as part of a championship sand-volleyball team or someone who's going to an awesome concert next week. After children, your identity begins to encompass the funny voice you use to read that pop-up book and the way you steadily rock a child with an ear infection. It takes shape from the way you cheerfully do a chore that's supposed to be your partner's or play This Little Piggy after a diaper change. While you may still have adventures, constraints on your activities force you to find subtler, deeper layers to your identity. For overachievers and classic doers, this is a real challenge.

Mismatched Mittens

If you saw Lauren on the street sprinting after her little kids in the Minnesota snow with her mismatched mittens, you wouldn't guess that she once spent two years in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia. If you saw her cruising in her blah-gray, crunchy, Cheerio-lined tank (I mean minivan), cranking the Grateful Dead as she drove her kids to swimming lessons, you wouldn't guess that she used to be her garage's top mechanic, once scaled Mount Rainier, or learned to drive a stick shift in the Icelandic countryside. In fact, with all the gray minivans out there and all the women in black swimsuits at Aquacise class, Lauren wouldn't even recognize herself. Her identity is no longer hanging on her sleeve. It's all bundled inside, like a sleeping bag stuffed in its sack. It's in the here and now — in the patient way she sits with her son who is crying, in the thoughtful meal she brings to a friend confined to bed rest, and in the playful tone she uses to get her daughter to load the car.


Think of a single moment — maybe passionately singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" to lull your toddler to sleep — that shows how your interactions with your family reflect a deeper layer of your identity: being, not doing.


Excerpted from Joy Fixes for Weary Parents by Erin Leyba. Copyright © 2017 Erin Leyba. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1. How to surprise your partner and keep the fire going
2. How to use your intuition to make good decisions for you or your child
3. How to appreciate what you do have, even when you’re really struggling
4. How to make special time with a young child truly special
5. How to shift your environment or “ecology” to improve your mood
6. How to honor and work in “down time” for yourself or your children
7. How to confront comparisons if they are making you feel bad about yourself
8. How to be kind yet assertive when something upsets you
9. How to avoid drifting apart from your partner after having a baby together
10. How to alleviate guilt
11. How to talk with grandparents about their involvement in your child’s life
12. How to process the changes that occur in friendships after having kids

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Joy Fixes for Weary Parents is the guide we have all been hoping for. Filled with practical ideas and research-based tips, this book will breathe new life into your parenting. Leyba is a sage whose words, wisdom, and honesty are sure to fill your days with more joy and less stress.”
— Mandy Arioto, president and CEO of Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) International and author of Starry-Eyed: Seeing Grace in the Unfolding Constellation of Life and Motherhood

“What I love about Joy Fixes for Weary Parents is that it shows how to craft the life you love with your children — even during those bleary, weary parenting moments — by inviting a large dose of wisdom and humor into the equation. . . .This book gives you hope as you undertake one of the most meaningful and challenging journeys of a life well lived: parenting. Highly recommended!”
— Donald Altman, author of The Mindfulness Toolbox, One-Minute Mindfulness, and 101 Mindful Ways to Build Resilience

“A couples counselor’s advice on keeping romance, humor, love, and laughter alive! What family doesn’t need that?”
— Emma Seppälä, PhD, Yale University Center for Emotional Intelligence, author of The Happiness Track

“On any given day, at any time, I can open to a random page in this wonderful book and find an idea, strategy, or pathway to a better relationship with my daughter. It is filled with wisdom and offers parents practical tools for balance and self-love. I highly recommend the book.”
—Therese Rowley, PhD, author of Mapping a New Reality: Discovering Intuitive Intelligence

“Optimism, humor, depth, raw honesty, and a straightforward approach to ‘telling it like it is’ — I have been learning so much from this book. Almost five years into motherhood, I am ready to claim more joy in my life. Even in just the past few days since I started reading the book, I am feeling more joy and less anxiety around parenting. I am finding myself savoring the magical moments, and finding more ease in the mundane moments. I am so grateful for the arrival of this book in my life.”
— Tabby Biddle, author of Find Your Voice: A Woman’s Call to Action

Customer Reviews