By Guest Blogger Karen Linamen Bouchard
You want to be the best parent that you can be. What if something as simple as keeping a journal could help you be a more effective parent?
I happen to be a writer, so it makes sense that I’m enamored with the power of the pen. But it’s not just me! In fact, the myriad benefits of journaling have been well documented by study after study.
Let’s take a look at a few of the perks of journaling, starting with something every parent can appreciate.
If you’re alive—and especially if you’re alive and a parent—you are intimately acquainted with stress. The good news is that the process of writing down your thoughts and feelings can reduce that stress. Researchers aren’t exactly sure of all the reasons why, but studies show that it does.
Perhaps it’s the process of spending quiet time reflecting, or the idea of taking all that inner turmoil and pouring it out onto the page where it feels a little farther away, or the fact that sometimes, in writing about challenges or struggles, it’s easier to make sense of everything and even stumble across an unexpected solution or two. Actually, it’s probably a combination of all that and more.
I’m not going to make the call that grumpy parents can’t be good parents, but I will say that grumpiness makes parenting a lot less enjoyable for kids and grownups alike.
That said, if you’re grumpy and want an almost instant attitude adjustment, sit down with your journal and make a list of 25 things for which you are grateful. Or find an encouraging Bible verse or saying, and write about what it might be saying to you. Or thumb through your journal and take note of previous dilemmas that, quite frankly, turned out far better than you thought they would. You can also about past victories and take a moment to bask in the glow of those good moments, even if they happened a long time ago. Hey, you could even make a list of all of the songs you’ve heard through the years that can instantly put you in a good mood (and maybe even make you dance a little). Even making a list of everything that’s bugging you can be cathartic.
The point is, there are lots of ways journaling can help you put down the pen in a better mood than you were in when you picked it up.
Keeping a journal also allows you to identify patterns in your thoughts or behavior that you might not have otherwise noticed. For example, about nine years after going through a divorce, I was flipping through recent entries in my journal and noticed an unsettling trend. At random places in my journal, in the middle of unrelated entries, I had jotted the thought, “I don’t know why my husband didn’t love me.” Seeing those words repeated page after page—nearly a decade after the fact!—opened my eyes to something I might never have figured out on my own: a wound I thought had healed over was obviously festering beneath the surface. Journaling helped me identify that wound so I could get help and take that tragic question off auto-play in my head.
Even patterns that don’t seem “parenting-related” (like the one I just mentioned from my life), are important to identify. Unhealed wounds, chronic negativity, or lies you keep on auto-play in your head can really impact your effectiveness as a parent. They can also create hurts or issues you unintentionally pass down to your kids. Bottom line, tending to your emotional/spiritual/relational health and growth is critical to your effectiveness as a parent, and journaling is a great tool to help you do just that.
Dream, Plan, and Set Goals
Goals, dreams, and priorities naturally work themselves onto the page as you write, helping you to clarify what’s important and what you really want out of life. From there, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to making a plan and putting it into action. I like making lists in my journal of all sorts of things—ways to save money, things I know make my kids feel loved, date night ideas, what I want life to look like five years from now, life lessons I want to make sure I pass along to my children, etc.
I’ve already mentioned that journaling reduces stress, and we know how good that can be for both mental and physical health. Here’s more good news: Psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker says that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. Other researchers say that journaling can even decrease symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, in one study conducted at Stony Brook University in New York, improvements in pain management, fatigue, and overall health were documented in participants with breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia when they took the time to journal about traumatic experiences in their lives for 20 minutes, 3 days a week.
If you don’t consider yourself much of a writer, no problem. There are very few rules for journaling. Entries can rival War and Peace in length, or they can be just a few lines. You can even draw images in your journal (doodles and stick figures are welcomed!). You can blog online, but I also recommend that keep a private journal, too. Public and private musings have benefits that cannot be replaced one by the other. Finally, don’t worry about grammar or punctuation in your private writings (blogging, of course, requires a little more attention to good writing rules).
The important thing is to create a small space in your day, every day that you can, in which you can get in touch with your thoughts and feelings, and explore those thoughts and feelings on paper.
Anything that can help you manage stress, stop being so grumpy, engage in inner growth and healing, dream and plan, and be healthier is going to improve your experience as a human being. And that, my friend, is going to impact your parenting. Happier, healthier people make better parents. So get busy journaling. You’re going to benefit, and your kids will, too.
Karen Linamen Bouchard is a speaker and author of more than a dozen humorous, self-help books for women, with titles including Just Hand Over the Chocolate and No One Will Get Hurt. She is also Creative Director at the LearningRx Home Office.