While this has not always been the case, I am a genuinely happy person these days. My life is stressful, don't get me wrong: I worry daily about whether I'm doing a good enough job for my husband and children. I am battling a raging food addiction and trying unsuccessfully to work the steps in a 12-step program. My house is an embarrassing mess, and I am overcommitted.
But at the end of the day, I am content with the way things are and don't generally feel bitter or angry or resentful. I have great joy in Jesus and in my circumstances.
In talking with other moms, I know that joy is a hard feeling to come by. Life is stressful, and motherhood is downright hard pretty much all the time. We worry that we're doing it wrong. We wonder if we'll ever get our lives back, our identities back. We're pretty sure we're messing it all up.
I struggle with self care, with taking the time to exercise every day and taking the time to call my OA sponsor every day and do step work and taking the time to blog and spending the days in my home office, away from the girls. If I'm not careful, all the guilt from all this self stuff can cloud my thinking, lead me to be impatient and grumpy.
I don't want to be impatient and grumpy. I want my kids to remember their mom as joyful and pleasant and patient. So that's where these suggestions come in.
I will admit honestly that I don't do 100% of the items on this list, but I do manage most of them most days.
Don't try to do them all at once, and don't beat yourself up if you can only manage one or two. Do what you can, a little at a time, and you will eventually get to a place of true joy and happiness with your kids, your husband, and your life.
It will work out.
25 Simple & Easy Habits to Make You a Happy Mom Even When Life is Hard
- Practice self care as often as possible. Ahh, self care. I preach about self care about once a week, don't I? It's so important, even though it often makes us feel guilty and selfish. There are so many clichés about self care: tend to your own oxygen mask first and you can't pour into others from an empty cup being my favorites. Regardless of your feelings of guilt, you absolutely must take care of yourself before you do anything else on this list. If you are feeling ignored and taken advantage of, self care is the #1 cure.
Related: 105 self-care ideas for busy women
- Practice gratitude. Brené Brown, one of my favorite authors and researchers, says that in her studies, 100% of people who report themselves as joyful practice gratitude in some way. That's all I need to know. I want to be joyful, so I have a daily gratitude habit. I write mine in a journal, and I write as many as I can think of in ten minutes or so, but you could just as easily write three items per day and do it in under a minute.
Related: how to raise grateful kids with a gratitude jar and 20 Bible verses about gratitude & thankfulness and my gratitude journal
- Learn patience. This could just as easily be learn how to press diamonds from coal because it's so easy, right? Patience is hard, friend. I know it. I am possibly the least patient person on the planet, and I'm quick to snap at poor sweet Allie for taking too long to get dressed or taking too long to put on her shoes, especially if we're running late (and we always seem to be running late). But what I have learned over the short eleven years of my motherhood is that, if I can take a breath and realize that everyone around me – including my kids – are doing the very best they can do at this moment, I can usually find some patience deep within myself and either help her to move the process along or wait silently while she does her thing.
Related: 8 ways to be a more patient mom
- Plan out your days. I am a planner. I love to spend time deciding what my goals need to be and then breaking them down into bite-sized chunks and each week, thinking about the week ahead and looking at my commitments and how everything fits together. This is fun for me. I like to apply stickers and check things off as they get done. If it's stressful for you, can I suggest that you might be trying to do too much? Perhaps you should politely decline some of those commitments (more on that in #23 below).
Related: The Happy Planner (I use this planner for homeschool recording. I currently use the iBloom planner which goes on sale only for one week in September for the following year. It's my everyday, go-to goals and time planner and has been for four or five years.)
- Make time for a hobby. This kind of goes in with self care, but I think it merits its own point on the list. Do you have any hobbies? Things that are just for you, irrespective of your husband or kids? I like to read, dabble in photography, write on this blog, write in a journal, and crochet. I do all of these things every single week; I make time for them. They are non-negotiables; they get into my schedule so that I can feel satisfied with myself. That satisfaction spills over onto my family, and we all benefit from my sense of peace and accomplishment.
- Get into a meal planning habit. I think meal planning is one of the best habits you can start. It helps you to save money by planning food ahead, allowing you to stop for groceries without daily trips to the store and shop the sales. It prevents you from having to order take out or drive through for fast food because you're always well prepared for the meals ahead. We don't do this as often I would like, and our budget reflects. We used to be really good about meal planning, using Google Calendar as our organization method, and it worked as long as we worked it.
Related: Meal planning with Google Calendar
- Start your day with quiet time. I thought for years that it was impossible for me to get up before my kids. I will admit that it was hard to get into the habit of waking up early, and it absolutely started with me going to bed earlier, but I did manage eventually to shift my schedule and make myself a morning person. Now, I have a definite morning routine: drink a glass of water and take my daily medicine, go for a 3-5 mile walk, drink another glass of water, write in my journal, and then do my daily devotion, prayer, and gratitude journal. If it sounds like a lot, it is. But it's my habit, and it makes my mind feel clear and uncluttered and accomplishes everything that I want to accomplish early on in the day, before I even start working.
- Exercise. For the first 37 or so years of my life, I hated exercise. If I did it (and that was very rare), I hated every minute because it was so hard. I eventually came to realize that I always tried to do too much when I tried at all. This time around, I started very small and built up a little every couple of days. Now I'm walking 5 miles a day, sometimes even more, though I don't see myself increasing much moving forward. I will be totally honest and admit that I don't usually want to walk in the morning, but I do it anyway. And when I'm done, I always (always!) feel great, with a clear and active mind and a general sense of well-being. I've read that exercise is the best anti-depressant there is, and now that I have a strong exercise habit, I totally believe that.
- Go to bed early. This may be the #1 thing you can do for your personal happiness. If you don't get enough sleep, you will be edgy, short-tempered, and impatient. You won't be a happy person to be around, and that sense of malaise will spread quickly to those around you. Before you know it, you'll have a houseful of grouchy, grumpy people, and you could easily have prevented it by going to bed earlier and getting enough rest yourself. This is especially important if you have a set time that you have to wake up. Count backward 7 or 8 or 9 hours (whatever you need), and then count backward another 30 minutes, and set an alarm on your phone for that time. When that alarm goes off, you need to be wrapping up what you're doing, and getting into bed ASAP.
- Spend time alone every day. I am an introvert. I need time alone to recharge my batteries. If I don't have quiet time all by myself, I get grumpy and irritable and anxious. Fortunately for me, my kids are no longer babies, and I have time to myself while they're playing Lego or watching Kids YouTube or whatever they want to do. If your kids are much younger, consider implementing an afternoon quiet time where everyone has to do something quiet in her own bedroom. I have friends who did this successfully for years, although it never really worked for me. The key is that you have a few minutes in peaceful, quiet, alone time to rest and think and breathe (even if you're an extrovert).
- Go out without your kids. You are entitled to a life without your family. Whether you want to have a lunch or dinner out with a girlfriend or your mom or sister or just want some quiet time alone, making time to travel solo will make you much happier and more pleasant when it's time to be with your people. You might even get to eat without cutting someone else's food; that's a luxury that only moms can appreciate.
- Use your inside voice. Yelling makes everything go south. It raises tension, and makes everyone edgy and angry. Yelling also makes people shut you out, so your voice does not get heard no matter how loud you get. Instead, use a normal voice – even if you need to be stern – and talk instead of screaming.
- Plan family fun. I prioritize family fun. I write it in my calendar and make sure we all four do something fun together every single week, usually on the weekend. These days, our family fun often includes grilling out and spending the day at the pool, but it could also be going to the movies, attending a festival, going sled riding, or anything from our bucket lists.
Related: our list of many bucket lists, broken down by season and in general for childhood
- Pray. God can help you to calm down and bask in His peace and joy. In fact, He's the only one who really can. Begin a daily habit of prayer, early in your day, and ask Him to bathe you in peace, calm, and joy as you move through everything you have to do. Then, whenever you feel yourself starting to get short, pray a quick prayer, something like, “Jesus, help me. I can't stay calm without you.” It might feel odd or forced at first, but if you stick with it, you will begin to notice a change in your mind and heart.
- Treat yourself. I am big on treats. Typically, I think of treats as sweet baked goods, but they don't have to be that. You could treat yourself with a pedicure or 10 minutes to read a book or watch the show you love on Netflix. Maybe your treat is a glass of wine on the patio or a slow cup of coffee first thing in the morning. Whatever makes you happy and feel pampered, what the thing you should do to treat yourself.
Related: 105 self-care ideas for busy women
- Plan ahead and prepare in advance. Okay, this goes for just about everything. Pack your pool bag as soon as you get home from the pool. Prep your meals the night or weekend before. Set out your clothes and breakfast in the evening so that your morning can be smooth. Whenever possible, know what you need to do and when you need to do it, and set yourself up for success by preparing for the task as early as possible.
- Take a break. Having a moment? Ready to lose your patience? About to start yelling? Give yourself a time out. Go for a 5-minute walk outside. Pretend to go to the bathroom and sit on the toilet reading a good book. Take a bath or shower. Do something, anything, that will interrupt your thoughts and refocus you on calm and peace and joy.
- Let it go. This may come as a shock, but there is no one in your family who is perfect (um, even you, my friend). (I'm writing this because I need to hear it.) When someone screws up, notice it, make any necessary corrections to prevent it the next time, and then let it go. Be like Elsa. Don't hold onto it or bring it up later. God forgives and forgets, and you should too.
- Read a book or listen to an audiobook. Books are my escape. I love love love to read, but it is very difficult for me to find the time to sit still, sit down, and focus on a page (even on the Kindle to which I am shameless dedicated). I manage to sit down and read my daily devotionals (all four of them), but that's about the end of it most days. What I do have time for is an audiobook. I generally have 3 or 4 different audiobooks going on at one time and listen depending on my mood. My favorites have been Outlander (fiction, my all time favorite book series for ever and ever), The Penderwicks (fiction, a children's book series which is so so good), Love Does (memoir, DON'T MISS THIS), Waterfall: River of Time Book 1 (fiction, a young adult book series that I really enjoyed), Surprised by Motherhood (beautiful and poignant memoir), and The Antelope in the Living Room (hilarious memoir about marriage).
Related: If you're going to get into audiobooks, do yourself a favor and subscribe to Audible.com. I think it's $14.95 a month, and you get one “free” audiobook for that plus a discount on all the others you buy. Since they are often $20+ each, this saves me a bundle every month.
- Watch an uplifting TED talk. TED talks are short (always under 20 minutes) lectures by brilliant minds, written for everyday people. They are 100% free on the internet and cover every imaginable topic. You can find a bajillion TED talks on Pinterest and YouTube (just search for TED talks for women or some such), but I really like this list of 12 TED talks for women, and only a little bit because there are 2 different Brené Brown talks on it.
Related: The TED channel on YouTube. 10+ million subscribers can't be wrong.
- Ask for help. Asking for help is so hard. If you are anything like me, your tendency is to want to do all the things all by yourself. But guess what, mama? You can't. And you weren't meant to. God meant us to be social creatures who depended on one another for connection, love, and help. In the Bible, Ecclesiastes 4:12 says
Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.
Your friends want to help you. Helping you will make them feel needed and wanted and blessed, I promise. But they may not know how to help you or what you need, so you are going to have to suck it up and ask for the help you need.
- Set boundaries and stick to them. It's not intentional, but people (especially your kids) will take advantage of you if you don't set firm boundaries and stick to them. How do you know when your boundaries are being pushed? You feel uncomfortable, unhappy, uneasy. Setting and sticking to boundaries is a skill though, and it's especially difficult for women who are used to making everyone happy. An example of a healthy boundary is to expect your kids to entertain themselves for a period of time so that you can do some self care, like a bath or shower, a walk, or reading a book. The amount of time will vary based on your situation, but the fact that they are not to bother you while you're doing whatever you want to do won't. It will take some training, but you can get there. Another example of a productive boundary might be that you don't stay at work more than 15 minutes past your quitting time, even if everyone is still chatting.
- Say no. Remember that every time you say yes to a new thing, you are saying no to something else. Saying yes to that favor from a friend means saying no to your kids and husband. Saying yes to that volunteer opportunity at school means saying no to your own kids. Saying yes to that really cool blog thing means saying no to your family. Get where I'm going with this? No is a complete sentence, and it protects the people you're closest to from an overwhelmed, unhappy mom.
- Take a shower. I have always found that a shower resets me. Perhaps it's because my long, curly, slightly unruly hair can't be washed quickly. Perhaps it's the act of getting undressed and then redressed interrupts the course of my day. I don't know the exact reason, I do know that taking a shower in the middle of the day resets my bad moods and recharges my batteries.
- Go outside. Nature is a natural anti-depressant, and exercise outside is a double dose. Whether you sit in a swing on the porch or take a walk down your street, going outside daily – and especially when you're having a rough time – will boost your mood like almost nothing else will. Happy moms are well connected to nature and sunshine and fresh air. I personally spend at least an hour (sometimes two) outside every day, walking around my neighborhood, and I am sorely disappointed when I am forced to exercise inside because of extreme heat or icy weather.
- Choose joy. Happiness and joy are not something that you feel; they're something that you choose. I learned this long ago, but I have often forgotten over the years. Happy moms choose to see the positive and uplifting over the negative and draining. They choose not to dwell on the annoyances and frustrations of the day, instead meditating on scripture and affirmations. They don't focus on the defects and foibles of others, instead overlooking these weaknesses for the sake of harmony and peace.
The actions above help me to be a happy, pleasant mom, and they can help you, too. They will move you away from a continuous attitude of anger and frustration toward a state of general peace and contentment and joy that you can foster and develop into a daily habit.
Which habit will you try first?
© 2018, Tara Ziegmont. All rights reserved.