There is a saying exchanged amongst married men that goes something like this: Happy wife, happy life! The chances are you have heard it. And perhaps there is some truth to it -the men obviously think so. But what happens when kids come along? Does the code change?
I believe that happy kids = happy mum; and happy mum = happy hubby; and happy hubby = happy family; and happy family = happy life. Sounds simple enough right? But there’s something wrong with this order. The evidence strongly suggests that kids respond positively to happy parents. If they sense frustration, conflict or despondence, this can have a knock-on effect to their self-esteem as well as their behaviour. We need to be happy within ourselves first. So, how to be a happier mum?
Parenting is a tough gig. It’s tough for both men and women but I think it’s especially hard for mums, as we tend to place more pressure and expectations on ourselves. In the majority of cases, gender roles still apply and if one parent is staying at home, it’s usually the woman. Whether you’re a SAHM or a working mum or, or like me a WAHM, there are things that you can do to be happier. Here are my top 10 tips
1. Sense of humour
A sense of humour is the essential ingredient to happy mothering. Most new parents smile a lot in the early months. Babies are fascinating subjects and provide endless amusement. But such postnatal bliss can be hard to maintain. Life stresses invariably get in the way and after the honeymoon period is over, that explosive nappy at exactly the wrong time doesn’t seem very funny any more.
Try to maintain a sense of humour in the midst of the chaos. Laugh often and laugh lots. Most importantly, laugh at yourself – the kids will love it. To use a rule often applied to babies, sleep promotes sleep (although I am sure some of you will disagree), laughter is contagious – the more you do it, the more natural it becomes.
Connection is critical to enjoying motherhood. Being a SAHM is sometimes lonely and often isolating. And on particularly challenging days it can involve interminable clock watching! If you’ve gone from a job that involved social interaction, to full-time mothering, it’s a massive adjustment. Phone a friend, or better still, make a local friend. Proximity counts during witching hour. Find someone who shares the same interests, like an afternoon walk or wine (personally I prefer the latter) and kill those last two hours of the day together.
3. Play to your strengths
While it’s true that children don’t come with instruction manuals, mothers are born with instincts. Learn to trust your gut and ignore the rest. Play to your strengths. When you feel good at something, you feel valued and it reinforces you’re contribution and importance. Everyone has an Achilles heel (mine is night-time settling – lucky my hubby is good at this!) but focus less on your weaknesses and more on your strengths.
4. Slow down
Amongst the noise of the parenting landscape, it’s important to take time to be still and present. Get back to nature and create a nature trail; watch your daughter observe the snail moving slowly and purposefully across the path; don’t always be in a rush to get to the next thing.
5. Dispense with the guilt
Honour your choices, whatever they may be. If something’s not working, examine the source and then make a change – don’t let guilt overwhelm you. A small part may be inevitable but don’t be weighed down by it. It’s unhelpful and toxic.
6. Celebrate the small steps
Small victories equals big impact, be it sleeping through the night, learning to wipe their own bottom, or discovering a new way to disguise vegetables. Too often we are clouded by what seems to be going wrong. It’s important to acknowledge the progress that is being made, even the small stuff. I have a gratitude ritual that – I know –sounds very Oprah-esque but it works. Before I go to sleep I reflect on the things that have gone right. It helps me to remember that there is ALWAYS something positive that happened during the day and many reasons to be grateful.
7. Be gentle to yourself
Give back to yourself for a change and have a mental health day. Write it on the calendar, set a reminder on your iPhone, and sync it to all your gadgets. Make it HAPPEN! Sometimes we need to schedule something in order for it to happen. You need a day of self-replenishment every month, so no more excuses. You deserve it.
8. A good dose of Vitamin D
Rays of sunshine are the perfect antidote to mothering stress and fatigue. It’s amazing how something so simple as a walk, be it alone, or strolling with your pram, can enhance your mood instantly. Make it a regular part of your day. Vitamin D is gold.
9. Don’t try to be the perfect mum
Amongst the phrases I hear often is: “I am not the mum I thought I’d be.” The myth that a mother needs to be everything for their child to flourish is simply that – a myth. It’s a natural and healthy instinct to want to do the best for your kids. But it becomes unhealthy when you strive to live up to an ideal that doesn’t exist. Know yourself, BE your self, and do it confidently.
10. Set your own standards
Finally, don’t compare yourself to others. Don’t measure your happiness against what you think you see. Perception and reality are different things. This quote by Theodore Roosevelt sums it up beautifully. “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Be your wonderful self; be confident, and be happy. And remember that you are making a vital contribution to important lives.
What else would you add to this list? My top 10 tips for surviving motherhood are coming soon!