on motherhood and happiness

Whenever I bring up the topic of being a happy mom, I can expect at least a few people to react with disbelief, or with the Internet equivalent of rolling their eyes.

I know, I know. In the past few years we’ve all become much more open about the darker side of motherhood. We write about how angry our children make us, how we sometimes wonder if we should have had them. How our husbands let us down, how hard society makes it to be a mom today, how much we want to break free of the traditional trappings of motherhood and forge our own identities.

And all that’s great. That kind of honesty was a long time coming and I firmly believe we need to talk about the harder stuff and be open about the struggles.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t use the words “happy” and “mother” in the same sentence, does it?

After all, happiness has been a hot topic lately. Multiple titles on happiness (how to be more happy, why certain people are happy and others aren’t, what happiness really is, what traits happy people share) crowd bookstore shelves, while newspapers and magazines from O, The Oprah Magazine to The New York Times explore the psychology of happiness in multiple articles. It’s pretty clear that our culture is looking for something a little deeper than success and stuff. And overall, I think that’s a good thing.

But writing and advice aimed at and about mothers tends to take on a much more negative tone: preventing depression, preserving sanity, reducing guilt…we rarely seem to acknowledge that moms are capable of much more than “survival”. Sure, some days, sanity and survival are the best we can do. But overall, I believe we deserve more.

Let’s be clear, here: I’m not talking about constant bliss. I’m not suggesting we should all be walking around with huge, delirious grins on our faces due to the sheer awesomeness of changing diapers and dealing with permission slips.

I’m also not suggesting that motherhood makes people happy. Certainly some people are happier as mothers than they were before they had children. But my point is that most of us should be capable of being at least as happy as we were before we had kids. Because we are the same people, and children–while messy and exhausting and exasperating and a heck of a lot of work–don’t change who we are. It just takes some adjustment to be able to access (or recognize) that happiness in the midst of the chaos children can produce.

But it’s okay to admit that you are (or want to be) happy. Even a happy mom. It doesn’t mean you’re delusional. It doesn’t mean you are sugar-coating the hard stuff or painting an overly-rosy picture of parenthood. It just means you say “Hey, some of this really sucks, but I’m happy anyway. Maybe even happier than I was before I had kids.”

I want to hear what you think: has motherhood made you less or more happy than you were before? Do you think we spend too much time talking about the dark side of motherhood, or are we still looking at it through a soft-focus lens? If there’s a middle ground, how does it look? And what are your own personal rules for happy motherhood?

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