This conversation was sponosred by author Beth Brykman, author of Best of Both Worlds – How Mothers can find Full-Time Satisfcation in Part-Time work. All opinions are mine.
There are a lot of articles and blog posts on the internet about motherhood, right? There is plenty written about the stress of parenting, about the different styles of parenting (Helicopter versus Free Range versus whatever else they’ve come up with this week), and about how to manage stress, time and picky eaters. But how about happiness? How about ways to be a happier mom?
Let go of the idea of perfection
You can’t be a perfect parent. You aren’t perfect (I know, newsflash!) and neither are your kids. Embrace the notion of “good enough” because sometimes, good enough is the best you can aim for…you know what I mean. We all have those days.
Be kind to yourself. Don’t worry about what other people think of your parenting or what you should be doing. I know, I know…we all have that friend whose life looks perfect on Facebook and Instagram but mothering is one of those times when it’s best to keep our eyes on our own paper.
You will not be perfect. “Perfect” and “motherhood” should never be used in the same sentence. Besides, those cutesy poo Instagram shots probably have a big basket of dirty laundry just out of the camera’s reach and that adorable smiling child probably picked her nose or threw a tantrum 30 seconds after the picture was snapped…at least it makes me feel better to think so!
Spend time away from your kids
It’s impossible to be a happy mom without being a happy person. As much as we love our small humans, you can’t be “on” as a mom 24/7 without getting burned out. As dreamy as a spa day or weekend getaway sans kids sounds, those are once in a while events.
Work to find time in your day (or at least your week) to do something for yourself that doesn’t involve carting your kids around or being “on” for them. Don’t get me wrong, being physically present for your kids is extremely important but so is self-care. Don’t be afraid to write your “me time” in your planner just like you would any commitment – and stick to it.
One of my most restorative ways of getting a break from my kids is to tell my husband and kids that I’m off the clock. I grab a book and a cup of tea or a nice glass of wine and I retreat to my bedroom for an hour or so. This is something I have to coordinate with my husband although I have been guilty of the desperate “I’m dropping everything because I need a break, so don't come in here” move. I get less interruptions (see also little fingers wiggling underneath my door if I try to plan ahead a little.
And yes, I lock the door. #NoShameNoGuilt
Think about what you REALLY want
No seriously. What do you REALLY want? Do you want to stay home with your kids? Do you want to have a career? A job where you make ends meet and help your family financially? Do you want to go back to school, to finish that degree you never started or get an advanced degree? Switch gears? All of these things?
As a mom with kids at home who is finding herself at a career crossroads (see also a mom who has always sucked at that thing we call work-life balance) I found the book The Best of Both Worlds – How Mothers Can Find Full-Time Satisfaction in Part-Time Work by Beth Brykman to be both inspiring and enlightening.
Women work for a lot of different reasons: to earn an income, to keep up professional accredidations or certifications, for fullfillment, for social interaction, to have something that is their own. If you have some flexibility, consider yourself lucky…a lot of mothers don't. If you are able to at least put part-time work on the table, maybe it's something to think about.
Part-time work definitely isn't for everyone but if it's a fit for you, it might be your path to having more flexibility to run your home and be present for your children and their activities. My husband and I have been dual earner parents and we also spent a year in a more non-traditional arrangement, where I worked full-time and he stayed home with the kids. What works in everyone's household and marriage is different but no matter which arrangement we've used, I find myself doing most of the child-rearing and household management. We could inject some criticisms of my husband (and husbands in general) here but we're not going to. I know the “we both work but I do all the kid stuff and the house stuff” is a common sentiment from working women. Maybe part-time work is the solution. Maybe it's not.
I'm trying to figure out what my life is going to look like a year from now and what will make me the happiest. Is it full-time work outside my home? Is it a part-time job somewhere that will give me some extra cash but not necessarily career satisfaction? Do I need career satisfaction? Going back to school to do something TOTALLY different? Will I become burned out by staying at home and working from home? Other things besides my happiness are factoring into this equation, of course, but I am making my happiness a priority.
You better believe it.
The Best of Both Worlds can help you decide if part-time work will work for you and gives you excellent tips on how to make it happen, should you decide yes. How to scale back, how to work from home (it is more complicated that you probably think), how to manage childcare issues, how to network…it's all in there. I found it easy and fun to read and not boring and dry like some self-help books tend to be. It was informative yet conversational – life my very knowledgable BFF was talking to me about my career plans. I read it cover-to-cover in just a couple of sittings (locked in my bedroom while my husband wrangled the kids, see above) and I know it's something that I'll refer to again. You can order if from Amazon HERE.
Find a way to not do what you don’t have time to do or simply don’t like to do. If you can afford to hire cleaning help, do it, even if it’s just an occasional treat. Try meal-delivery service or even curbside grocery service, where you select your groceries online and have someone load your order into your car.
You don’t have to go into the store. That’s huge!
Buy cookies and brownies for kid’s parties premade at the bakery instead of baking from scratch or even baking from a mix. Don’t feel guilty about cutting corners or taking short cuts. We’re talking about your time and your well-being. If your “mom tasks” are getting in the way of your happiness and you have the resources to remove some of them from your plate, then do. Also consider swapping tasks or services with other moms.
Remember YOU are the mom
That statement might sound kind of basic but remembering you are the mom (and a good one at that) goes a long way toward your happiness and well-being. You are the mom. Not your mom, not your kid's teacher, not the other moms in your community, not the parenting manuals. You.
You won't always do it right but you won't always do it wrong. You love your kids and you spend a lot of your time making things better for your family. Not second-guessing yourself will life a surprising amount of weight from your shoulders – try it.
No one is happy all the time and there is no universal recipe for happiness. Everyone is wired differently, but taking steps to take care of yourself will make you a happier person. And if you're a happier person you will be a happier and better mom.
Beth Brykman is the author of The Wall Between Women: The Conflict between Stay-at-Home and Employed Mothers and Second Wind: The Resilience of Women. She has also written for the New England Journal of Public Policy. She has managed her own part-time consulting business, Brykman Consulting Services; has held senior marketing positions at Kraft General Foods and Pittsburgh Brewing Company; and has worked in product management for Ralston Purina, HJ Heinz, and Frito-Lay.