Trickle Down Happiness: Why Mom Needs a Little Self-Care

I have three kids under the age of 7 and I feel like I’m always tired and cross. My neighbor has four children and a part-time job, and she doesn’t seem nearly as stressed as I am. I feel bad admitting it, but I resent my kids for never giving me a break. My husband tries to help, but they want me to do things with them, even when he’s around. Your advice?

Remember that saying, “When mom’s happy, everybody’s happy?” Ensuring a family’s happiness may not be quite as simple as making sure mom is smiling, but there is still great truth in that quote. Here are some thoughts about your situation.

  • Do at least one kind thing for yourself every day. Put your feet up while your kids play on their own for a few minutes. Work a crossword puzzle. Paint. Watch the clouds go by. If you can’t think of something small that you can do to lift your spirits, reflect on what you loved doing as a child. Calling to mind those things that lightened your heart before you became a mother will help you reach for the sense of rest and peace you sorely need.
  • Let your husband help — in his way. Your kids may be more familiar with how you do things, but it is in no one’s best interest to twist yourself into a pretzel so they don’t have to adapt to their father’s style. As long as he’s maintaining some degree of consistency as far as bedtime and so on, let him help with homework and getting kids to sleep so you can grab a few minutes for yourself. Don’t hover over him or scold him for not doing it “right.” And if your kids say, “I want mommy to do it!” let them work through their disappointment without swooping in or interfering.
  • Make sure you’re healthy. Caring for young children can be very tiring, but don’t avoid a checkup to rule out any physical issues that might be contributing to your fatigue. If you have struggled with depression, reach out for professional help. And make sure you’re eating well, exercising and getting adequate sleep. I know it’s hard to work self-care into a busy schedule, but you — and your children — will suffer if you’re running on empty.
  • Identify thoughts of not being good enough. We often carry within us the voice of a disapproving parent or teacher that reinforces the idea that nothing we do is ever good enough, regardless of how hard we try to do our best. Challenge the part of you that compares you to others, acknowledging your successes and the many ways you are showing up as a loving, committed mother.
  • Spend time with peers. Thanks to the Internet, people appear to be more connected. But “XOX” isn’t the same as a real hug and kiss, and texting “LOL” doesn’t come close to the joy of sharing a hearty, healing laugh with loved ones. Make time to enjoy your husband and those friends whose company nourishes and nurtures you — without kids!
  • Lower your expectations. With three little ones in your care, you simply cannot prevent your children from experiencing some frustration and sadness. Be as present and loving with them as you can be, and then accept that they will sometimes be upset if you aren’t able to give them the attention they want.

Finally, make sure you have fun with your children. Many parents are so consumed with checking things off their list (dinner, homework, bath) that they stop having enjoying their kids. Tell jokes! Play hide and seek! Sing! Have a crazy dance contest! Spending even a few minutes having a good time with your children will do wonders for your spirit — and theirs.

Susan Stiffelman is a licensed Marriage, Family and Child Counselor, an Educational Therapist, Parent Educator and Professional Speaker. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Developmental Psychology, a California K-9 Teaching Credential, a Masters of Arts degree in Clinical Psychology, and a California Marriage and Family Therapist license since 1991. Visit her website and be sure to sign up for her free Parenting Without Power Struggles newsletter!