Editor's note: This article was originally published on Katelyn Fagan's blog, What's Up Fagans. It has been republished here with permission.
There have often been times in my relatively short stint as a mother that I have found myself rather unhappy, when I've felt lonely, overwhelmed, inept and angry. When everything seemed like a big deal. I lost who I was as an individual, a person, a woman. I also felt like I really didn't recognize the person I now was, especially in comparison to who I used to think I was - a happy, optimistic, independent, funny and engaging individual. I didn't smile or laugh as much. I wasn't as comfortable around other people as I used to be.
But, guess what? I don't feel that way anymore! That's the greatest news! I feel happy and like myself again. And here are some things I believe helped me to reach this point of being happier as a stay-at-home mom. May some of them help you feel happy in your role as a mother too.
1. Lower and more realistic expectations
Sounds crazy, but when you have low expectations for others or yourself, you are less likely to be disappointed! So anything they do above and beyond your expectations makes you feel awesome! It's also important to realize what is likely and what is not likely from others (i.e. realistic expectations). This is very true when dealing with 2-year-olds as well as with adults, like a spouse or parent. I also have stopped my secret desires for others, you know the ones where you wish they were just different somehow? Because wishing others would change and be everything you need/want them to be is indeed, very unrealistic. They are who they are and the more you can accept that the better you feel.
2. Cheerfully doing the things I do (or being a team player)
My husband and I have certain things we each do to make our family run. My duties, though different than his, are just as important to making sure our family life goes smoothly. So me complaining about the fact that I have to do laundry, fold it, put it away, load the dishwasher and unload it, take out the trash, pay bills, clean everything all the time, or whatever, doesn't help our team. Doing my chores and duties with a happy attitude and an understanding that this helps my family, makes me feel happy instead of overwhelmed and overburdened.
Also, because of my point #1 of lower expectations, anytime someone helps out with my duties, it makes me feel good about them! While I still sometimes find myself grumbling that a certain someone doesn't help out more around the house or that I don't get acknowledged perhaps like I think I should, I try to erase those evil thoughts right out of my head. That's the devil speaking to me.
3. Less computer time
I feel I have definitely scaled back on the amount of time I spend in front of the computer. Part of that is just because my children would destroy the house if I did so. The other part is that I really want to be engaged with my children, doing the things I am supposed to be doing (like housework), and doing more productive things, even if that thing is reading a book to myself or my children. I've also become more disenfranchised with Facebook and other websites (even blogging somewhat) as they are often rather boring. The computer overall has lost some of its importance to me. I am striving to find more meaningful activities for my time.
4. Smiling, laughing and singing more
I am known for whistling, humming or singing little tunes over and over again to myself, often while working on something, and very unconsciously. And for a while I didn't do much of it, but I find that doing this simple thing actually makes me feel better about myself and what I am doing. And smiling? Definitely helps makes me feel good. I make it a point to look at my children when they are talking to me and smiling, real, big smiles. I want them to know they make me profusely happy. And I've been trying to smile more at strangers. Once upon a time I was a girl/woman who would smile at everyone I passed as I walked down a street, trying to make eye contact. Somewhere down the road that stopped and I now seem to want to keep to myself and ignore everyone else, just like everyone else. I've been trying to be more engaging with people I cross, whether the cashier, the waiter, a neighbor, a stranger, or whoever. Life is about human interaction and I don't want to be so consumed with myself and my family that I ignore everyone else in my small world.
5. Savoring the moments
Every experienced mother seems to love to tell young/new mothers to savor each and every moment while their children are young. And whether or not you agree that you can find savory goodness in the middle of your child's greatest and latest meltdown, there is truth in the sentiment. As I have been using the computer less, I have been striving, ever striving, to really savor the time I have with my kids. They will be 3 before I know it, entering preschool and then kindergarten. My time at home with them is dwindling. But how do you savor a moment?
I know that sometimes it is very tempting as a mother and a blogger, to want to whip out the camera anytime my kids begin something that I deem cute or funny or adorable or what have you. But, often in the process of running to get the camera, starting it up, adjusting it, finding a good angle and lighting, etc., my child has stopped doing the cute/funny/adorable thing or are distracted by the camera and the moment is ultimately lost. This is NOT savoring a moment with your child. If you can get it on camera, great! but don't have that be your goal or first instinct.
Instead try to memorize it, ingrain it in your brain, let it touch and melt your heart. I find that the more I let myself enjoy the cuteness that is my daughters, the more I have a hard time being angry at them later. It also helps me keep things in perspective. My kids aren't always terrible 2-year-olds! And I like and love them dearly!
Part of savoring moments with them is also creating them. However, when I say creating, I don't mean structuring or organizing an activity that you hope will be savory to your soul (because honestly these seem to backfire anyway). I mean creating moments by taking advantage of opportunities that are already there. Your child wants to snuggle? Then snuggle away, and as you do so, tell your child how much you love them and give them lots of extra hugs and kisses, stroke their hair and cheek, and tell them how wonderful of a person they are and what you like about them. That is creating a moment. It's not staged, it's impromptu, but profound.
The beautiful thing about staying at home with your children is that you have so many opportunities each day to turn an instant into a moment. You can teach your child a lesson as you comfort their tears. You can turn learning into a game. You can joke and tease and laugh with your child each and every day, most of the day through. You can be a constant example to them (something I am not a shining star at, however) of how you want them to be, to act, to live, to listen, to pray, to eat, to speak, etc. Each of these can become moments, tender, dear memories of your children that you can hold onto as they throw epic tantrums, destroy your furniture, hit you in the face, pee on the floor, make huge messes, disobey, call you names and give you tons of attitude.
Parenting is often so draining, so taxing, so frustrating, that often it's all we can think about, all we can see of our lives. How will we survive until bedtime tonight? How do I make my kid eat his dinner? How long will potty training last? And why must my child still get up in the middle of the night? But, I personally attest that savoring at least one moment each and every day with your child will help you be happy. It helps me enjoy motherhood, my time at home, and parenting. It reminds me that children are precious, pure, innocent, and need me more than anything.
Children are a gift from God, not a punishment. I find that the good moments I have with of my children help me feel the connection between heaven and earth. I feel sublime powers all around me. I feel heaven near. Jesus loves little children, so much so that he proclaimed the greatest goal of our lives should be to become as a child: meek, submissive, mild, teachable, lovable, and humble. In the quiet memorable moments with my children, I am indeed taught just how much they possess those qualities inherently. It is a blessing to myself to savor such moments as it teaches me how to become more like them.