Friend, are you happy, right now, today?
Do you greet each new day with joy and wonder or do you drag yourself out of bed in the morning, grumpy and miserable?
Does time with your kids make you feel great or bring out the worst in you?
Would your husband describe you as cheerful and content or irritable and short-tempered?
I don't ask these questions to make you feel bad about yourself, truly. I just want to start off by taking the temperature of your outlook on life as it is today.
I have gone through seasons of my own life when I was generally happy (like right now) and seasons when I was genuinely miserable, crying all the way to work in the morning and crying myself to sleep at night. There have been times when I was angry all the time. There have been times when I couldn't manage to get myself together and times when I totally fell apart.
But for now, in this season, things are good for me, and I can say that I am sincerely happy. I find joy in my relationship with Jesus and in my kids and my husband. I like my job, and I like blogging. There are definitely things in my life that I don't like (the clutter and disarray in my house would be in numbers one through eleven on that list), and there are things that I feel empowered and inspired to change.
Getting to this place has taken a combination of waiting for God to move, weekly therapy for years, and a commitment to myself and my own well-being.
I am far along a very long road, but I want you to know that it is possible to get there. You can do it, too.
The key to being a happy mom and happy person is self-care.
Self care is not selfish. In fact, it is the only thing that can make you the happy mom and wife and woman that you want to be. You have got to take care of yourself, prioritizing your own mental, physical, and emotional health above everyone else in your family.
I'm not even kidding there. Read that again and let it sink in:
You have to prioritize your own mental, physical, and emotional health above everyone else in your family.
You know what they say during the safety talk on an airplane, and I'll remind you if you don't. They say, "Put on your own oxygen mask before attempting to help anyone else."
That is good advice, my sweet friend. You have to do the same thing in all of life.
I have written before about self-care - 105 self-care ideas for busy women. That post will give you many more ideas for self-care than you could ever use, and it might inspire you to begin something you used to love or to take up something completely new. Either way, go check it out.
Let me get off my self-care soapbox and share with you the 7 habits that I believe make me a happy person who can be authentically pleasant with her children and husband.
Oh, hold on. Before I do that, let me say that sometimes circumstances prevent us from being happy. I totally totally get that. My mom died in 2013 after developing pancreatic cancer in 2012. It was brutal. There is nothing I could have done during that time to be happy, absolutely nothing. I was a wreck all through her illness and in the months and even years after.
If you're in a wrecked place, I want to reach out and hug you. I want to pat your back and tell you that it will get better even though better is hard to imagine right now. You will get through this, and God will make you better for it.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28
If you are in that wrecked place, do attempt the habits below, but do so with an understanding that your situation isn't likely to change overnight. You can work on your habits, and that will help your outlook, but it will not change your circumstances. Only God can work miracles.
Okay, now I will get on with the list.
14 Habits of Very Happy Moms
- Make time for something you love. I know I said this above, but it is the first and very most important habit. You have to make time (notice I did not say "find time" because you will never find it - you have to create it in your schedule) to do things that bring you joy.
Can't think of anything that would bring you joy?
Go to that list of 105 self care ideas and see what rings for you. Maybe it's a hobby you had before you had kids and would like to pick up again. Maybe it's something you've never tried but want to. I don't know what it is, but I know you need to find something that's just for you.
Personally, I crochet. A lot. I make copious amounts of afghans to give to everyone I know. Just in the last couple of months, I've finished 7 large afghans and several sweaters, doll clothes, and other projects. I find it simultaneously soothing and productive because it's easy and mindless and I can accomplish a lot in not too much time. I use almost all my waiting time (doctor's office, piano lessons, etc.) to crochet, and I love it.
I also read. My favorite books for the last 5 or so years have been the Outlander series, and I've gotten so into them and their companion books and the author's spin offs and novellas and the tv show adaptation and their podcasts and all things Outlander that I may never surface and read anything else ever again. I've read through the entire book series twice and am working on a third reading. I love the characters and the writing and the intellectual stimulation of all of it, and I read a little on my Kindle Fire (because it has an internal light) after I turn the kids' light out every night.
In the past, I have done Bible journaling, scrapbooking (I love the Project Life app from Becky Higgins.), loom knitting, and sewing.
Note: You don't have to be crafty to find something you love to do. It could be reading, as I said above, or getting pedicures, or baking or something totally different that I haven't even considered. Just do what makes you happy, and do it a little every single day.
- Create routines. I am all about my daily routines. They keep me on track to be very productive and get everything done that I need and want to get done.
Note that I am not saying you need to tie your every action into a time-bound schedule. That rarely works for me except where my full-time job is concerned. But generally, time-bound schedules are far too rigid for me.
Instead, I like to have a routine in place. I have a morning routine (wake up at 6:30, drink water, take vitamins and medicine, read Bible, check email and Facebook and maybe Instagram if there's time, eat breakfast, head to home office for work by 7:30) and a bedtime routine (drink water, take medicine and vitamins, brush teeth, read to the girls, sing to the girls, turn out the light, and read to myself). I also have a lunchtime routine (shut down work computer, put on sneakers and wireless headphones, walk 2 miles, make lunch, eat) and routines for other things like blogging. Routines make things so much easier because I don't have to think about what comes next. It's like I'm on auto pilot.
- Exercise. I never, ever, in a million years, ever thought I would put exercise in the "make time for things you love" point, but it has gotten to be exactly that over the course of the last year. I enjoy my daily walks. I am not myself without them. I seek out ways to make my walk more challenging, to get my heart rate up higher and burn more calories.
It can be hard to exercise when you have kids, but I promise you that even you and your special snowflakes can begin walking. Go to the end of the block at first and come back. Then next week, go a few steps further. Keep adding on until you're walking for 30-45 minutes at a time. Then as you get better and faster, add on some more to keep your time constant.
Another activity you could do as a family is to play a video game like Just Dance. My kids love this game, and I love when they play it because it's very active. I'm not familiar with all the different video game systems, but we have a Wii, and that allows up to 4 players to dance at once. It's a perfect activity to do as a family.
Exercise has been shown in scientific studies to have a huge anti-depressant effect, so whatever you want to do, just make sure you do it - and do it daily if you can.
- Get enough sleep. Most moms I know are tempted to take all the hours after their kids go to bed to accomplish great things or do self care. That's okay if that's the only time you can get, but you have to resist the urge to stay up too late. It is physically impossible to be peaceful and happy if you are constantly sleep deprived. You will be irritable and strung out if you're too tired, and if you do it consistently, you will probably gain weight and eventually get sick. Your body needs a certain amount of rest, and you will suffer if you don't get it.
I know this is not a popular notion, but I go to bed when my kids go to bed, and then I take the early morning hours to do my own thing. I get enough rest almost every night (unless I stay up too late reading which does happen occasionally), and I feel great most days.
- Get outside every day. I was not an outside evangelist until I started taking daily walks about a year ago. Now, I crave that time in the fresh air and don't feel nearly as good when I have to exercise in the basement on our elliptical machine. There's something refreshing and rejuvenating about being outside in the sunshine and clean air. Even when there's no sunshine, if it's raining or dreary, the outside air is magical and life-giving.
Getting outside doesn't have to be an alone activity. You could go out with your kids, to play in the backyard or go for a walk or just to sit in a chair and soak up the sunshine. It doesn't have to be a big event as long as you are outside your door and breathing in the great outdoors.
- Get help. No woman can manage everything on her own. It's simply not possible. Cooking, cleaning, working, mothering, wife-ing, self-care. It's too much. Let me tell you how things break out in my family:
- Joe does 99% of the cooking for our family.
- Joe and I share household responsibilities. He does the trash and the dishes. I clean the bathroom and do the girls' laundry. We both tackle the clutter when it gets too much.
- Our girls have a few chores. They have to clean the upstairs cat boxes daily, clean up their own dishes, clean up their toys in the living room, feed the cats, and empty the dishwasher.
- My sister helps out with the girls during the day time when I'm working. She takes them to field trips a lot of the time and shuttles Allie back and forth to daytime dance lessons.
My point in telling you all this is that it really does take a village to raise a family. Whether you have family nearby or not, you can develop a network of helpers. Trade childcare with a friend so that you can have a few hours of alone time each week. Ask your husband to take the kids on Saturday afternoons or to put them to bed at night so you can have some "off" time.
However you manage to get some help, the important thing is that you get it and get it consistently. You cannot do all the things all by yourself.
- Encourage independence in your kids. It is exhausting to try to entertain your kids 100% of the time. Kids who are independent can handle themselves and their activities, at least in short bursts. I have taught my own kids (who are now 7 and 10 but started this much earlier) how to make their own snacks and lunches. We have empowered them to entertain themselves by creating a toy closet where our living room coat closet used to be. (This is actually a double-edged sword because they tend to get all their toys out but never put them away.)
Now, having said that I encourage (and even require) my kids to be independent a lot of the time, this does not negate the importance of focused time with them. I do spend time with each of my kids every day, playing with them and talking with them and loving on them. You still have to do that. But you do not have to do it every minute of every day.
- Prioritize vacations. Whether you can afford big week-long vacations or not, it is super important to get away with your family. You could go on a weekend trip to a nearby city or a weeklong trip to the beach. Whatever you do, set aside money for it every paycheck and then schedule it. Looking forward to it and dreaming about what you'll do is healthy and will build anticipation which is almost as much fun as the actual vacation. Then once you're away, forget about everything that gets you down at home and just enjoy your time with your family in this special place you've been dreaming about.
- Practice physical affection. Being touchy feely with your husband is not only good for you and your psyche; it's good for his. And it usually leads to more involved physical intimacy which has tons of benefits for each of you individually as well as your relationship together. Having a happy and fulfilled husband will ease a lot of your pressure and make you a much happier wife.
Note that I'm not saying to have sex every day. That would be a drag, unless you really want to. Just do it on whatever regular basis makes you and your husband happy.
- Practice contentment. I will admit that I struggle with contentment. I always want the next thing: the next big gadget, the newest phone, a car as nice as the neighbor's... It goes on. But if you want to be really and truly happy, you need to step out of the comparison game and just be satisfied with the great life you already have and everything that comes with it.
- Laugh every day. Laughter is the best medicine, right? Actually, I think exercise and laughter are equal medicine, but the thought is in the right place. Do whatever you can do to make your kids laugh, and laugh with them. I personally like to look up cheesy kid jokes on Pinterest, and I share them with my boss (who loves corny jokes) and then later with my kids. Everyone giggles and that is super healthy.
- Make friends. This is another area that I struggle with, but it is so important to have friends you can hang out with. Identifying people who can have your back, who understand your story, who can just be with you, is going to make you a much happier, healthier, more satisfied person. If you don't have any close friends, join a small group at your church or invite a mom at the library to have a play date. Cultivate those mom friend relationships, and resurrect old friendships where maybe you have drifted apart. Make time to text her, meet for lunch, or just hang out for an hour. You need people who get you and don't want anything from you.
- Get rid of the tyranny of what's fair. Don't let your kids pressure you into being fair. Seriously. If your youngest has a doctor's appointment, and you're not taking the others, it's totally okay to get her a donut without thinking you have to bring home donuts for everyone. I'm not saying that you shouldn't try to even things out among them - you should - but giving one a special treat or special date does not necessitate doing the exact same thing for everyone on the same day.
- Be kind to yourself. Ditch the mom guilt. Right now. Give yourself a break.
You are not going to be great at everything all the time. You're going to try and fail and then try again and maybe fail again. Be as gentle with yourself as you would be with a friend who is struggling.
You're also not going to be able to do everything you think you should be able to do. It's just not going to happen. Prioritize your self care, split work with your husband, and get whatever else done that you can. And then, be totally okay with what you have accomplished.
I want you to be very happy, my sweet friend. I want you to know the lasting peace and joy of Jesus, and I want you to prioritize your own mental, physical, and emotional health. You can do this.
Aim to get all these habits into your days and weeks and months, but start with just one or two. Once you get those solidified in your life, you can start another one or two.