I've been a parent for a little over 11 years now, and I think I'm pretty good at it. That's not me being phony or puffed up; I truly believe God made me specifically to be the mother of these two little people (who are not so little anymore), and He gave me gifts to get the job done with grace and poise.
I know plenty of people who don't feel the same way. They feel like mothering is really hard and really draining and that it sucks the life out of them. My heart hurts for these mothers. If you are one of these, I am writing straight to you in this post. It's all about you, your heart, and your life.
Whether you feel like mothering sucks the life out of you or not, motherhood most certainly is exhausting and relentless and everlasting, especially the little years, but not much less as they get older.
But exhausting and relentless and everlasting doesn't have to be the end of the story. It is the beginning, yes, it is, but the end can be joyful and rewarding and life-giving. That's where I'm going in the post below; I want to nudge you a little closer to life-giving and a little further away from it sucks the life out of me.
Do you think that's possible?
I mentioned parenting with grace and poise above, but let me be real with you for a minute.
- I bought both of my kids Kindle Fire tablets so that they'd leave me alone and let me work at my job (which I do from home 100% of the time).
- Most days, I would rather clean under my toenails than play Minecraft with my 7-year-old.
- There are plenty of times when I would rather take off my bra and work on my computer than run someone to yet another lesson, meeting, or practice.
- I just about lose my mind when I see the living room strewn with toys and nonsense and garbage from one end to the other to such an extent that I cannot walk to the lamp without stepping on something. And don't even get me started on the fact that the lamp got broken in half and is now held together by duct tape because I refused to buy a new one.
I could go on and on, but I share these because I want you to know that I'm in the trenches with you. My kids are mostly normal (one has special needs which make her much more challenging than normal, actually). They don't listen any more or any better than anyone else's kids. On the contrary, my husband seems to think that they have hearing disabilities or else are completely immune to our voices.
I am in the trenches with you. I'm real and honest, and I don't have a nanny. My kids are with me pretty close to 24/7/365 because we homeschool in the evenings after I'm done working for the day. They don't go to school. I'm the leader and assistant leader for their Girl Scout troops and help out with the 4H club. Mothering. never. ever. ends.
But I am also firmly in the camp that says that motherhood can be joyful, rewarding, and life-giving. I don't believe that hard and joyful should be mutually exclusive.
I want to share a few of my secrets with you, sweet friend. I want to tell you how I get from this isn't for sissies to joyful most of the days of my mothering journey. I want to encourage you to find your joy in the midst of the hard work. I want to show you that you can be a happier mom even if you can't always be a perfectly happy one.
How to Be a Happy Mother – Happier Moms Do These 15 Things
- Happier moms look for the good. Almost 20 years ago, Oprah made The Law of Attraction a big deal. The people who came up with it said that you get back from the universe what you put into the universe, and it is backed up by quite a lot of science as well as anecdotal evidence. What you focus on becomes your reality.
I believe that happiness, true joy, is a choice we can all make. Sometimes it is more difficult, and sometimes you just can't seem to get there, but it is ultimately a choice that is available to you when you're open to it.
Some seasons are just plain hard. I lost my mother in 2013 after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer. I was not joyful in 2012 or 2013 or even 2014, not even a little bit. As a matter of fact, I grew so depressed and anxious that I was suicidal and required serious mental health interventions. Slowly, through intensive therapy and medication, I did get my joy back, and I can tell you that it is possible.
Major life events aside, you can choose whether you get angry and frustrated at the diaper blowout, or whether you laugh it off as just one of those unpleasant yet unavoidable things that happens. You can choose whether you scream over the dirty laundry all over the bathroom floor or use it as a teachable moment to show your family members what to do with it. You get to decide.
- Happier moms know that the only person they can control is themselves.
I like to tell my husband that the only person he can control is himself, because it is true. (He hates to hear this, by the way, and maybe you do too, but that doesn't make it less true.) You can influence others, but ultimately, you can only control one person on this planet, and that is yourself. Trying to control other people will lead you to a lot of frustration and anger when those people don't do what you want. You can either lose your mind every time something happens that you don't like, or you can roll with it, knowing that every human being on earth has his or her own agenda and motivation for everything he or she says and does.
- Happier moms don't always put themselves last.
Moms are notorious for putting themselves last, and that is messed up. Maybe you serve dinner to yourself last; that's fine. But when you put your needs at the bottom of the list every time, you are in need of an intervention.
Let me give you an example. I work and homeschool and blog and sometimes go to church. I saw an ad in the weekly community newspaper for a program called Master Gardener. I love plants and flowers and gardening, so I went through the application process and was chosen as a participant in the program. They only accepted 1/3 of the applicants, so that in itself was a big deal.
The problem? It requires a 3-hour commitment every single Wednesday from August until December. It's a class, and you aren't allowed to miss or you get kicked out of the program. The other problem? Grace has therapy on Wednesdays at an overlapping time. I considered declining participation in the program so that I could take Grace to therapy every week, but I ultimately decided that my husband is capable of taking her, and he can adjust his work schedule so that he's home in time. I chose myself and my interests, and I am thrilled with my decision.
- Happier moms unapologetically pursue self-care daily. Whether your version of self-care is exercise, reading, listening to music/podcasts/audiobooks, or luxuriating in a hot bubble bath, you need to do something to renew your spirit every single day. I'm sure you've heard that you can't pour into others from an empty vessel, but it is true. You can't give what you don't have. Self-care is vital for everyone, but especially for moms from whom so much is demanded on a daily (minute by minute) basis.
Here's my example: I exercise every day. When I say every day, I mean every single day. I have missed exactly one day of exercise since April 15 (206 days). I get up early (most of the time) and walk 3.5 miles before I eat breakfast. It makes me feel awesome and alive and very sweaty. When I can't peel myself out of bed in time to walk before breakfast and work, I walk over my lunch break. I don't skip my walk because my kids want me to stay home. I don't skip my walk because I don't feel like walking (which is pretty close to every day). I don't skip my walk because it's hot outside. (Full disclosure – if it's dangerously hot or cold out, I use the elliptical machine in our basement for an equal number of minutes. I hate this and would rather walk in the extreme weather.) I walk, period. It is my time for myself and my health and well-being, and I do it every day.
- Happier moms set boundaries with their kids. I will be the first to admit that I am not stellar at boundaries, but when I set and hold them, I am so much happier. Here are some examples:
Both of my children interrupt their dad and me constantly. They don't say excuse me and they don't wait for a break in the conversation. The simply bellow Mom – Mom – Mom – MOM! until I address them. This is something that erodes my happiness and makes me quite angry.
Sweet Allie tells me what to do with my money (namely, buy her apps and junk toys). When I don't do what she wants, she whines, cries, and throws a fit. This also erodes my happiness.
Sweet Allie also likes to be touching me whenever we're in the same room. I have a very low tolerance for touch even after all these mothering years. She sits on me and leans against me and even tries to lay on top of me at night when I lie in her bed with her. This makes me generally uncomfortable.
You can generally tell that your child is traipsing on your boundaries because you get anxious, angry, irritable, uncomfortable, or resentful.
So how do you set better boundaries with your kids? That could be a whole post on its own, but for now, suffice it to say that there are some basic boundaries that you could start enforcing (I'm totally speaking to myself here.):
- Let them do things for themselves instead of swooping in to fix the situation.
- Maintain your personal privacy. (Lock the bathroom door!)
- Don't let them drink out of your cup or eat off your plate.
- Treat your children like your children and not like your friend. Don't confide in them, especially about your spouse, and don't cede your authority to them. Be the boss.
- Don't allow your children to speak rudely to you.
- Don't allow your children to interrupt you when you're speaking.
In every case above, you'll have to apply consequences consistently, naturally, and without anger in order to for the boundary to work. I won't sugar coat it; this is very difficult but worth the effort.
- Happier moms take the time to foster independence in their kids. Independence is hard for me because I want to be needed, but God gave us these children to raise and eventually launch into the world. They need to learn how to take care of themselves, even though it is often easier to do their work for them than to take the time to teach them. My best example is shoelace tying. I abhor shoes with shoelaces because my kids abhor tying their shoelaces. Any time they get shoes with laces, it takes us an extra 10 minutes to get out the door every single time. But at a certain point, velcro is no longer cool or even available and laces become a necessity. I had to sit down with my kids (many times) and work on shoelace tying so that I didn't have to tie their shoelaces every time we went somewhere. It still takes a long while, especially for Allie who is only 7, but it is time that needs to be spent right now so that she can be a teenager someday who actually ties her own shoes.
- Happier moms are consistent with discipline. Consistency is the bane of my life. I'm not consistent, and it shows in my kids' behavior. Psychologists will tell you that kids need to know what is going to happen every single time they break the rules. That's one of the biggest things that shapes them into healthy people: predictability and consistency in their environment and relationships.
In my household, my kids earn points for chores and some good deeds, and each point is worth 25¢. This part is consistent. What is not consistent is that I will often buy things for them when they don't have enough points to cover the cost. Allie is notorious for spending all her money on Minecraft and Kindle/iPhone apps, and then she begs and cries and whines when something new comes along that she wants. If I were consistent in saying, “You can buy that when you have enough money,” she would eventually stop whining and learn to save her money. Instead, what I do is give in about half the time, so she continues whining and hounding non-stop for the new apps and in-app purchases she feels she deserves. I hate this behavior, and it totally makes me feel worse knowing that I could nip it by being consistent. And yet, I still give in because it's easier in the moment than holding the line. Happier moms hold the line and feel good about their boundaries, if not in the moment, in the long-term.
- Happier moms know that everything will turn out okay in the end. If things are not okay at this moment, know that it's not the end yet.
God never says we won't have troubles. In fact, Jesus said in John 16:33,
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
But troubles are not the end of the story. “Take heart!” He says.
Later on in the New Testament, Paul writes,
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8:28)
It all works for your good, my friend. It always works for good.
In the book of Genesis, Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, wrong imprisoned by his master, ignored by people he helped, and years later, saved the entire Jewish nation from starvation as the second in command in all the land of Egypt. His story is long and winding, and I'm sure it felt bleak at the time, but Joseph had faith that God would make it all turn out okay. Happier moms have the same faith.
- Happier moms know that things and people change. I remember when my older daughter was 2, she was cuddly and sweet and compliant. And then she turned 3 and became power-hungry and defiant. She stopped eating foods she'd eaten all her life and became the pickiest eater on the planet. She refused to go to daycare, and I had to bodily carry her in the door every. single. day.
At the time, it was incredibly reassuring to know that this too shall pass. I knew at the time (and continue to know) that her behaviors were just a phase; they weren't strongholds that that would haunt us for the rest of our lives.
Kids change all the time. What they liked to eat last week, they may refuse today. What they argued about last week, they may happily agree to today. They constantly change their minds depending on their moods, how much they've had to eat, and how much they've slept, and happier moms know that attitudes and behaviors are almost always fleeting.
- Happier moms don't let other people's moods bring them down. You've seen the mom in the grocery store with the screaming toddler. Maybe she was trying to get control of the kiddo, and she was getting flustered or angry. Maybe she was embarrassed and trying to get the kid off the floor. Neither of these moms was happy; I'm certain. While I will not deny that it's embarrassing to have your kid throwing a fit in the middle of a store, I am the first person to say that it's not my fault, and I most likely didn't cause it. And, even if I did somehow cause it, I'm not the one throwing the fit and will absolutely not get emotional about it. It's my job to be level and calm and make sure the child doesn't hurt herself or someone else.
Likewise, when my husband is upset with something, I don't match the tone or volume level of his voice. I just don't.
While I'm not 100% perfect about it, I don't allow other people's feelings to determine my own feelings. Happier moms can be sympathetic and empathetic and kind, but they don't get caught up in their feelings or moods.
- Happier moms know when to keep their mouths shut. I said above that I don't get caught up in other people's feelings, nor do I get caught up in their drama. I like to think I'm right pretty much 100% of the time, but I don't go around telling people about my right-ness. If they ask for my advice, I'm happy to give it (very much so!), but I try (really hard and not always successfully) to keep my advice to myself. Likewise, I try not to keep arguments going by having the last word. Like Elsa, happier moms just let it go.
- Happier moms don't compare themselves to other moms. This is another one that's super hard for me, but comparing sucks the very life blood from my veins. When you compare yourself to other moms, you always come out either ahead of them or behind them. When you're ahead, you feel smug and self-important and usually fail to reach out a hand to help them. When you're behind, you feel inferior and inadequate, like you have nothing to give. Both of these scenarios are harmful to you and to the person you're comparing yourself to.
- Happier moms make decisions and stick to them. When you're wishy washy, you cede your power to whatever would sway you. Your kids especially will know they can push you around and influence your decisions if only they whine, fuss, and tantrum enough. Moms who make a decision and stand by it regardless of their kids' reactions are happier because their kids eventually learn to respect them and take them at their word. There isn't a bunch of constant argument because everyone (especially the kids) know that they're serious when they speak.
- Happier moms offer grace to themselves and others. Jen Hatmaker, in her book Of Mess & Moxie, talks about being satisfied if she gets mothering right 70% of the time. She says something like, “The President can be elected with less than 50% of the vote, so why do I have to get this thing right 100% of the time?” I'm paraphrasing from memory of a book I read about six months ago, so I may have it all wrong, but the idea is still there. You don't have to get motherhood right all the time. You don't even have to get it right most of the time, and your kids will still turn out okay and remember a happy childhood.
- Happier moms believe that life is good. Motherhood is hard, sometimes impossibly so, but there is good in every situation if you just allow yourself to find it. Every single one.
It took me years to admit that there was good in my mom's sickness and passing, but I believe (now, with hindsight) that she never would have come to Christ if not for her impending death. I believe now that that season of my life gave me wisdom and experience to bring peace and comfort to other hurting hearts. It led me to write a book (that I still haven't published) that helps other grieving women. There was good in that trial even though it took me years to find it.
If good can be found in my losing my mother, I believe can be found in every situation. Whatever you're facing, there is good. You may not be able to see it now, and you may not be able to see it for a long time to come, but eventually, you will look back and say, “Ah, I see how God used that.”
Every mom can be a happier mom. It's all relative, you see. If you're a this sucks the life out of me mom, could you implement one of the points above? Just one? If you can do just one thing, you could be happier than you are today. It's that simple.
Don't let this list overwhelm you. Implement one thing, and once you have that down, implement another. As I said in the paragraphs above, there are things on this list that I'm not stellar at, namely boundaries and consistent discipline and consequences. Those are the two areas I'm working on growing into.
I think the single biggest point of being a happier mom is the last one. Happier moms believe that life is good and they can be happy. Believing that you can be happier means that you will be happier. Believing that life is too hard and too stressful makes it so.
What will you choose today? Do you believe that you can be a happier mom?
© 2018, Tara Ziegmont. All rights reserved.