Family life is what dream are made of!  Dirty socks on the floor, that empty toilet paper roll, clothes strewn down the hallway – they can become sources of stress that can end up in frustration. Add juggling your kids, parents, partner, and job— anytime during the year can be challenging! So how can you reduce the stress and  make it more fun?  These simple tips will help you build a strong, happy, healthier family.

1. Eat, play, love and reconnect with your family

Fun up family meals. We know that eating together can boost achievement in children, lower the chance for eating disorders in girls, and lower depression rates in both girls and boys. But that doesn’t mean meals have to be serious, formal affairs. Simple, humorous rituals are what children remember as adults. Try a monthly “backward day,” serving breakfast for dinner and vice versa, or watch Saturday-morning cartoons together over breakfast. “Silly things that don’t cost a dime will bring you closer together,” says Michele Borba, EdD, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions.

Stay home, stay together. Tape a note to the telephone that says “No!” to remind you not to spread yourself too thin, especially during the holidays. Its fine to make cupcakes for the school party, but do it with your child. And staying home for a night of reading or watching movies may be a lot more meaningful to your family than a flurry activities. Reading aloud, in particular, is a great way to stimulate family conversation.

Be the cool parents. Creating a welcoming space for your kids and their friends is one of the smartest things you can do, so install a basketball goal and stock up on board and video games and healthy snacks. “As your kids get older, they tend to befriend others with similar values and interests,“ Borba says. “You can find out a lot about your child by who they hang with.”

Create (and uphold) boundaries. Families that set strict, clear expectations for their children are happier, according to Scott Haltzman, MD, author of The Secrets of Happy Families. “Kids may tell you they want to be free, but the idea is actually frightening to them,” he says. Make sure your children know and understand family rules.

Have an adventure. A vacation breaks down the traditional way of doing things. In fact, being in a new place increases dopamine (feel-good chemicals) in the brain, which helps bring everyone closer together, Dr. Haltzman says. Research also shows that people who give (time or money) are happier, he says: “Its important that children learn that they are not the center of the universe and that they can have an impact on the world around them.” Volunteer at a local soup kitchen or shelter, Dr. Haltzman says. If time is tight, ask your children to donate a portion of their allowance to a charity of their choice, and tell them you’ll match it.

Celebrate your history. Sharing details from your family tree will help your kids feel like they belong to something greater than themselves and make them feel more grounded says David Niven, PhD, author of The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families. If your kids don’t have the opportunity to talk to their grandparents, look through old photo albums with them and share family memories, stories, and adventures.

2. Stop Fighting About Money, Honey and Find Peace

No secrets. When it comes to your finances, follow the three Ds: disclose, discuss, decide. First establish a financial goal (saving for a house, eliminating debt, starting a business). Next, tally up loans, debts, and expenses, and talk about how you can shrink this number. Also, discuss overall spending behaviors and ways to save, and commit to going forward as a family with your financial goal in mind. “You can diminish financial squabbles when everyone is on the same page, and there are no spending secrets.

3. Keep the “Happy” in Your Marriage

Rediscover marital bliss. Yes, theres actually a mathematics of blissful relationships, says psychologist John Gottman, PhD, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington and executive director of the Relationship Research Institute. To make marriage work, he says, you only need to know this ratio: 5 to 1. For every negative interaction—a complaint, a disagreement, an outright argument—there must be at least five positive interactions—a compliment, a smile, a touch, a shared laugh, a favor, a reference to a happy event, an expression of gratitude, and so on.

These happy moments, Gottman says, show that the couple is “working hard to create a culture of appreciation rather than criticism.” By offering simple acts of kindness, a couple creates what Gottman calls “emotional money in the bank,” currency they need to repair the relationship after a conflict. The truth is, he says, even people who argue frequently can be perfectly happy together as long as their positive encounters outweigh their negative interactions. Simple ways to go positive: kiss hello and good-bye, thank each other for performing even routine household chores, look up and smile whenever your spouse enters the room, be loyal (suppress that temptation to correct the timeline of a story hes telling or to recount an episode he finds embarrassing), and let the little things go.

Navigate the joys and jolts of parenthood. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes … mayhem. Becoming parents may seem like the natural next step after marriage, but the surprising truth is that having a baby is awfully hard on a marriage, according to Gottman and his wife, Julie Gottman, authors of And Baby Makes Three. The Gottmans have identified specific behaviors that help marriages weather the storm of new parenthood. Some of them worth trying:

For dads: Pitch in; the ultimate aphrodisiac to a new mom is a changed diaper or a nighttime shift.
For moms: Let dad do things his way; don’t criticize if the diaper isn’t quite as tight when its his turn.
For both: Make sure sex doesn’t become an afterthought—in fact, schedule it.
Put the romance back into your life. The usual dinner-and-a-movie date, it turns out, doesn’t serve married couples very well. It gives you a chance to reconnect or, at least, conduct an uninterrupted conversation. If what you want from date night is a way to fall in love all over again, though, Saturday night after Saturday night at the movies has nothing to offer you, research says. Want to add that spark? Try an entirely different kind of date.

According to Arthur Aron, the State University of New York professor of social psychology who conducted the research, new experiences flood the brain with dopamine and norepinephrine, the same chemicals that are implicated in early romantic love. For married couples, simply doing new things together—trying a new food, taking a class together, visiting a new place, or one of the other suggestions in 10 Ways to Shake Up Date Night—can re-create the chemical surges of new love. And when those feelings are associated with and shared by a partner, the dopamine high results in fresh feelings of love. In other words, your brain cant tell the difference between falling in love with someone new and trying something new with someone you love.

4. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Getting chores done
Solution: Make a job wheel for cleaning bathrooms, walking pets, doing laundry, doing dishes, setting the table, and sweeping. Each day move the wheel one spot to the right so everyone is doing a different job every day. Everything gets done, and no one complains … too loudly.

Text your kids, your husband the time, place, and where to meet, so there is no room for error— or compromise.

Messy eaters
If you have toddlers, before you eat, cover the surrounding floor with newspaper. After the kids are finished, scoop up the newspaper and everything is clean.

Those darn socks
To keep socks from getting lost and misplaced, initial all of them with a permanent marker. Throw them in a basket after they’re washed, and its up to each person to find a matching pair.

No toilet paper!
Don’t end up with the empty roll!  Fill baskets with extra rolls and magazines and put one in each bathroom.

Annoying noises
At dinner, put on some nice background jazz to drown out the gulping, smacking, and shuffling of chairs around the table.

“Im starving!”
Post a weekly schedule to plan dinners in advance. This way, there is always something thawed in the fridge and ready to heat up, and no meals are prepared for an empty table.

5. Stay Sane in the Sandwich Zone

About 44 percent of adults (up to 75 percent of them women) juggle a multi-generational household, a job, and a life. Here, how to keep it together.

Don’t go it alone. Alert the need-to-know people in your life (teachers, coaches, boss, car pool) about your family situation and how it may influence your effort or participation. If your parent requires physical help, consider a geriatric-care manager who is trained to deal with specific illnesses and disabilities. For financial help, visit the Administration of Aging or the National Family Caregivers Association.

Square away legal issues. When taking care of an elder, make sure they designate a power of attorney for financial matters and a health-care power of attorney for health decisions, says elder-care expert Carol Abaya, creator of The Sandwich Generation lectures and seminars.

Let perfection go. “You cant do it all, and you cant do it perfectly,” says Donna Schempp, program director for the Family Caregiver Alliance. “Give up the obsessive things like a superclean house and dinner at a certain time, and focus your energy on enjoying the people in your life.”

Be frank with your kids. Tell them everything they need to know about the special needs of their grandparent and how they can contribute to the family. “One advantage to the situation is teaching them values and how to care and be respectful of the elderly,” Schempp says. Doing chores and spending time with grandma or grandpa will help kids learn responsibility.

Blow off steam. Take care of yourself by talking it out with your best friend or a therapist. “You may think you’re burdening someone with your problems, but the most important thing to do is to talk, laugh, yell, and complain about the situation,” Schempp says. Also, dedicate at least 30 minutes a day to something you enjoy—gardening, watching a sitcom—to help reduce stress.

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