Disclaimer: My information does not serve as or replace the advice of a doctor or therapist.
So you want to know how to be a happy mom? Or a happier mom?
I’ve heard people say that Moms who claim to be happy are faking it or that people who say their kids made their lives better are lying. Well I’m not lying when I say I am happier than I have ever been now that I’m a mom. However, I’m also more exhausted than ever and I have to consciously work on my own happiness more than I thought I would. I came to motherhood after waiting, experiencing loss, and hoping for a long time before my son arrived. Somehow I thought wanting my son so much would make motherhood one big happy adventure; not true. I’ve always considered myself a happy person and I thought it would transfer to motherhood with less effort. But guess what: Happiness takes work.
Lets get real for a moment.
Post Partum Depression (PPD) is real. Depression is real. According to the CDC, 11-20% of women experience PPD every year. How we aren’t doing more for women as a society is embarrassing. I am not a psychologist, mental health specialist, or doctor with a medical degree. But I am a fellow woman. I’m a mom and a human who cares about the well-being of other humans. So while I can’t diagnose, treat, or prescribe, I want to make a difference with what I can do.
I can help normalize the stigma associated with being unhappy or depressed. I can help create community and help inform women everywhere. If there is so much I can do to help women become happier, stay happier, and help raise each other up, how can I not? I want to share my world and learn from yours.
So now that you know my why, lets get to the how.
How to be a Happy Mom starts with the foundations of being a happy person. Happiness requires a balance of many categories and takes effort. Effort requires time and we all know that is something Moms are lacking. The journey of happiness and the journey of motherhood is not easy. It never will be “easy” because the work required for growing humans takes a village. Add to that the work required to feel and maintain happiness and you’ve got a lot of work. Work that is worth it.
Happiness is a need.
My Happiness Theory starts with getting your basic needs met. Ever heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? Essentially you have to have your basic needs – like food and sleep – met before you can achieve higher levels of needs like happiness. Our most basic needs include food, water, air, sleep, shelter, clothing, and sex. My experience as a new mom tells me that you’ve probably got down the air, shelter, and clothing components.
Whenever I’m feeling unhappy I start with reflection. Have I eaten enough today? Did I hydrate my body? Have I gotten enough sleep? If the answer to any of those questions is no, I take action to remedy the problem ASAP. Eat a snack, drink a glass of water, take a nap with baby. Sometimes its all three at once. Cleanliness (AKA showers) is a step up into safety needs but is still super basic. Showers make me feel like a whole new sparkling fresh woman and I highly suggest you make it a priority too. After taking action to solve your basic needs problems, take the step to plan to prioritize your basic needs. Some ideas include: plan your breakfasts, fill up a water bottle and plan to drink a number of them in your day, discuss with your partner/ family member when they can take over and you can shower, or plan with your partner when you will be up to having sex.
Did you notice how I said things like “reflection” “plan”, “discuss”, and “priority”? These action words bring us to the next big category of thought patterns.
Healthy thought patterns take time to develop. I was very lucky to have a mom who raised me with a huge focus on healthy thought patterns and communication. When I was little she would read me Disney fairytales and after “they lived happily ever after” she would add “because they worked on their relationship”. I can’t even count how many times I heard “You can choose to feel that way” and “use your words”. I feel very fortunate because I’ve had years of developing and programming by brain to establish healthy thought patterns. But it can still be hard.
Healthy thought patterns don’t mean constantly positive. To be constantly positive would be unrealistic and not normal. Imagine being cheery and smiling when your baby is in the hospital; that’s just wrong.
Unhealthy thought patterns will seriously limit or completely squash your happiness. Developing healthy thought patterns starts with identifying the negative, unhealthy thinking you’re experiencing and questioning your own thinking. If you aren’t sure what some of your negative thought patterns may be, take a look here.
Changing your thought patterns is NOT easy and takes time. You may need professional help creating what are called “Positive Activity Interventions” or PAIs. PAIs by name are activities you do to interrupt negative thinking patterns. Most of the time when people google “how to be happy”, they are looking for a list of things to try. Some popular examples are: focusing on your breathing, exercise, repeating mantras, keeping a journal, focusing on the moment, hugging, talking it out, or going outside. Want a complete list of ideas? I made a freebie for you that categorizes over 80 ways to be a happier mom.
There is no PAI that works for everyone. When choosing PAIs to try, think of your personal interests and what could realistically work for you.
It is important to have a variety of PAIs in your personal repertoire. Having a variety increases the likelihood the activity will bring you happiness and increases the time you feel happy. As a mom you need multiple PAIs because your ability to engage in a PAI can change based on your kids’ ever changing needs. Researchers found that people that considered themselves happy had 7-8 different PAIs they routinely used. (Parks et al., 2012, Study 2). In the same study, “nurturing my social relationships” was the most valued type of PAI. Which brings us to relationships.
You need friends to be happy. Friends comfort you in hard times, bring joy, relieve stress, and offer support. All of these friendship qualities support happiness but one of the biggest factors friendship has on happiness is making us feel like we matter and belong. A key part of feeling like you belong is by having social-identity support.
Friends are cultivated in different ways but usually through being acquaintances in the same place or going through the same thing. Its important to have friends that support each of your social identities. One friend could support many of your identities and another friend could only support a few. This is why people have more than one friend. Partners – husbands, boyfriends, baby daddies, etc. – can often fulfill many or most of your friendship support needs and in fact I think that is what makes a great partnership. However, your partner likely doesn’t share your identity in the exact same way unless you happen to be a same-sex couple. Its really great to find a friend that not only supports your identity, but shares it.
For Moms, that means having mom friends! When I was pregnant with Dante I had no other mom friends. I knew I needed to make mom friends but I also felt so miserable I didn’t feel like I could leave the house. Thank goodness for modern day technology. I downloaded an app called “Peanut“. Their tagline is “meet as mamas, connect as women”. I soon connected with a few other moms-to-be and have maintained a strong relationship with one of them. I find it super helpful to have another mom my age with a similar age/gender baby. We talk daily about what we feel and how our kids are doing. Having another person who understands exactly what you’re going through- like not being able to pee alone anymore – is really helpful.
Immediate family members have a higher chance of supporting more of your social identities than other people. This is because your parents probably raised you to have some of the same identities they have and any siblings you have were likely raised the same way. Family usually offers all the benefits of friendship with the added perk of already knowing you for years. My sister is one of my closest friends. Don’t forget that family you have a healthy relationship with are friends that will bring you happiness too.
As a mom you need multiple friendship relationships to have multiple opportunities of joy, comfort, and support. Keeping relationships requires reciprocity of sharing life details, honesty and time. Don’t let the science of it bog it down. Friends make you happy. You need relationships. Spend time talking, laughing and engaging with your people!
Increase Your Average Daily Enjoyment
Happiness is like sleep. Having a whole bunch of it on one day doesn’t mean you can save it and make it last for days to come. You need daily doses of things that make you happy. Your amount of positive feelings have to outweigh the amount of negative or neutral feelings you have on average.
This is where the real struggle comes in for all parents. Parenting is a full-time job that literally does not stop. You don’t get weekends or holidays or even your birthday off. If you have a younger kid, multiple kids, or kids with special needs you might feel like you don’t get even five minutes off. It doesn’t matter if you stay at home or work full or part-time; you’re always a parent. So how do you find the time to enjoy anything?
You Have to Actively Work on Including Happiness in Your Life.
Take simple, mundane tasks and find a way to make it brighter. Even better if you can include a PAI. You’re folding socks? Play upbeat music or watch a quick you-tube video. Feeding your baby? Make sure you’re in a well lit room and chat with a friend. On the floor supervising tummy time? Do some yoga stretches while you’re down there! It all comes down to how you choose to be on a daily basis.
Will you still have bad days? Yes. Loving your kids does not cancel out the fact that they are little challenges wrapped in cuteness. Life is full of everyday boring and negative things. You have to choose to outweigh it with positivity. That includes choosing to limit the negativity. Identify what everyday thing gets you down and change it up or re-prioritize. If you’re having an unusually stressful or otherwise upsetting day, balance it out. Get your needs met, use your PAIs, healthy thought patterns, and relationships.
I hope you have happier days ahead. Motherhood is tough, but you’ve got this. Go out there and rock your day momming. Tell me how this works for you and let me know if you want to know more about a specific issue or have questions!
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Disclaimer: My information does not serve as or replace the advice of a doctor or therapist.
Fehr, B. A. (1996). Friendship Processes. Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE Publications, Inc
Layous, K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2012). The how, why, what, when, and who of happiness:
Mechanisms underlying the success of positive interventions. To appear in J. Gruber & J. Moscowitz
(Eds.), The light and dark side of positive emotions. New York: Oxford University Press
Parks, A., Della Porta, M., Pierce, R. S., Zilca, R., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2012). Pursuing
happiness in everyday life: The characteristics and behaviors of online happiness seekers.
Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028587.
Leah this is such a fantastic article. I’m not even a Mom (yet – I hope to be one day!) but as a stressed out law student this was a super helpful read for me too! Your blog and writing style is so refreshing. I’ve bookmarked every post so far for future reference! I hope you and your family are well and happy!
Thank you for your kind words Ali! While the post is tailored to Moms, the basic principles apply to anyone’s happiness. I’m so glad you find it helpful already!
I love your thoughts. Thanks for writing this out…I agree 100%!! I just became a mom 3 months ago and these are all wonderful reminders. Thank you!
Congratulations on becoming a mom! It makes me feel so happy that you agree and find it helpful!