“If Mama Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy!” These words are from a popular song in the nineties – and perhaps they can be best read as “If the mother in the family is happy, then everyone is happy.” That’s exactly what pediatrician Dr. Meg Meeker was thinking when she wrote the book The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers: Reclaiming our Passion, Purpose, and Sanity. In writing the book, Dr. Meeker wanted to not only better the lives of mothers, but in turn, better the lives of their children.
In her introduction, Dr. Meeker writes:
“If every mother in the United States could wrap her mind around her true value as a woman and mother, her life would never be the same. We would wake up every morning excited for the day rather than feeling as though we’d been hit with a truck during the night. We would talk differently to our kids, fret less about our husbands’ annoying habits, and speak with greater tenderness and clarity. We would find more contentment in our relationships, let mean remarks roll our backs, and leave work feeling confident in the job we performed…. We would live a life free from superficial needs because we would know deep in our hearts what we need, and more importantly, what we don’t need. Each of us would live a life of extraordinary freedom.”
Dr. Meeker argues that a mother’s real value comes from three places: she is loved, she is needed, and she is born for a higher purpose. That said, it is difficult to fully grasp those ideas and translate them into happiness when you are in the midst of mothering. Instead, Dr. Meeker has ten habits that she suggests mothers incorporate into their parenting and everyday lives in order to live happier and healthier ones.
Understand your value as a mother. Sometimes when you are in the midst of being a parent, it is hard to fully take stock of all the things that you are good at (as a mother and beyond). Dr. Meeker suggests that you make a list of what you’re really good at. And, don’t worry if you can’t use all of your gifts in the current moment. Understanding that you are irreplaceable to your children and that you have so many things to offer will help you feel more grounded.
Maintain key friendships. It’s important for mothers to feel like they have relationships outside of their children. Otherwise, mothers might feel isolated or lonely. Therefore, cultivate friendships with people who you share values with – nurture those friendships and the friendship in turn will nurture you.
Value and practice faith. Dr. Meeker is a practicing Catholic, but she encourages mothers to value and to practice the faith that they believe in. And, if they are not religious, to believe that there is a higher power. Sometimes we want to believe that everything is in our control, but we need to recognize Hashem’s hand in our lives as well.
Say no to competition. Especially today, parenting can seem like a competitive sport. Whose able to juggle it all and still look great for morning drop off? Who works full-time but is always at every school event? Whose children are the best behaved and have the best manners? That kind of competition just breed unhappiness. Instead, judge yourself against yourself. Ultimately, you’ll grow and be happier that way.
Create a healthier relationship with money. Parents occasionally buy things for their children because they ask for it and the parents “can.” This can make us feel like we are good moms. The next time you want to buy your child something, think about why you are buying it. Dr. Meeker argues that if it’s because you can, not because you should, save the money for the next time.
Make time for solitude. Every parent needs some alone time during the day. Sometimes this can mean a 10-minute walk to do errands. Other times this can mean 30-minutes reading a book or an hour of cooking with no one around. Whatever the case, a little alone time (not necessarily “me” time) will help recharge your parent battery.
Give and get love in healthier ways. Don’t tie love to things. Instead, focus on time and experiences. We want our children to grow up with a healthy relationship with things, and we also want to have that relationship! Connect love to “time in” with people.
Find ways to live simply. Sometimes life is so fast-paced and ever-changing that it can get overwhelming. Instead, find ways to simplify dinner and bedtime or other routines in order to enjoy the time together rather than focusing on getting things done.
Let go of fear. So much of parenting today is focused on fear. Fear of failing, fear of not being good enough, fear of making the same mistakes our parents made. Well, we are going to fail, we are not going to be good enough, and we are going to make some of the same mistakes (and some different) that our parents made. But, we are going to strive to do our best day after day, and therefore, we have to let go of that fear.
Make the decision to have hope. Parenting is tough, but we have to choose to have hope and to believe that we are wonderful. To that end, I’ll conclude with Dr. Meeker’s ode to motherhood:
“You are more precious than you know.
“I know this because in my twenty-five years as a pediatrician, I have gotten a peek from behind your kids’ eyes. I can see you as they see you. I have heard the excitement in their voices after you have praised them. I have seen your kids define you as their hero when you were in the other room. I have heard them cry over your hurt, laugh at your jokes, and pull their hair out because of your stubbornness (which, by the way, they appreciate). I have literally read the value that you hold in your kids’ lives, all over their faces and through their body language. When you walk into a room, your son changes immediately. He relaxes because you are there and life feels safe again.
“Again, you are more precious than you know.”