I’m gonna take a quick moment to state the obvious: Motherhood is HARD. If you are a mother or you had a mother or you know a mother, you certainly know what I’m talking about.
And while the rewards of being Mom can be amazing (sticky hugs and super-smart kids and seeing your genes in miniature), sometimes they just aren’t enough. Sometimes, you wake up with dread in the pit of your stomach and nothing seems to make up for all the spills and fights and disasters and loneliness.
When I first decided to be a full-time stay-at-home mom, it was a scary huge adjustment for me. I always knew that I wanted to have kids but I also always expected to have an advanced degree, a part time job or some other “useful” outlet for my time and energy. I knew the value of motherhood but couldn’t see myself deriving ALL my personal value from wiping stinky bums and making endless tuna fish sandwiches.
The decision to stay home full-time was a long and personal journey for me (as it is for any mom) and it was full of bumps and adjustments. But now that I’m in my 10th(!) year of staying home full time with my kids (of which there are now 6 adorable, homeschooled ragamuffins), I have learned some amazing tools for dealing with the occasional emotional slump and ensuring that I wake up happy and excited to greet every single day (alright, almost every day).
Every mom will have different tactics she uses to keep her mom-bucket full, but here are my top 5.
1. Take care of yourself.
I know, I know: gone are the days of the weekly pedicure or the 45 minute blow-out or sometimes even the daily shower. But how you feel about yourself speaks volumes about how you’ll feel (and treat) your home and family. Decide what makes you feel good and commit to doing it.
I personally have to shower and get dressed every day. I don’t always wash my hair or shave or all those other niceties, but if I don’t shower, my motivation for just about anything else is gone and I feel like crap all day.
Also, exercise REEEALLLY helps me. I know sometimes it’s only a pipe dream (like if you have a nursing baby younger than 6 months) but getting up just a half hour early to take a jog or do a YouTube yoga video makes me 110% more productive and energetic all day long.
2. Take care of your cleaning peeves, let go of the rest.
Take a minute and think of the messes or issues that REALLY bother you in a home. Taking care of these in your own home might be so second nature to you that you’ll need to think of someone else’s home. Do you despise filthy carpets? Loathe crumbs on the counter? Get super grossed out by dirty toilets?
Obviously we all prefer a clean, meticulous home, but if you are super stressed and busy beyond belief and have 5 minutes to take care of something, what would it be? My top three are laundry on the floor (can’t stand it!), walking on crumbs (blech) and piles of toys everywhere. Dirty dishes and bathroom sinks (while gross and eventually need to be cleaned) are less important to me.
The recognition of these stress triggers helps me to better manage my time. I deal with the most annoying things first and, when I run out of time, I let the rest go. This is hard, especially when people come to your house and you feel guilty or judged for having a mess. In the end, your peace and happiness are more important than what the neighbors think. There will come a time when you have all day to clean the house again. And that is precisely when you will wish you had cute little kids running around to distract you from it 🙂
3. Make something beautiful
It took me several years to really understand this one and make it work for me, but when I did, it made all the difference in the world. I recently did a presentation on creativity for a class I took with other homeschool moms. I talked about how women are natural creators (we make people!) and that we are drawn to beauty. I believe that it is part of our human nature to seek out and create things that please the senses.
It’s often hard for us to think past the visual arts in this sense (painting, design or crafting) but ALL of our senses appreciate beauty. Instrumental music and song, delicious food, home repairs or décor, even fitness or fashion apply here. Improving ourselves through any creative means will lift our spirits, give us a sense of purpose and fill our lives with appreciation for all of the beautiful things around us. Read more rambling about the importance of creativity here!
I have found a passion in home decorating, sewing (obviously) and other crafts. This can be as simple as hanging a picture on my wall. But after a day of changing diapers that are just gonna get pooped in or feeding mouths that will be hungry in 20 minutes, anything I can do that stays done, is like a breath of fresh air!
Some spectactularly fabulous college roommates of mine gather together from all over the country about once every 18 months or so to eat, talk, laugh uproariously and generally revel in each other’s amazing company. I HIGHLY recommend this!
4. Spend time with friends
Women are unique in our need for interaction from the same gender. We need friendships with other women unlike men need guy friends. I don’t know why this is, but it’s a fact (according to me). When we isolate ourselves, either purposely or accidentally, we lose the ability to see ourselves from an outside perspective.
Give yourself 15 minutes with a few close friends and you will feel happier, more optimistic, less alone and more prepared to face the stress of everyday life (*not a scientific study, it just works!). If you’re short on close friends, go find some. I guarantee there are dozens of other mothers (and non-mothers!) in your town who need camaraderie and support just like you.
It helps to look in places where you might find someone with similar interests (the kid section of the library, the step class at the YMCA, church, etc.) but don’t count someone out just because you don’t see much in common up front. Some amazing friendships can blossom in unlikely places (think church-going conservative housewife and tattooed, single gym rat). If you feel like life is getting you down, schedule a girls’ night. Chances are good that you’re not the only one who needs it.
5. Look at your kids
Have you ever found yourself, harried and overwhelmed at the end of the day, and realize that you haven’t even really looked your kids in the eye? Maybe everyone woke up late and you forgot you had to carpool and someone threw up and there were 3 poop accidents. Regardless of the reasons, I sometimes forget that my “job” includes caring for people. Little people who love me and look up to me and just want to please me.
Sometimes, if I look into those little eyes, I can see past the 27th glass of spilled lemonade and realize that this kid just wants me to love them and tell them it’s OK. Life is hard and scary and Mom is the ONLY person (besides Dad) who loves them unconditionally. You are their entire world and they need you to acknowledge them and help them through the rough patches. All the messes in the world won’t mean a darn thing to a mom who regularly gives her kids the attention and acceptance they need.
This is not a step intended to invoke guilt for ignoring your kids when you need 5 minutes alone in the bathroom (for the love of all that is holy… just FIVE minutes!!). It’s simply a reminder that we can be tempted to see a child as a task instead of a sweet little person.
**As a final note, let me say that real (clinical and chemical) depression exists. It often happens to mothers because of fluctuating birth hormones and then sticks around. If, after doing everything you can to feel good about yourself, you just can’t seem to feel happy, please see a doctor. There is great courage and nobility in recognizing that you need help to get your life back. Don’t waste a single second of this precious time with your babies; seek for help and then reach out to others who might be struggling in the same way. I thank the heavens that we live in a time of good therapists and miraculous medication. We deserve to be happy!
Good luck, mamas! The work you do is not only good, it is the best there is.
If you still doubt yourself, watch this. Warning: may cause tears.