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Writing for Listeners

It wouldn’t be quite accurate to say that KJ Dell’Antonia and Jessica Lahey are winging it. Both women pull out pages of notes as they meet in a hastily tidied upstairs office in Dell’Antonia’s sprawling, well-appointed farmhouse to record the latest episode of their podcast. Both, too, are distinguished writers who know their way around an interview.

Still, there’s a sense of breezy spontaneity in the room, a feeling that unrestrained curiosity is in the driver’s seat, as they chat via Skype with Ruth Franklin, author of Shirley Jackson, A Rather Haunted Life, on a recent Friday afternoon.

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Why I Didn’t Answer Your Email

I’m 47 years old. Two days ago, you sent me an email, which I did not answer. I didn’t answer it, in part, because I am 47 years old.

I appreciated your email. You are a person, who has written an email, and I am a person, who should reply to that email. However, your email arrived on Wednesday afternoon, and just as I opened it, my 16-year-old son came in. He wanted to describe to me an app he is in the process of developing. Then he showed me a funny article someone had sent him, and I showed him a funny article someone had sent me, and then I explained that I had work to do, that I needed, in fact, to respond to your email, and also to write 3,000 words in the next 36 hours. “I’ve only written 300,” I said.

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Happier Parent Mantra: What you want now isn’t always what you’ll want later

This one is really biting me in the butt lately.   What you want now isn’t always what you’ll want later.   That’s one of my 10 Mantras for Happier Parents*, and it is killing me.   Honestly, I’d really rather just give in and make my child happy right now—on whatever it is. Lately, it’s been biggish stuff (hello, report card season), but it’s also been a pile up of all the stuff. Come back here and put your […]

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Sometimes Happier, Sometimes …

If you had your crystal ball handy yesterday, and chose to peek in at me and my three younger kids around 3:30, you would have judged us all pretty harshly. One was on the floor, surrounded by a mess of their own making, kicking another, who was nastily mocking the mess and the sibling and anything else. Another was wildly defending some earlier transgression. As for me, I was yelling mightily at anyone in sight. They were horrible people, all […]

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For Happier Family Holidays, Recite This: Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

  Bracing yourself for family visits and family travel over the holidays? Me, too–and I’m prepping my kids as well. Happier family holidays means balancing expectations and planning for, well, pretty much whatever went wrong last year and then some. My tips, below (with my favorite bits highlighted in red). Know why you’re going Not everything about a family holiday trip might be precisely a dream vacation for parents or teens, but if we hold our reason for going close to […]

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Happier Parents leave wiggle room

  I had an amazing morning today, which can be summed up as follows: got child to doctor’s appointment on time. Let’s back up. Why would that constitute an amazing morning? Because it’s something I rarely achieve. The doctor’s office is a 25-30 minute drive, at the end of which, just as you’re thinking hey, we’re just in time, you encounter the parking garage. The parking garage takes a minimum of ten minutes to navigate, because it’s a narrow structure […]

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Things happier parents know: you don’t really “have to” do that much

I have to get up at 5:00 AM tomorrow—to do all the things I want to do. I’ve got have-tos in my day, of course. There’s a big block of work to be done that’s not optional, farm chores, and a business meeting. I would put getting my home ready for a family visit and prepping a couple of meals for that visit in the “have-to” category as well, although that’s arguable. We could eat take-out (like we did tonight). […]

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Two Steps to Happier Parenting: Zero in on a Problem. Try to Make It Better.

  Mr. Tantrum is, of course, loud and noisy and demanding. So it’s tough to have him around sometimes—anyone can see that. And he tries to sneak up on us, but the truth is, he’s kind of predictable. He shows up at the end of long days and during transitions. If you can predict Mr. Tantrum, maybe (maybe) you can do something about him. A reader wrote me about Mr. Tantrum last week, because she noticed something in her parenting […]

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A Happier Parent Mantra that even works when things suck (and I wondered)

Here’s one of the four things happier parents do: they soak in the good. Which means that when things are pretty decent—not necessarily great, just fine, thanks for asking—they look around, and they notice, and they take a minute to let that soak in. They observe. They say to themselves, yep, dinner’s on the table, 5-year-old’s having a tantrum because the sippy cup is wrong, gotta go back to work and get to all those emails after bedtime, but overall, […]

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#AmWriting NaNoWriMo Countdown: 7 Weeks and Starting a New Project from Scratch

Nanmowrimo (National Novel Writing Month, held annually in November and challenging writers to draft a 50,000 word novel in a month–that’s 1666.66 words a day) is exactly 7 weeks away as I write. 49 days. And I need a new story. My agent has a draft of the novel I wrote over the course of NaNoWriMo last year (I’d estimate that about 10K words of that draft remained in the final draft, which went through another 5-6 iterations and benefited […]

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Happy Children Do Chores

Children should do chores. That’s a controversial premise, though not everyone will admit it. A few parents will declare outright that their children are “too busy for chores” or that “their job is school.” Many more of us assign chores, or say we believe in them, but the chores just don’t get done. That’s a problem. For starters, chores are good for kids. Being a part of the routine work of running a household helps children develop an awareness of […]

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Things Happier Parents Know: Family is the Place to Say Things You Don’t Mean

  I HATE SCHOOL AND I AM NOT GOING! I’M QUITTING THE TEAM! I AM NEVER COOKING DINNER FOR YOU PEOPLE AGAIN! I HATE YOU YOU RUIN EVERYTHING! I AM NEVER SPEAKING TO YOU AGAIN! IF YOU COME IM MY ROOM I WILL KILL YOU! OUR CHILDREN ARE THE RUDEST CHILDREN IN THE WORLD! Yeah, yeah, yeah. In this, the first week after school starts here and a fairly early week of the school year for many of us, I […]

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The One Thing Happier Parents Know That Makes Back-to-School Mornings Better

  MORNINGS! They’re a madhouse. So much at stake—those kids have to get to school on time! With their gym shoes and their violin and their homework and six manila folders and two cans of green beans and a ball of yarn that they didn’t mention needing until 6:30 am! It’s crazy and it’s painful and it’s chaos—and there really is one secret, one thing you can know, that makes it all better: There’s actually nothing at stake. Nothing. Zero. […]

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How I’m Celebrating the Official Launch of How to Be a Happier Parent

It’s here. Anybody who wants to can just walk into any store or click any link and get How to Be a Happier Parent right now. I’m happy and proud and freaked out all at the same time—which is, I’m told, exactly the state of mind you want to be in before you walk out onto the set of the Today Show. That’s my big news of the day—if you’re reading this before the 8:00 hour of the Today Show, […]

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Happier parents do these 10 things

by KJ in New York Times

I’d been a parent for close to 12 years by the time it occurred to me to ask myself if the whole thing really had to feel this hard. As a journalist, I’d been writing about the cultural, societal, and political aspects of family life for a decade, and the one thing I knew, as I began to contemplate the question of why I wasn’t more satisfied with my life as a parent, was that I wasn’t alone. I interviewed […]

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Three things happier parents say when their kids whine about chores

Children should do chores. That’s a controversial premise, though not everyone will admit it. A few parents will declare outright that their children are “too busy for chores” or that “their job is school.” Many more of us assign chores, or say we believe in them, but the chores just don’t get done. That’s a problem. For starters, chores are good for kids. Being a part of the routine work of running a household helps children develop an awareness of […]

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What’s the ideal size for your happier family?

What’s your ideal family size? There is, of course, no ideal family size. Only children aren’t lonely children. Kids with lots of siblings don’t feel neglected. And if fate deals you a family that’s not the one you expected, you’re very likely to end up perfectly happy about that. Humans are very good at reframing, and when you look at the wonderful family you end up with, well, it’s hard to wish things were different. I have 4 kids. My […]

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The David Sedaris School of Happier Parenting

Reading David Sedaris—and particularly his new book of essays, Calypso —is reading about family, about families of origin and families of choice and how they shape us. And to read Calypso is to understand that that shaping can take a thousand forms—more—and still result in adults. Functional adults who still have relationships with those families of origin, even when they were arguably less than ideal by today’s standards. Outsiders might feel differently, but I think David Sedaris would tell you his […]

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How to have a happier family vacation: take turns being grumpy

Vacations are stressful. I hate that as a sentence, because of course they’re not supposed to be stressful, and lots of vacation advice is to let all the things that go wrong go and just somehow refuse to be stressed. Which is very difficult advice to follow, because it’s hard not to be stressed about some parts of vacation. You’re in a strange place, at the mercy of airlines and train schedules, surrounded by strangers, often accompanied by young children […]

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Why Pre-ordering Books is Great for Authors and Readers (and makes a great birthday gift). Plus, Pre-order Bonuses!

Happy Birthday to me! It really is my birthday. And—my personal celebration—I’m finally actually asking you to pre-order my book, How to Be a Happier Parent. I love it, and I think you will too—it’s a practical, thoroughly researched guide to bringing more joy into our everyday family life, not by doing more (please, no) but by doing things differently. I’m also telling you why pre-ordering the book matters, and what I’ve come up with to make those pre-orders fun […]

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I've got Ten Mantras for Happier Parents (based on the research for my book, How to Be a Happier Parent). They've worked for me—want to try them?

Hi, I’m KJ. Can I send you something?