Before becoming a mother, I could not have even fathomed the range of emotions I would feel. There’s the heart-warming joy of seeing your baby erupt into a wide, toothless smile for the first time, and the pride in watching her suddenly gain the confidence to pull herself up and stand on her own. Then there’s the worry that her stubborn cold won’t let up, and the frustration of getting her to take a couple bites of the food that you so carefully prepared. Sometimes, you mourn the freedom that you’ve lost, and resent the fact that you can’t just drop everything and go out on a whim like you used to. One moment you feel tied down, but the next you realise you would much rather stay home and cuddle with your little one.
With such a crazy, conflicting set of emotions constantly ruling your day to day, how is a mother supposed to stay upbeat and positive?
Well the truth is, staying sane enough to ride the happy highs of motherhood takes some effort. But if you put in the work, you will reap the benefits. Your family will thank you; because if mom is happy, everyone wins.
The Secret to Being a Happy Mom
First off, let’s be realistic. No one can be happy all the time. We strive to be, but sometimes true happiness feels like it’s just out of your grasp.
At first, I was a happy mom, but then somewhere amidst the dirty diapers and the fatigue of new motherhood, I lost my way.
I had to teach myself how to be happy again.
In my experience, the secret to being happy mother, rests on a foundation built from these three pillars: self-care, connection, and forgiveness.
It really is that simple. Let me explain.
PILLAR #1 – SELF-CARE
We’ve all heard it before. You’re on-board the aircraft. It’s ready for takeoff. The flight attendant announces, “In the event of an emergency, oxygen masks will drop down from the cabin above. Please put your mask on first before attending to your child.” Ah, a small portion of parenting wisdom delivered straight to you in-flight.
Simply put, if you don’t take care of yourself first, you can’t take care of others. Nothing could be more true. As a mom to a 2 year old girl, I know this all too well. If I’m not in the right frame of mind, even the slightest of her toddler antics can drive me up the wall and force me to lose my cool.
A well-cared-for mom is a happy mom.
It can seem daunting to find the time to invest in some self-care, but it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Here are some simple, actionable steps that you can take right away.
1. Ask for help.
First things first, you must accept that you can’t do everything alone. Parenting was not meant to be a solo task. It took two to make the child, and it will take at least two to raise the child.
Know that it is okay to seek help. Don’t hesitate. Seek out your village. Help could come in the form of your spouse, a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, a friend, a neighbor or a nanny. I used to joke that hospitals should present every new mom with a list of local nanny services and quality referrals. How wonderful would that be? The nanny search is not always an easy search, but don’t let that deter you. Find someone. It is important to get your kids used to other caregivers right from the start.
Happy moms are comfortable asking for help when they need it.
Once you know that your kids are being taken care of, try not to feel guilty that you are not with them. You’re off mom duty now, so go do your own thing. Go to another room, close the door. Relish your alone time. Read a book, wash your hair, get a massage, or pursue a hobby. Do what you need to do to feel rejuvenated.
When my daughter was a baby, if ever I went out, I found myself calling home repeatedly to check whether she had eaten, napped, played etc. Even though, I was out and about, my mind was still at home. Soon, I realised that I had to completely disconnect and focus my attention solely on where I was and what I was doing there. This was a good lesson to learn. Eventually, I gained the confidence to leave home, and actually enjoy my time away.
Mindfulness and fitness have come to be a critical part of my ‘happy mom’ arsenal. For me, that means exercising thrice a week and practicing yoga in the mornings, before my daughter wakes up. Though, it’s not always perfect, I still try. Sometimes, I end up hitting the gym with my daughter in tow, or trying to get my surya namaskaras in while she climbs all over me.
Even if you are unable to get a full workout in everyday, you can still find other ways to inject a bit of movement into your life. Maybe a walk outside with your baby in the stroller? Or visit the park with your toddler? The sunshine and fresh air will do you both some good.
4. Eat right, sleep well
Get back to the basics of eating right and sleeping well. When you’re caring for a newborn, it’s not always easy to cook and eat nutritious meals, to remember to take your postpartum supplements and to get enough sleep. However, it is important that you establish these habits sooner rather than later so that your body heals and bounces back quickly.
Make your sleep a priority. Work out a system that allows you to get a catch a bit more shut eye. For example, on alternate nights, my husband would take over the bedtime routine so I could get to bed sooner. In the mornings, we would take turns waking up early with baby so that the other parent could sleep a little longer.
Eat first. Feed your child later. I do this, and I don’t think it is selfish at all. This is a form of self-care that I’ve practiced from the start. I can enjoy my meals uninterrupted, and I don’t end up eating my daughter’s leftovers. Since my own hunger has already been satisfied, I have more patience to sit by her side and ensure that she eats her food, even if it goes in one slow baby bite at a time.
PILLAR #2 – CONNECTION
As important as it is for mothers to disconnect once in a while, it is equally important to reconnect with your child, your spouse, your relatives and your friends often.
When you are with others, offer your full, undivided attention. Doing so, will help you strengthen these relationships, and you will be happier for it. Here are some ways to build connections.
1. Laugh a lot
Kids love to see their moms happy. Likewise, they hate seeing you sad and angry. So play a silly game, make funny faces, crack a joke, or have a dance party. Make them laugh and laugh along.
2. Hug it out
Hugs take so little effort, but for kids, it’s the ultimate panacea. From toddler tantrums to a skinned knee, hugging it out can bring a cheery smile to any teary-eyed child. So give and take lots of hugs. When they’re young, they’ll be happy to hug you, so get it while you can. Don’t hold back on the cuddles, it lays the foundation for future closeness.
3. Initiate fun
Don’t wait to be invited to a party, or for the perfect opportunity to holiday. Initiate fun yourself. Schedule a date night with your spouse, coordinate an outing for the kids, or a spa day with your girlfriends. Plan your vacations and social events in advance. If you don’t, you’ll just get bogged down by the baby’s routine, the school routine, or your work. Ensure that each week has the right balance of work and play for everyone.
4. Plan your day
Before the baby came along, I never had to write things down. I hardly ever used a calendar because I could remember it all. Fast forward through a couple years of sleep deprivation, and I’m clear proof that “mom brain” is a real thing. Sometimes, I can barely find the right words in conversing with other adults, let alone recall what I need to do the next day.
Buying an hourly planner was a game changer for me. I could pencil in my baby girl’s mealtimes, nap times, and playtimes, and then fill the gaps where she didn’t need me, with things that I wanted to do for myself such as shower, eat, shop, make phone calls etc. This worked out well because I didn’t feel like I was continually caught up in her routine, and I could still get around to doing things for myself.
Now that she’s a toddler, her daily routine is just as busy with playschool, activities, meals and more. My schedule gets hectic too, but having everything beautifully written out helps me see at a glance what we should be doing each hour of the day. We are always happily on the move, and never find ourselves stuck at home unless we want to be.
PILLAR #3 – FORGIVENESS
1. Don’t be too hard on yourself
The reality is that no matter how hard you try to do things right and be the best mom you can be, you will probably mess up. At some point, you will lose your patience, and you will cry out of sheer exhaustion after a long tiring day. You may shout at your kids for something silly only to regret it afterwards. Forgive yourself, forget it and move on. Make up for it by giving your child a big hug and a kiss and letting them know how much you love them. Don’t hold back, do it today, do it now.
2. Free yourself from mom guilt.
Let it go. It’s not good for you. Be okay with the fact that you cannot be around 100% of the time. It is okay if you are not present for every meal, every feed, every diaper change, every bath, every nap, each and every day. Be kind to yourself and remind yourself that you are only human. You need a break sometimes too.
Nowadays, I’m able to disconnect when I’m away. Knowing that my daughter is being cared for, reassures me enough to allow myself to wholeheartedly participate in whatever I’m doing, wherever I am. Mom guilt is slowly becoming a thing of the past for me, and should for you too.
3. Offer your best self
Don’t burn yourself out doing the grunt work of childcare and household management, only to neglect to make time to play with your kids. Allow some things to slide, and instead replace it with time dedicated to your rest and refreshment. That way you can be more present for the precious moments when you are with your child. Make those interactions count.
4. Be a role model
No mother can be happy all the time, but each of us can try to live a life of self-care, connection and forgiveness by taking a few steps in the right direction.
- Ask for help, if you need it.
- Disconnect, sometimes.
- Establish healthy routines for eating, sleeping, and exercise.
- Laugh with your kids, hug them and hold them close
- Initiate fun for everyone
- Plan out your days
- Don’t be too hard on yourself
- Let go of the guilt.
Every small change you make will bring you that much closer to your happiest self.
Children learn by example. Show them what a happy person looks like. Demonstrate how to be one, and they too will start to emulate those positive behaviours. It is said that a happy mom raises happy kids. This is how.