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So, how can YOU be a happier mom?

by Meagan Francis on April 8, 2013

happy

my mug (a gift from Sarah!) is one little thing that makes me happy.

Recently, a reader named Lily sent me an email, and graciously agreed to allow me to post it here. Lily said:
“I envy you and other moms who can be happy most days taking care your children.  In the beginning of motherhood, I suffered from post-partum depression which was the first time since I can remember that I really felt down to the bottom.  I have been off anti-depressants for over a year now and have hoped that I can feel happy and peace with my daughter (who’s 2 year old) but in reality, I’m still struggling to find that ‘connection’, that ‘happiness’.  Therefore, I’d like to know how do you continuous to be happy with 5 children?  I understand it’s not peachy everyday but how do you keep sane and zen being a mom, wife, and with a full-time job?  It seems incredible to me.”
Lily’s question got me thinking: What does it mean, really, to be happy? Is happiness available to all of us?
 
When I first started The Happiest Mom, almost exactly four years ago, I attempted to define what being “a happy mom” means to me, and my personal definition still stands. Here’s what I wrote:
When I say I’m a happy mom, it doesn’t necessarily mean “I am currently in a state of bliss due to the awesomeness of motherhood as it is currently being experienced by me.” Oh no. I don’t mean that at all.
 

It’s more a state of overall satisfaction and contentedness, where even the self-replicating mound of laundry, even the needy phase my three-year-old is going through in which he wakes up the baby 12 times a day out of boredom or some kind of mom-sabotage, and even the rage I felt half an hour ago when I found one of MY Ghiardelli milk chocolate squares with caramel inside melted to the sofa (they weren’t supposed to have it at all but for the love of all that is holy why didn’t they at least EAT it once they got it open?)…where even in spite of all those things, I can look objectively at my life and feel pretty satisfied with it.

So, that leads us to the more important question, which is, how? How do you get from wherever you are, if it’s a sad/stressed/lonely/exhausted place, to a better place? How do you get to the point where you can look objectively at your life and feel content, even in the face of day-to-day pressures and crises?

I don’t think I can write anyone else’s formula, because so much of this is personal. And I do think some of that ability to “be happy” is a personality thing, and not one that’s necessarily easy to change. I am a resilient person, and always have been. It is relatively easy for me to let things roll off my back.

But while an easy-going tendency has been part of my nature as long as I can remember, I still have to work on making those best parts of me shine, or it’s only too easy to let negativity start to take over. On the other hand, somebody who is naturally prone to less optimism or more melancholy – or who, like Lily, is prone to depression – might have a rockier road to their own definition of happiness.

I wish I could tell Lily or any reader who’s struggling some sure-fire way to find their magical happy place as a mom, but so much is dependent on your circumstances, your personality, and where you are in your life. All I can tell you is what has helped me most:

  • Time. When things are really rough, there is almost always an easier time around the bend. Much of my early-motherhood melancholy was cured by simply being a mom longer, figuring out how to do it with confidence, and moving out of certain challenging stages (for me, the period from about 12 months to 2 years old was always the worst.) As I had more kids, I became better able to deal with rough times because I remembered that they always pass.
  • Small strategies. When I say that things like making your bed and taking a shower can make you a happier mom, I’m not being facetious. Adding structure, routine, and self-care to my days…day after day after day…has absolutely helped me face every morning with more optimism and contentment.
  • Finding pleasure in little things. Another cliche, right? But it’s true that turning small routines into soothing, pleasurable rituals (like my morning cup of tea) help me structure my life and leaves me feeling calmer and more peaceful.
  • Good friends. Having a strong tribe – whether that’s an online community or an in-real-life group of friends – has been absolutely essential to my happiness as a mom. Loneliness, isolation, and the stress of having no one to call on when you need help are major happiness busters, and good friends are the cure.
  • A clean(ish) house. It might seem superficial, but I start to shut down when things are too messy, and I’ll do what I need to do – including hiring help during busy times – to make sure my surroundings are reasonably tidy and clean. (Emphasis on the “reasonably” – I’m not a neat freak and dust bunnies love my house, but I need clean spaces and clear surfaces to function.)
  • Living with purpose. This one is hard to define. I suppose what I mean is that, I feel like the things I do from day to day have meaning, and are helping me live the kind of life I want to live.

About that last one: it’s a pretty big idea, I know. But so important. People love to say “let go of guilt” but I think this is impossible to do if you aren’t sure which direction you should be sailing your ship (or are totally sure that you aren’t steering it in the direction that feels right for you.)

This is where individual priorities come into play: if I were spending eight hours a day working at a job that was nothing more than a paycheck, I would not be happy, because loving my work is very important to me. On the other hand, you might place financial stability at a higher priority, in which case you may be perfectly content working “just a job” and watching your retirement account grow while pursuing things that interest you in your hours off.
 
The “living with purpose” piece is so personal, but I think it’s the #1 most important part to lasting, overall happiness. I have lots of little strategies that help me get through the day, but unless those days, all put together, are adding up to something I feel good about, I’m just not going to love my life.
 
On the other hand, some days, particularly in those intense early months and years of parenthood,  just getting by is good enough! Here are some more posts I’ve written on establishing routines and keeping your wits about you that might help in the day-to-day:
I’ve got another post brewing about how to live with purpose, because I think it’s the number-one key to overall contentment. I’ll share it with you soon.
 
Do you have your own “secrets” to happiness? What do you struggle with most?
 
Want more ideas
for creating a happier home life?

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Lizelle April 8, 2013 at 9:49 am

Hi Meagan, great post! I’ve certainly found that ‘small strategies’ work for me. I need to have some sort of plan for each day, even back when I was a new mom and the plan was simply to “shower and get dressed” :)

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Mary Jacobs April 8, 2013 at 10:05 am

Hoo boy! Did you time it right for me on this post. I was just about to run a search for “best way to wallow in self pity” when I saw this. I’m in the middle of a particularly stressful and overwhelming period right now and your post reminded me of all the things I can control that will make me happier, given the circumstances. One thing that generally helps to give me a happiness boost is to accomplish something just for myself. Whether it’s a small craft project, a blog post, even something as simple as putting a favorite photo in an empty frame, I can hang my hat on the knowledge that I accomplished something that I wanted to accomplish, and that often allows me to surrender to the chaos of the rest of my day.

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Meagan Francis April 9, 2013 at 9:59 am

Yes! Small accomplishments can have a huge impact. For me, the sight of a clean dining-room table gives me a big boost, and it never takes very long to accomplish.

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Sarah April 8, 2013 at 11:37 am

I so agree that 12 months-2 years is the hardest! Everyone complains about newborns but at least the sleep a lot. 1-year-olds are awake most of the day and they have to be monitored constantly. Plus they are really strong-willed but are not good at expressing themselves. I think my lowest point in mothering was when my children were 18 months.

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Shannon April 8, 2013 at 10:55 pm

Yes! So glad someone else said this. Newborns are easy compared to toddlers (though I would say that 1 – 3 yrs is the tough spot for me). I could never relate to women who were overwhelmed by new babies – it’s so clear what they want, they CAN be left unattended when you need a bathroom break. I feel like I will have a whole new life when my youngest can finally be trusted to go up an downstairs by himself and doesn’t need my supervision at EVERY moment!

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Meagan Francis April 9, 2013 at 9:58 am

It’s so individual, isn’t it? I was hardly ever frustrated my kids when they were little babies, but 12 – 20 months or so? Hoo boy. We all have our own triggers, I guess, and are able to deal with certain things better than others.

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Tragic Sandwich April 8, 2013 at 11:38 am

It’s amazing how much more in control Mr. Sandwich and I feel when the house is orderly, and how rarely it is that way.

One of the things I’ve held onto was a comment I read very early into my motherhood: “It’s all a phase. Even the good stuff is only a phase.”

That sounds negative, but I’ve found that it helps me a lot. It reminds me to enjoy Baguette when she’s in a happy, sunny mood, and it reminds me that when she’s in a stage where she seems to do nothing but hang from my hair, this too shall pass.

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Liz April 8, 2013 at 11:51 am

I feel like I have finally gotten to this happy/satisfied/content place that you described…and it is soooo wonderful to finally be here. Sure, some times were happy, enjoyable, etc before, but I always felt like I was waiting for something to pass, or waiting for another time to arrive. I finally feel content with where I am – my kids are 7 and 3. I have been home with them for 5 years now. It seems like it took a while to get here.

One important aspect of this journey for me has been learning SELF-CARE. I am really good at caring for others. Not so good at caring for myself. I am learning. I don’t have it down quite yet, but I am getting there. I notice when I am slacking in that department, things start to feel stressed, ornery, unbalanced, unhappy. What do I do to care for myself? The biggest thing for me, an introvert, is having ALONE TIME! Critical. I need to make sure I have alone time every week. (A little every day is even better!) Sometimes the best I can do is get to the grocery store alone. I have been trying to work out more often – that’s alone time AND it makes me feel GOOD! Sometimes I sneak a trip to a library, coffee shop, dinner with a friend, bike ride around the neighborhood. One of my goals for the next 6 months is to have an overnight AWAY. Sounds so rejuvenating. :)

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Meagan Francis April 9, 2013 at 9:57 am

Yes, self-care! I have a whole post brewing about introversion vs extroversion and what it means for us as moms. Nudge me if I don’t get to it soon, hm?

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Heather Caliri April 8, 2013 at 2:13 pm

For a long time, I thought I needed to _know_ exactly what my purpose was in order to feel fulfilled. Now, I know things that bring me joy, and that allow me to encourage others, and I do those things, in small bites, for as much time as I can each day. Being very specific about what I want to spend my time on, and breaking those goals down into smaller and smaller steps has transformed my life from something frustrating to something infused with overarching meaning. Even if my “goals” are less lofty than my old sense of what I should be doing–they seem like achievable steps, not impossible dreams.

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Meagan Francis April 9, 2013 at 9:57 am

Good point Heather. I don’t think living with purpose has to mean having One True Purpose – in fact I think that’s a dangerous way to think because there are so many possibilities in life, and our goals and dreams may change. I think it’s more, like you said, about doing things that bring you joy and being specific about what you want to spend your time on…knowing that those things could easily change down the road.

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christina f April 8, 2013 at 2:35 pm

For me, being honest with myself is key. I try to be honest about what I really want, what I am willing to do, and what I am not willing to do. It helps with the guilt, too.

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Meagan Francis April 9, 2013 at 9:55 am

YES. If I try to convince myself that X and Y are important to me (when they really aren’t so much), it gets in the way of feeling good about my choices.

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Amy April 8, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Thank you so much for this post! For me, the hardest (so far) has been the 1 1/2- 3 year old stage…my son is now 3 and it seems like, while he’s getting more stubborn and insistent on what he wants to do, the tantrums and tears have lessened. What really does help me most is knowing that “this, too, shall pass,” as my mother used to say. The good times, the bad times, they will all pass. The thing that I most struggle with, and I hate to admit it, is finding good friends. I grew up with wonderful best friends, who I keep in touch with, but those friends live across the country from me now. I have tried talking to mommies at the daycare, participating in meet-up groups, taking classes, etc., but I have yet to meet any mommies that I can spend time with on, say, a weekend. I don’t feel like I have a good, supportive group of friends. Maybe because all of us mommies are so busy? I’m a single parent so this problem really does make everything else harder. If you have tips on how to find mommy friends, then I’d love to hear them! Thanks!

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Meagan Francis April 9, 2013 at 9:54 am

Amy, I’ve written lots of finding mom friends, but I have a feeling we are due for another round of posts on this very important topic! Thanks for the nudge :)

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Jennifer Fink April 9, 2013 at 9:49 am

I think it’s important to note that clinical depression is serious. As a mom who has suffered from depression, I can tell you what it’s like to read blog posts that tell you how to create a peaceful family, how to be happier, etc — you read all of these tips and you know that advice makes sense, but when you’re depressed, you just don’t have the energy or ambition to do those things. And you feel “less than” because clearly, you think, everyone else can do this and there must be something wrong with you because you’re not feeling that joy and peace. That’s not true, of course, but that’s how depressive thinking works.

If a parent is prone to depression, he or she really needs some professional care as well. Talk therapy may help — and may help for a long, time time. Anti-depressants may need to be part of the equation. For me, it was all of the above: Talk therapy. An anti-depressant. And then tweaking my environment and life and routines.

Until I got counseling, and started on my antidepressant, I had no idea what joy really felt like. I would do to a “happy” event, like a parade or festival and see happy families smiling and laughing, and I’d honestly wonder if they were faking it. How could someone be so happy, I wondered? And the thing is, you wouldn’t have guessed it from looking at me: I got up daily. Cared for my kids. Cared for myself. But inside, I hated myself and was unhappy.

So to the mom who wrote the question: Make sure you’re seeking help for your depression as well.

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Meagan Francis April 9, 2013 at 9:54 am

Absolutely, Jenny, and I’m kicking myself for not mentioning that! Depression is a whole ‘nother beast, which can make this whole “happiness” thing seem not just elusive, but impossible. Lily did mention that she had sought care, but it’s worth reiterating anyway.

Definitely, Lily (and anyone else who’s suffering from clinical depression) seek help and don’t hold yourself to anyone else’s standard of happiness. You may need an extra hand, but you’re worth the investment.

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Allison April 20, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Wow, my own experience sounds so similar to Lily’s! I suffered from postpartum depression, and even though I have basically been recovered for 6 months, I still struggle to find greater purpose and satisfaction in my days. My son is also 2 years old. Several things have helped me, one of which is seeing a counselor. My counselor helped me see that a lot of my anxiety comes with being a “people-pleaser” (impossible with a toddler!), and with valuing “words of affirmation” so much (you don’t get many compliments from a toddler either!). Just understanding that part of me has helped.

I also read the book, “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown. She said one of the important aspects of joy is gratitude, and that you have to actively practice gratitude. So now at the dinner table we try to say some things we are thankful for.

Lastly, my depression was caused in great part by a mineral deficiency. Pregnancy and caring for a newborn can be so draining on the body! Taking a combination of magnesium glycinate, taurine, B vitamins, vitamin D and fish oil helped restore my health greatly. You can look online and find a lot of information about these supplements and their connection to depression and anxiety. Best of luck to you Lily!

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Miranda @ Sweet Mother of Blog June 27, 2013 at 11:58 pm

Hey hun, I have just come across your blog as a friend sent me a link to your podcast with Pat Flynn as I’ve just started my own blog. Your blog has a wealth of information for new bloggers and I guess seasoned bloggers alike. A joy to have discovered you. I posted a while back about not loving being a mum. Not so much about not being happy, but just the role of mum doesn’t necessarily suit everyone to the ground. Many of us struggle with identity issues, self-belief, career, the drudgery of domesticity, self-confidence and so on. Oh look, we all know that there’s so much more than that right? Anyhoo, this is actually simply to say hi and well done and thanks for huge source of information. I need to figure out how to push my blog out there now! M

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