Raising children isn’t as easy as it looks in those soft-focus magazine and television ads. I think it might be some kind of ruse designed to bamboozle us into peopling the earth (and buying all the products for it). Actual children are messy, unreasonable, and they’re around for such a long time!  It turns out it takes more than absorbent paper towel and animal shaped multi-vitamins to raise good kids! It takes happy, loving parents.

It’s the rare parents, however, who don’t admit they’re in over their heads upon the arrival of their first bundle of joy. To get through this extreme sport known as parenting, it is essential to seek out the commiseration and encouragement of fellow parents-in-the-trenches to compare scars, swap tactics, and share a whole mess of humorous anecdotes.  And also to remind us what our goal is in this crazy endeavor: eternal happiness for the whole family.

I have the just the thing for you! I recently read Betsy Kerekes’ new book, Be a Happier Parent or Laugh Trying. You may know Betsy from her humorous blog, Parenting is Funny, or from the two books she co-wrote with Jennifer Roeback Morse, 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage and 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person. Betsy is flying solo this time – and she was tipsy when she wrote this book too! (It contains more tips than the apron of the prettiest bar maid at Oktoberfest.)

It’s clear that she’s a happy, fun person (Betsy, not the bar maid), who followed the advice from her previous books. It’s not that she comes across as the perfect wife and mom, nor is she preachy and didactic. In fact, many of the pro tips that pack this slim volume were gleaned from her myriad mom friends.  She shares her struggles and successes with a healthy dose of humility and humor.  Well, maybe it’s more a gluttonous dose of humor – because, it’s huge.

I guarantee, by a few chapters in, you will feel like you’re sitting in her kitchen, enjoying coffee with the author, sharing parenting stories, while your children play (or bicker) with hers nearby. The writing is conversational and encouraging.

We can all use a little more encouragement these days when it’s so easy to feel like a failure if you can’t keep up with the “perfect” example of those moms we see on television, blogs, and magazines. You know, the examples they save to show the public for our emulation – even though hey probably don’t live up to it either. Betsy is refreshingly real. While she does give examples from her own successful experiences, she shares her failures as well. She never comes across as superciliously saying, “Just do it like I do; it’s so easy!” This is not an instruction manual.

Each of the ten chapters is headed with an inspiring quotation from a saint. It’s just one of the things that make apparent Betsy’s goal of not merely curating a fun-filled family environment, but of helping us to build a happy family in the truest sense. Aristotle names happiness as our ultimate goal and virtue as the means to get there. Kerekes leads us through various ways to grow in virtue as a parent and help our kids do so as well, and always with the purpose of reaching our true end of eternal happiness – as well as daily happiness gleaned from a loving, peaceful household.

There are chapters that focus on having fun, dealing with tears (yours as well as your kids’), discipline, the frustration of trying to keep an orderly house, teenagers, matters of faith, and gaining help from the saints. She shares a couple of additional essays on the heartbreak of infertility and the loss of children. As a mother raising four kids, she has experienced her share of all of these topics.  Her irrepressibly positive attitude has carried her through difficulties and is uplifting to read.

There is a good deal of wisdom behind her cheery words.  In the pages of this little book, you will learn the housekeeping secret of “The Magic Chair” and of allowing angry kids slam doors. Betsy comes across as sort of a phlegmatic version of Mary Poppins steeped in Saint John Paul II’s teaching of respect for the dignity of the human person.

With the recent Mother’s Day and the approach of Father’s Day, this is a book to consider getting for yourself, your spouse, and anyone who has or is contemplating having kids any time in the future. You can even give it to your parish priest, because he can see from the pulpit the parents who might benefit from such a book.

It may take more than animal shaped multi-vitamins and absorbent paper towel to raise real life kids. This little book will give you a spiritual multi-vitamin pick-me-up to face your family with a renewed sense of happiness and humor.

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