If Mama Ain’t Happy: Mothering Better By Putting Myself First

We’ve all heard it before, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”  It’s a truth largely ignored by many mothers and it manifests itself with unnecessary personal sacrifice.

I was one of those mothers.

I can tell you that, at one time, my list of priorities were (1) my children; (2) my husband; and (3) my household.  The list went downhill from there.  Now don’t get me wrong, life was good. There were happy times; many, many happy times. However, I lost myself along the way.

Actually, if I’m being perfectly honest, I think I lost myself almost immediately upon becoming a mother.

I had a preconceived notion of the type of mom I was going to be based mostly on a lot of the “perfect” times of my younger years and the less-than-stellar times of my adolescent years. Both are only snapshots of the bigger picture; half truths that became the basis of everything I wanted and needed to do. Needless to say, while we were a happy family, I was not truly a happy person.

It took me a lot longer than I would like to admit to find the happy me. The biggest obstacle during this journey is guilt. I felt so guilty for the change I was making. There is this ideal in our culture which dictates that the children come first. My attitude change was going to knock them down a peg or two in the order of importance. That just doesn’t jive with a lot of people. Well, that way of thinking had to go. I began this journey to being happy with myself by putting me first on the list.

Finding “Me Time”

Let’s face it, finding time to be alone is few and far between when you are a mom. We even joke about the fact that we can’t go to the bathroom by ourselves. This nonstop, 24/7, of being something for someone else is exhausting. It is as if your soul is being sucked right out of you. It’s not a great feeling, especially if you are an introvert and require alone time. I wish I could have carved out some “me time” when my children were babies. I wish I could have let my husband just hold the crying baby for a half hour while I took a bath. If you are at this stage, don’t be afraid to do it. All will be well.

Unfortunately, when I started with this step it, was a very crazy, busy time for the family. There was absolutely no room to carve time out for me in our busy schedules. So, I adjusted my bedtime routine. I bought something that smelled soothing and put it in my bathroom. Then, I unscrewed a few of the light bulbs to add to the aesthetic. In my own little, quiet, and calm space, I applied a facial mask, painted my nails, or braided my hair. I did whatever made me feel happy. I did this every night. For the truly special moments, I popped a couple of the kids’ color fizzes into the bath water, lit a tropical smelling candle, and played a reggae station on Pandora. Instant beach vacation! Minus the beach and minus the vacation, but it works.

Putting Mom First

Now that my children are older, I can spend whole days alone while they are in school. I relish the silence or I listen to NPR all day long. Science Friday is my favorite. 🙂 I also love Moms’ Night Out. MNO is often accompanied by Guilt Monster. It is a little voice that pops up occasionally, saying that I need to be with my children every single moment.

Guilt Monster is a liar.

I like going out and being with my friends without it being a kid activity of some sort. I like it when my hubby and kiddos hang with each other. It is a win-win and it took me way too long to figure that out.

Finding Purpose

I’ve run the gamut of being a stay-at-home mom and working full-time. Each decision to stay home or work was precipitated by what I thought others needed and wanted. My choice to stay home was for the children. My choice to work was so my husband would respect me as an equal partner. I was using my family to justify decisions that contributed to my unhappiness. They were a scapegoat for my own hang-ups. That wasn’t fair to them and that wasn’t fair to me.

The choice to work or stay home is an important one, and I was not digging deep to find the answer to the unspoken question, “What do I want to do that makes me happy?” Surprisingly, the answer is that I want to stay home and work. I found a part-time job that I love. It gives me the freedom of being a mom while contributing my non-mom abilities to the larger workforce and community. If joining the work-force isn’t on the radar for you, I encourage you to find somewhere to volunteer, somewhere to use your non-mom skills.

Creating Boundaries

I once thought that being the best mom meant having my children in all the activities along with me being involved in all the activities. Let me tell you, burn out can happen so fast. I could do nothing, because I was busy doing everything. We participated because I thought we had to. This one is tough. It really seems these days that high school sports teams are chosen in elementary school.  I do want my kids to be able to play high school sports if they want.

I also just want them to have a childhood, to play, and sample things. There really isn’t anything that has sparked a passion for any of my kids yet, and I feel that should be okay. Eventually, in an effort to keep our sanity, we decided that each child could participate in two activities at a time. Even this was tough to schedule out. Currently, each child gets to do one extra-curricular activity. That’s it. That’s all we are shuttling for. The rest of the time they are just going to need to be regular ol’ kids playing in the neighborhood and coming up with things to do. I actually think they are happier, and I can tell you for certain that I am.

Saying “No.”

I’ve backed off of being dance mom, room mom, gym mom, etc., etc. I didn’t really enjoy any of that nonsense. I’m perfectly happy dropping them off, letting them get taught/coached by someone else, and picking them up. Most of the time, I don’t even stay in the building. I choose to get involved with activities I feel passionate about. My kids get a scout mom. I love the scouting programs and like participate with my kids through those.

Recently the word “no”, or a variation thereof, has become a regular part of my vocabulary. My favorite variation so far is “You don’t have to eat it.” The caveat to this is that I make one dinner. So, if one or two of the kiddos don’t want to eat the made-from-scratch Orange Chicken, then they don’t have to eat it.  However, I’m not making chicken nuggets or ramen noodles. I’m pretty happy not spending my evenings as a short order cook.

Putting Mom First

Going Forward

As it stands, my current list of priorities is as follows: (1) myself; (2) my husband; (3) my children; (4) all the other typical life stuff. I suppose it is shocking to some that the kids got knocked from their number one spot to number three. There is a good reason for this: my happiest relationship has always been with my hubby. I couldn’t imagine journeying through my life without him to share all the weird, random, and fun stuff. In just ten short years, our last little Fritzling should be flying free from the nest. At that time, it’ll be just the two of us. Putting my husband before the kids seems like the best way to continue being the team we are.

Now, my children did meet this new way of life with a little resistance. It was a change for them, too. Eventually, it was something we all got used to and seems normal. One hope out of this change is showing the importance of self to my girls. I would like to see them be confident as well as know and appreciate their own worth before sacrificing too much of themselves to other people…even to their own children.

Mamas, how do you treat yourself?

I challenge you to take an honest moment and make a list of your priorities. Did you make the cut?  What small changes can be made in your own life that will put you at the top of your own list? You may have to make changes in small increments or take baby steps to get there, but do find a way to claim the number one spot in your life.

Lean on your people to make it happen.

They can take care of your babies, too.




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