This is a guest post from Talida, the creator of Magical Mom. She’s an international traveling mama to three and one incredible writer. We are so thankful to have the opportunity to feature her on our site! Read more about Talida at the end of her post.
6 Secrets of a Happy Mom
“Happiness depends on ourselves.” said Aristotle, exploring the idea that happiness is a central purpose of human life. But what if you lost it somewhere in between the exhaustion and overwhelm of being a mother? Or perhaps between unreliable sleep patterns and toddler meltdowns?
In this article, we will analyze the secrets of a happy mom — simple, actionable steps and minimal habits to embrace to increase our happiness every single day.
1. YOU come first
“Put your oxygen mask first before helping others” was the key sentence of my 20s. I probably said it thousands of times in my 7-year aviation career. I never got what it meant until I became an overwhelmed mother of 3 kids under 3.
Sleepless nights holding sweet breastfeeding babies or pink fluffy monsters scared toddlers, foggy mornings of fixing everybody’s breakfast before my own, tired TIRED days of paying attention, comforting, playing, working and trying to function. Go, go, go, until one day when we simply cannot anymore.
We start to resent our partners for not being as sleep deprived as we are. Or our kids for not being “better” sleepers, eaters, sharers, fill-in-the-blank-ers. We judge other mothers who seem to have it more together than us by picking up on what they do differently.
All of this because of something that seems to be ingrained into our DNA: us women, and even more so mothers, we tend to put the needs of the people we love ahead of our own. It comes more natural to us to care about others than to care about ourselves. It’s more intuitive to feed our kids first and then inhale whatever is left on their plates. Without ever sitting down. Or using grown-up cutlery. Or chewing.
2. Plan ahead
There are moments in my day when I am simply not equipped to make decisions. That happens when I lack the resources (emotional, mental or simple logistics). As a result, it will end up being a draggy miserable process and some unfortunate decisions on my part.
When it comes to small decisions such as what to eat, what to wear, what to read, I batch plan ahead when I know I have the mental capacity to do so.
During Saturday or Sunday afternoon quiet times, I go through my calendar, then do the meal planning for the week ahead. I don’t reinvent the wheel. I just have 3–4 weeks worth of meal planning and the respective shopping lists.
In the night, right before tucking in the kids, I lay down the next day’s clothes. I do the same for myself after I take a shower.
3. Special time
“Special time” is a dedicated block of time we spend with our kids: without complaining, being distracted by other activities or people and with sheer enthusiasm, we give our children the precious gift of undivided attention and willingness to just be with them. It worked miracles with my kids.
After my commitment to put my needs first, I decided I will offer myself special time. 15 minutes of giving myself permission to do whatever I wanted to be doing, without beating myself up for not being more productive, procrastinate less or do something for the house and the kids. I would ask myself “I’ve got 15 minutes. What do I want to do?” Some days I would nap. Others I would be on Instagram. Sometimes I would just meditate. No matter what I chose to do, I would stop the auto-pilot inner dialogue telling me that it was not ok to take this time and waste it.
Initially, I would spend the first 10 minutes worrying about the non-ending pile of other must do on my list — must put a load of laundry, must start peeling carrots, must pay this bill. In time, however, I learned to silence the lizard brain. Slowly, my mind caught up with my soul, and I valued this time more and more.
What would you do if you have 15 minutes? Put on that timer. Do it.
4. Special time with our partner
It happens in every single home after having a baby: we are so in love with the tiny human who grew in our bellies, we tend to forget all about the big human who made it together with us.
My husband Steven has an another theory about this: “we spend so much time cuddling and giving our babies love, attention, and closeness, our cup of physical contact and cuddles is full. So we no longer feel the need to cuddle with our partners as much as we used to.” If my man felt this way, you can only imagine how I felt.
When a new baby joins the family, the beginnings are rough — sleepless nights, emotional roller coaster, physical pain, animal desires to protect and care for the tiny. Nothing and nobody else matters.
While connecting with our children is vital for their development and even survival, it is sometimes done at the expense of disconnection from our partner. By the time we wake up from our foggy period of bonding-feeding-adjusting, we don’t know anymore how to reconnect with them.
In my family, I once again embraced the idea of special time. And while it is starting with just what the other person wants to do or talk about, it is a way of re-connection and becoming intimate again.
We have date nights every couple of weeks, and the rule is to talk about anything and everything except KIDS, MONEY, HOUSEHOLD. You’d be surprised to find out how little we talk about outside these topics. A bit scary and embarrassing. This is happening to you too, right?
Start the night with what is going well for you personally, or for your family. Take turns.
Continue discussing random stuff, such as “What would you rather have in your life: a pause or a rewind button?” or “If you could live inside a tv show for a week which one would you choose?”.
Listen. Try not to give advice. Put the phones away. Hold hands.
5. Special time with each child
Human beings flourish when they feel connected to each other. When we feel listened to, understood, not judged, loved for exactly who we are, we thrive. Every single person is wired for connection. It is even more important for children. Any break in connection can signal to them they are not safe. This, however, is not a one-time thing we do. It’s a nurturing mixing pot of actions, dialogues, and habits.
Before I had kids, I thought love was a grad. You love some people a little bit, some a little bit more, some none at all, and some we love so exhaustively, we can’t even imagine breathing without them. But as I grew in experience and wisdom, I realized that love is just LOVE. Love can’t be measured in quantity or quality. We either love, or we don’t. As it comes to our kids, every single mother loves her children (ALL of them) to the absolute best of her capacity. The trick comes when we have to show that love to them. It’s not enough to just love our kids. We must show it.
I tried many things to make all my children feel loved: I listened to what they asked for (more mama), I gave them things they asked for (more mama, more treats, more books at bedtime, more time playing, one more of …). However, they were always asking for MORE. And in time, their demands for more only made me feel stretched too thin.
When a child is misbehaving, many adults say “She’s just asking for attention, ” but they rarely take that literally. She’s asking for attention because she needs it. Giving attention to our kids will not spoil them.
Every single child needs individual connection — maybe not constant, not at the expense of a sibling and certainly not used as a currency, but they do need it.
I used to reconnect with my older daughter when the babies were sleeping. Nothing fancy, just sitting down next to her on the carpet and telling her I have some time and would like to spend it with her. I did whatever she asked. I pretended to be Elsa, or the pink pony, or her base for acro yoga. And when that timer went off, we were both happier in our respective roles.
With the twins, I take one at a time after the bath to read a story and do some rough play (my boy has different connection needs).
After these times, each one of the kids feels special, loved and cared for. Individually. Every day. It should be in our calendars.
6. Prioritize sleep
After the kids go to sleep, there are a million other things to do: clean the kitchen, prepare the lunch boxes, take a shower, read, talk to our partners, catch up with social media, friends or family members, iron, laundry or exercise.
For many years, I convinced myself I was a night owl. I would stay up really late, and binge-watch “Sex and the City” or “Friends.” Unfortunately for my inner owl, my kids didn’t seem to function the same way — they wake up at 6:30 am without fail, and none of us can function past 7 pm. Not to mention that school starts early and all the classes during summer break are in the morning.
It was easier to breathe through the initial tiredness and celebrate the fact that my portion of the day was just starting after the kids went to sleep, but I was deeply regretting it the next day. If we allow it to continue (as I did), chronic tiredness will become the new norm. I will not announce here all the downfalls of sleep deprivation, but the one that kicked me back to reality was my inability to cope with early morning demands.
I shifted my entire perspective, and instead of having my portion of the day at night, I swapped it for the first part of the day. I go to bed ridiculously early, and I wake up even more ridiculously earlier. I’m an introvert fueling on solitude. My current settings (3 kids under 4, one louder than the other) doesn’t promote this kind of environment. So I start my day early, fuel my needs first, and then I can proceed to attend to the needs of the ones around me. It’s a very simple shift and just a decision to put my phone down at 8. In another room. I then take a book and read in bed until my eyes almost close. I have a silent alarm on my wrist at 5:15. I wake up and meditate, exercise, drink my tea and write before anybody else moves. I love the silence of the house. I love the sun rising. I love the peace. Even more than that, I love that when my kids are finally awake, I can be present, engaged and generous with my attention. You can sustain that only by taking care of yourself FIRST.