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Dad's viral Facebook post urges parents to smile when they come home

"Coming home? That's your whole life. Fix it."
/ Source: TODAY

Self-proclaimed optimist Benjamin Holmgren didn't post to Facebook a lot in the past year. In fact, the 25-year-old husband and father of four children from Greensboro, North Carolina, prefers to post motivational and reflective thoughts on other social media sites, like LinkedIn or Instagram.

But a few weeks ago, he decided to post on Facebook about how the way someone comes home could affect their marriage, their children, and their lives — and he quickly learned the power of the internet.

"When you get home to your spouse/kids/dog, etc., before you open the door, put a smile on your face!" Holmgren wrote. "It doesn't matter how your day went. Or what you're doing next. Or if you're starving. For 30 seconds, at least pretend that you're elated to see them. Make them feel like you were looking forward to getting back home. After all, they're your favorite people in the whole world. I hope."

Holmgren asserted that though it seems like a small action, the attitude you display in those first 15 seconds when you walk in the door after a day at work sets the tone for the rest of the evening for both you and your family. "So really, it's not tiny at all. It's a huge deal," he said. "Because you come home every day. And the things you do every day grind on you.

"Taking your family to Disneyland is insignificant. Your kid's expensive birthday party will be forgotten within weeks. Coming home? That's your whole life. Fix it. Start today," he urged.

His post now has 143,000 likes on Facebook and more than 24,000 comments.

Holmgren, who has children ages 5, 4, 2, and 1 with his wife Leiah, told TODAY Parents that he likes to focus on the positive and show gratitude even when he is faced with challenges. His sense of perspective comes not because he has suffered profound loss or tragedy in his life, but in fact because he hasn't, he said.

"I married young, I love my wife to death, we have four beautiful children, we have nothing to complain about," he said. "But life is hard. We see how much we have been spared, but if and when that loss or pain does come, we want to be as prepared as possible for it."

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Though he wrote in his post that he was inspired to try this change in his behavior by University of Houston research professor and bestselling author Brené Brown ("The Gifts of Imperfection," "Daring Greatly"), Brown told TODAY Parents that she got the idea from iconic author Toni Morrison. She wrote about Morrison's words in a blog post called "What Toni Morrison Taught Me About Parenting."

Morrison had appeared on "Oprah" in May of 2000, and Brown saw Morrison's interview with Oprah Winfrey.

"Toni Morrison explained that it’s interesting to watch what happens when a child walks into a room," Brown wrote. "She asked, 'Does your face light up?'"

Brown described how Morrison explained that parents often "think your affection and your deep love is on display because you’re caring for them. It’s not. When they see you, they see the critical face. What’s wrong now?”

2010 Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner
Though Benjamin Holmgren learned about the importance of how a spouse and parent "comes home" from researcher and author Brene Brown, Brown told TODAY Parents she learned it from legendary author Toni Morrison's interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2000. Morrison and Winfrey are shown here at a different event in 2010.Frank Polich / Getty Images

Brown said Morrison's advice —“Let your face speak what’s in your heart. When they walk in the room my face says I’m glad to see them. It’s just as small as that, you see?” — was "paradigm-shifting" for her.

It had the same affect on Holmgren when he read Brown's writing. "It hit me right between the eyes," the young dad said. "When I see my daughter now, her face lights up. It's so easy to bring stress home with you."

Now, Morrison's message is spreading to thousands of parents through Holmgren's post too. "I have been unbelievably grateful for the dozens of messages, DMs, and comments thanking me for the encouragement and for putting myself out there," he said.

He hopes the idea will empower other parents. "I didn't invent this message. I learned it and I practiced it," Holmgren said. "I hope that people realize that life is tough, but so are they. This is not about blind optimism or lying to your family about your feelings or ignoring suffering or problems.

"This is a reminder that you have the power to change it," he said. "You can be the one in charge of how you handle your stress and anxiety."