Having struggled with post natal mental health issues, I’ve put a lot of thought into how to be a happier mum and into parental self care. We have to look after ourselves to be the best we can be for our children too. The other day I read a motivational quote that really resonated with me and I wanted to share it, and then some of the things I decided to make an effort on.
“Your kids don’t want a perfect mum, they want a happy one.”
There are dozens of variations of this saying with no origin accreditation, so who knows who first came up with the philosophy – but it’s 100% true.
A few months ago I read The Supermum Myth – a book that dispels the myth of the supermum, that perfect mum who has everything together and is soooo much better than you. She doesn’t exist. It’s a book that helps you stop comparing and start dealing with your negative mum thoughts, insecurities and worries using CBT and other techniques. This has triggered me into actively trying to work on my mental health and be more positive about my own little victories.
But here’s the million dollar question: How do you make yourself be happy when you’re tired, overwhelmed, worried and stressed?
I don’t have a million dollar answer (sorry, I’d like to!) but I have been working on some simple ways to center yourself back on positive thinking. Here they are!
1. Be Realistic and Focus on your Positives
This ties back to what I was saying about The Supermum Myth. You have to be realistic with yourself. I think a lot of parents – new mums especially like myself, have unrealistic expectations. I expected a lot of things that simply aren’t happening. I wasn’t totally in love with my son at first sight, in fact he seemed like a rather angry, squirmy creature that needed things I had no idea how to provide. We all hear mums talking about their kids as if they’re the best, most amazing thing in the world. We hear motherhood being described as completely transformative. It is – but when people are talking about this they tend to be talking about the bigger picture and there’s a lot of selective memory in parenting.
When our child is 5 years old and standing up singing in the school play, filling your heart so full it could burst – you’re not remembering when they were 3 months old and screaming all night until you were sobbing in a pillow with feelings of inadequacy. Selective memory focuses on the good things and it blocks out all the little details that when they happened, really dragged us down. Don’t get caught up in someone else’s selective memory. Motherhood is transformative. Children are amazing. They’re also hard work, emotionally draining, physically exhausting, sometimes boring, noisy, frustrating and often quite gross.
The best thing you can do if you’re feeling overwhelmed with a young child is admit that it’s normal. The majority of people felt this way in the moment. Those who didn’t are probably some sort of saint. It’s absolutely normal to not be enjoying looking after your child when they’ve just vomited on you for the second time, you’ve had three hours of sleep and if you have to listen to Peppa Pig one more time you’re going to break the TV.
In those moments center yourself and remind yourself that this will pass. Everyone experienced it. Even Marie with the designer shoes and the handbag that’s not covered in snot who dropped her kids off 15 minutes early at the school whilst you raced there in your pyjamas whilst little one was still munching on a breakfast bar. Don’t compare yourself. Don’t focus on the negatives. Don’t feel guilty for not being perfect. Even just the mental process of acknowledging that what you’re doing is hard and it’s supposed to be hard but it will be worth it can help lift a dark mood.
2. Find Your Happy Place
This might sound all a bit new age mumbo jumbo but bear with me and give it a try. Find a happy memory or association. It can be a place, a person, an object – something with powerful memories that will make you smile. During the day, at least once (but there’s no upper limit), when you’re feeling a little bit blue or struggling or feeling a little overwhelmed and stressed, take one minute. Sit down, close your eyes, breathe in and out deeply and think about your happy place. No matter how silly you think this sounds – try it every day for a week and let me know in the comments if you thought it helped (or not!)
3. Free up some Time
There’s another motivational saying that’s relevant here – “It’s how you spend time, not money, that counts.” Obviously written by someone who had enough money, I suppose…
One way to be more positive, relieve stress and the feeling of being overwhelmed is to spend more time doing positive things that you enjoy, and less time doing the things you don’t enjoy. Sounds simple right? Ha, ha, ha – you might be cackling in a sleep-deprived way right now. Simple, yeah sure – let’s just add another 8 hours to the day!
Sit down and really think about how many hours per day you spend doing what. Write it down. Look at it in front of you. The method of writing things down often makes us think more deeply about them and remember them as well. Doesn’t matter if you make a fancy spreadsheet on your computer or jot it down on the back of an old envelope. Rank these things by how much you enjoy them and now let’s look at what’s on the bottom of the list.
Is it ironing? What can we do about that? Can you afford to outsource 1-2 hours of ironing per week to a company or third party? Can you afford to take some of the most inconvenient pieces of clothing that need regular ironing and replace them with something in a more iron friendly way? Could you, in fact, have a wardrobe made up almost entirely of clothes that never require ironing? I do and it’s so good!
Really think whether there is any way that you can free up some time from doing the least-liked things and spend more time doing the fun things. It could also be something like re-arranging your work schedule to be more efficient, working with another mum so you take it in turns to pick the kids up after dance class, or even just deciding “I won’t change the sheets every week. I’ll change them every 10 days or 2 weeks.” Even freeing up an extra 30 minutes in a week to take a walk, watch your favourite YouTube channel, play a video game, have a long bath or read a book can make a difference.