A Three Step Guide to Being a Happier Mom
When I first jumped aboard this mother train, I was barely an adult. I was this young wife who knew nothing more than what I remembered growing up as the oldest of three—plus what I learned in an early childhood development course in college. Despite that, I had no idea that being a mother would be so much more than just making sure I fed, clothed, and protected my kids.
My first year was rough. It was exciting, challenging, tiring, depressing, and overwhelming all at the same time. Of course, I didn’t know it to be so at the time. I was so lost in that new world of motherhood that I never took the time to step back and reflect.
By my second child, I relaxed a bit and didn’t feel the same anxiety about caring for a newborn. But after the third one, I felt like someone had pulled the rug out from under me. I knew that I wanted to be the best mother I could be to my kids and that I wanted to be there for them when they needed me, but with three children and a lifestyle that pulled me in too many different directions, I cracked.
I started to question what I really wanted to do with my professional life. The plan had always been for me to return to work and build a career that would allow my husband to change his. But somehow, I couldn’t shake this sense that my life wasn’t meant for what I originally went to college for – finance. The life of working in a professional office setting didn’t make sense for my family anymore, and I found myself struggling to find happiness as a stay at home mom.
And I know that I’m not alone in feeling this way. Becoming a mother changes you so much: physically, emotionally, spiritually. Before motherhood, you only had to think about your own well-being since you didn’t have the responsibility of raising a child. All of a sudden, you have to make decisions based on what is best for the both of you and that can be a very slippery slope, ladies.
Finding that perfect balance so that you feel not only happy in your mommy career, but satisfied and grateful for everything you have is not easy. It’s always a work in progress, something you must reevaluate from time to time. This guide should help you recognize the important areas where, if no progress is made, your happiness could suffer.
I haven’t always loved motherhood, mostly because of external reasons. This guide calls out those reasons and in each step, you’ll read about how I overcame them. I have written this for all mothers, in any situation, to spread a loving message of hope to moms everywhere. My desire is for you to come away feeling more at peace with your life as a parent and to move forward toward lasting happiness. Every mom deserves to be a happy one.
My opinions in this guide are completely my own and are based on what I’ve learned through trial and error over the last ten years of being a mother. During that time, I’ve read books, spoken with friends, and witnessed how easy it is to get lost in the caring role of mom. I’ve had breakdowns and breakthroughs. I’ve tried things that have worked and I’ve tried things that have failed. At times, I stopped trying.
Because of the steps in this guide, I’ve accepted my mommy career (as I like to call it) and can honestly say that I’m at my happiest. I’m less flustered and more at peace with this mom life, particularly the not-so-pretty parts of it. By sharing my experiences with you in this guide, I hope that you’ll get that much closer to reaching your happy place, too.
Step 1: Love Other Moms
You would think, now that you’re a mother, other mothers would get you. Interactions during playdates and birthday parties would include giggles over how cute your kids are, compassion when one of you is having a breakdown, or congratulatory celebrations when good news is shared. But that is far from reality. Instead of choosing to uplift, many moms seek out ways to validate themselves, leading to a lot of finger pointing and one-upping.
When you’re demeaned by another mother, feelings of shame and embarrassment, not to mention abandonment, are felt – all things that hinder a mother’s ability to feel confident about raising her kids. Because of this, it’s detrimental to your own happiness to stay away from other moms who are negative, energy suckers. You put enough pressure on yourself to be a great mother and you don’t need outside influences tearing you down, too.
The first time I experienced criticism about my parenting choices, my confidence deflated. It was the ultimate betrayal when it came from another mother. Instead of a mature level of respect and understanding, I was judged and felt challenged to take a stand. And it annoyed me. But after years of trying to do what felt like throwing eggs at bricks, I gave up. No matter what I said, my words had little influence against harsh critics. At times, my voice only fueled the flames.
To combat this, I began listening more and talking less (the online equivalent of reading comments, but not replying). It took a few years for me to get off the defense train, and sometimes I hop back on. However, once you realize that the negative comments are only words used by a person who craves validation, your perspective about other mothers’ changes. Instead of wanting to defend yourself, you suddenly want to help them. That, my mama friends, is a far better place to be in anyway – a place of love.
Loving other moms is sometimes easier said than done, especially when you don’t feel the love in return. However, if you believe in the power of karma or the commandment “love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31)”1, you already understand the benefits. It’s about spreading what you want to hear in return. If you would be upset to hear it, you shouldn’t say it to another mom. There will be times when you’ll hear hurtful criticism about your parenting, but love your critics anyway. The advice normally comes from a well-intended place.
In case you need to be reminded, there are many ways to raise a child since not every child is the same. That’s the way God created us – to be different. Criticism exists because of all the different ways your child can be safely cared for. Even among your own children, you must accept this fact and tweak your tactics from one child to the next.
Criticism from other moms can also come from a place of jealousy, of wanting to tear down another mom who has something they desire. Use your judgement to discern why another parent is being critical. Choosing to seek to understand them is the best method to prevent you from taking their comments to heart.
Over the years, I’ve learned to rarely take negative comments at face value – I’m always looking for the hidden meaning behind why they said it. Seeking to understand other moms shows love. If you start doing the same, you’ll be happier and more satisfied with your own abilities as a mom.
Step 2: Love a Part of Your Past—Again
Most likely, there is a part of your past that you are currently missing in your present life. It could be reading, knitting, drawing, taking long walks, spending time outdoors, hanging out with friends, or playing sports. When we become mothers, we naturally give up many pastimes to make room for the new responsibilities that come with being a parent. However, if you are finding yourself struggling to find happiness in your daily life, you might be surprised at what your past can uncover.
Before kids, I read a lot – mostly textbooks since I was in college when I became pregnant with my first. I also wrote a lot. It usually was for class assignments or as a form of therapy in a journal, but it was still writing nonetheless. During my pre-baby days, those were the two things I enjoyed the most – learning and expressing myself through my words.
After I had my son, I took a year break from school and work to be a full-time mother. Like I said earlier, the adjustment wasn’t easy. I traded in study time for nap time, adult interaction for Nick Jr. I’m not going to lie: for a little while there I was addicted to QVC, especially during 3 am feedings. My previous life had completely vanished before my eyes, and I didn’t even realize how negatively it affected me until years later.
My life took new meaning again when I resumed schooling through an online bachelor degree program when my son was a year old. The joy of fulfilling my life-long dream of being a college graduate fueled my days with excitement. I was happy again, but only momentarily. Once I graduated, the excitement faded – now what?
For me, earning my degree was a way of achieving something called hedonic happiness. This type of happiness is short lived and is typically experienced when one buys a new car or a Venti Mocha Frappuccino. Somehow I’d convinced myself that I’d be happier after I achieved the only goal I ever set for myself – earning that degree. As crazy as it sounds, I didn’t realize I was even chasing happiness, nor did I understand that happiness isn’t even a thing you can earn.2
Once I figured this out, I set out ways to experience eudemonic happiness instead. This type of happiness is long lasting and occurs when you are doing things that you love, such as hanging out with friends or family or listening to your favorite song.2 Going over our values, my husband and I sat down and we both agreed that we loved spending time with our extended families. Thus, we made visiting them often a priority.
But beyond that, I failed to incorporate personal ways of feeling happy into my daily life. Instead, under the assumption that I was doing it to prepare myself for a professional career, I continued to take classes which provided temporary pleasure. As long as I was in school, I didn’t find the need to evaluate my feelings of happiness. It wasn’t until recent years that I discovered what I’d been doing wrong – chasing the right kind of happiness, but in the wrong way.
When I stumbled across an article that talked about how impactful creation can be to our happiness, it was then that I realized why I felt happy as a student, but not as a mom: I loved creating. Writing, one method of creation, has always been a love of mine. Once I realized I could experience lasting happiness if I wrote regularly, I tried it out, and (so far) I’m pleased with the results. Unlocking my past has been a key component to my current state of happiness.
Once you’ve figured out that thing from your past that brings you eudemonic happiness, it can be challenging for you, as a mom, to make time for it in your daily life. However, making excuses about not having time for your own happiness is unacceptable. If you can only manage five minutes per day to do something you love, so be it.
The goal isn’t to spend as much time as possible doing what you love. You don’t reap in more happy points for more time spent. That’s not how it works.
Happiness manifests internally. It’s like a light switch. You can turn it on anytime you want. But, when you partake in activities you love, you tend to unknowingly keeping the light switch on long after the activity is complete. And that’s the point – to extend your happiness to all other areas of your life. Carry that happy mood around while you tend to your children’s needs and you will see yourself as a better mom.
Step 3: Love the Decisions YOU Make
There you are, trying hard to be a better mom, and suddenly, you’re confronted with conflicting information that sends you into a complete panic.
"Oh my God, I’m doing it all wrong,” you think. “I need to fix this!”
Firstly, don’t panic.
Secondly, you probably don’t need to fix anything because there is more than one right way to be a mother.
Talking to and asking other moms for advice and doing online research about topics such as the benefits of breastfeeding versus bottle feeding, private school versus public school, or nanny versus daycare is vital to making informed decisions. However, the decision you ultimately make is completely up to you. Just because your girlfriend’s best friend’s sister’s niece speaks the world about how smart her daughter is for drinking exclusively from the boob for 18 months doesn’t make it the better decision for you and your baby. The better decision will always be the one that works best for your family.
Regardless of the backlash and death stares you may get for loving the decisions you make, motherhood isn’t a fight to be won. Look at this list of battles moms face:
- To make the kids lunch or pay for school lunch?
- Sign them up for soccer or martial arts?
- Stay home or go back to work?
- Eat take out or cook an organic meal from scratch?
- Wear make-up and do your hair or go all-natural (and frizzy)?
You have to make numerous decisions daily as a mom and battling all these decisions with other moms (or yourself) is exhausting. There are endless choices and possibilities that worry you. Making the wrong choice is a valid fear among moms. You feel like you need to constantly defend your position. But you don’t have to. Stand firm in the decisions you make and learn to love them.
As moms, the last thing you need to be doing on top of the actual decision making is second guessing your decisions and feeling guilty that you aren’t doing better. Do the best you can with what you’ve been given and accept your decision as such and move on. Watching what other moms are doing never helps. It only puts you on edge, causes you to compete, and turns you into a mom who thinks your skills are better than everyone else’s.
Situations and circumstances can change overtime. Right now, you might not be able to afford private school, but next year you may. Today, you might have time to put together awesome, nutritious meals, but one day that might change. It’s okay to make decisions more than once, when it is rightly warranted. But, it’s absolutely not okay to toss out your original decision for the sake of wanting to do things like the other parents on the playground.
A phrase I enjoy using when another mom tries to push her way of doing things on me is, “I’m glad that works for your family.” If you personally know me, you know that I’m not one to back down easy. But over the years I’ve learned that when it comes to opinions about how to mother, it’s best to just leave it at that and smile.
Of course, there are times when parenting discussions turn into something you’ve been wondering about. If the other mother is willing, it’s fair game to ask questions about her experience. Just be sure to remember that the decisions she made aren’t yours and you have to respect her story. Avoid saying things like, “Oh, I’ll never do that.” Desperate times call for desperate measures and you might find yourself breaking your own rules, especially after you’ve had multiple children (never say never, right).
At the end of the day, you and your family must live comfortably with the decisions you’ve made. Mom will be happier (kids will be happier) if those decisions are based on your family’s values instead of the values of all your mom friends. Just be sure you’re satisfied with where your values stand in order of priority.
For example, if you value family time and consider it your top priority, but constantly make decisions that take away from family time, you’re not aligning your choices with your values. In that case, it would be a good idea to take the time to review what is important to your family, list them by order of priority, and do your best to make new decisions based on this revised list.
Decision making is much easier when moms ignore what other families are doing and focus on what works for their family. Once I stopped paying attention to the Jones’, I felt more satisfied with the lifestyle I’ve created for my kids. I sometimes find myself feeling guilty that my children cannot experience every activity available to them, but I always come back to my priority list and remind myself that my decision is deeply rooted in my core beliefs and that always brings me instant peace.
You Can Do This!
Hooray! You did it! You made it to the end of this mini-guide without ripping your mom eyes out! I purposely made it short and sweet to give you something to be happy about completing. See, told you you’d be happier! *Smile*
All kidding aside, I’d like to briefly recap the important steps you learned in this guide to being a happier mom.
- Love Other Moms
- Love a Part of Your Past – Again
- Love the Decisions YOU Make
In step one, you learned the importance of loving other moms by respecting their opinions, as well as how possible it is (and necessary for your sanity) to respect another mother’s voice without agreeing with her. In that chapter, I also recommended surrounding yourself with positive and supporting moms (like me). They will be there to lift you up when you need it and won’t judge you for making mistakes during your mommy career. By following advice in that chapter, you should be able to have more pleasant interactions with other moms – not to mention feel a deeper, loving connection.
In step two, I challenged you to seek out something you loved doing in your past and to incorporate that into your current daily routine. This step is especially helpful for those moms who feel a slight case of mistaken identity during that beginning stage of motherhood. Doing something you love is fuel for your own well-being, a type of medicine for your soul. Continue to regularly nourish your mind, body and spirit by constantly partaking in things you enjoy doing and you’ll have endorphins galore!
In the final step, “Love the Decisions YOU Make,” I emphasized your need to follow what your own goals are for your family. You were asked to review your values and to start aligning the decisions you make based on those. Doing this starts a habit of looking within to please instead of looking outward to keep-up. Watching what other parents are doing and seeing them as role models for what to do in your own life is a disaster waiting to happen. When you use your family’s values as a metric for decision making, you are putting your family’s needs and desires front-and-center. Living a life this way, where your own family is the priority, is the best way to live a happy life.
I hope that you can begin using what you learned in this guide today. If you do, I’m absolutely convinced that you’ll be well on your way to being a happier mom. It took me several years to figure out all these steps, but I’m glad that I’ve been blessed with this opportunity to share them with you so you can skip the learning curve and begin to implement them into your own life today. In my own life, I’ve benefited greatly from the love in these steps. I know you will, too.
1 The Holy Bible: New International Version. Web. Biblica. Sept. 20, 2016. http://www.biblica.com/en-us/bible/online-bible/?osis=niv:Mark.12.31
2Rockwell, Donna. “Mindfulness in Everyday Life: Desperately Seeking Happiness (It’s Easier Than You Think).” Web. HuffingtonPost. April 17, 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/donna-rockwell-psyd/mindfulness-practice_b_5160201.html
© 2017 Lauren Sainz