How to Rewire Your Exhausted Mom Brain
10 ways to be a happier, more joyful parent.
Posted April 3, 2019
One of my step-daughters is and has been my role model for how to live and more specifically, how to be a mother. She raised her children in an easy-going manner: her parenting style is high on humor, but low on perfection and the overachievement-geared forces that drive parents today. And, she’s happy. Whenever I ask her how she did it, she shrugs her shoulders. It’s as if to say that she’s like all other mothers. But most mothers know that isn’t the case.
More often than not, motherhood is difficult—packed with stress and extreme periods of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. As I noted, motherhood is “not what it is universally advertised to be.”
For my daughter, her sunny, seemingly laidback approach may be attributed, in part, to her personality. But, more likely it’s the choices she has made to enjoy being a parent; she prioritizes being engaged with her children without losing herself.
The challenges of a totally joyful motherhood
For too many mothers, parenting is made more difficult by the intense competition to raise star children, by striving for perfection (or close), feeling pushed and pulled and accountable on so many fronts. Joy seems to be in short supply. In the midst of all chaos that changes with every age and stage a child enters, it’s very easy to get lost...and even easier to forget your own needs.
When discussing her life, Rebecca Eanes, founder of Positive-Parents.org, points to many of the feelings and thoughts that plague mothers from time to time, if not perpetually. She realized that she was sacrificing her own happiness: “Guilt cozied up beside me and whispered my doubts and shortcomings. Anxiety had become a constant and unruly companion.” She wasn’t happy and asked herself, “Would I rather be a perfect mother or a happy one?”
Shift your thinking
For many devoted mothers, the prospect of taking time for self-care may seem nearly impossible. However, it’s essential—like putting on your oxygen mask before assisting young children as airplane safety videos recommend. Learning to focus more on yourself can change your attitude, outlook, and how you handle the overwhelm, exhaustion and stress you may feel. The good news is that no matter how focused you are on the parenting negatives in your life as you see them, it is possible to restructure your thinking. In her book, The Gift of a Happy Mother: Letting Go of Perfection and Embracing Everyday Joy, Eanes reminds us that, “Our brains are changeable...we can rewire our brains to be more positive and optimistic.” In effect, you change your brain’s neuronal structure. By doing this, mothers can flip from a state of being overwhelmed and stressed and stop giving in to our negative thoughts and actions. But, how?
Eanes answers that question and gives readers concepts and tools to help become a happier mother. This happiness is a gift—as her book title suggests—to your children as well as to yourself. Here are a few highlights to help you nurture yourself, essentially to get you moving in a more pleasing and sustainable direction. Some surely will work for you; pick a few to try:
1. Alter your exercise to fit it in. Can’t get to the gym or work through a full video program? Instead, settle for brief bursts of exercise: Stretch on the floor with your baby; jog in place; throw in some jumping jacks when you have a few minutes. Short spurts of movement release endorphins that lower stress and stimulate happy feelings.
2. Find your own voice by reducing mental clutter. Simply put, stay off the Internet and social media for a day; see less or none of the friends who drain your energy—whether it’s through offering opinions that leave you confused or conflicted or unwelcome criticisms.
3. Discover or invest a bit of time in a creative outlet. Could be gardening or baking; painting or knitting; writing a story or song lyrics about a situation that has upset you; or belting out some songs at the top of your lungs. Try different pursuits until you find one that delights you.
4. Clear out the messes. Tackle a little bit each day if you prefer uncluttered spaces. Clean or organize one corner or one drawer if disorder upsets you. You'll feel happier.
5. Learn to say no. Nothing protects your boundaries and gives you more time for yourself and the people that matter most than using the word NO liberally with friends, family, colleague at work, even your children. Are you too much of a yes-parent?
6. Abandon feelings of guilt. You yell at your child for no logical reason or allow endless “shoulds” to whirl around in your head. Move on. When you allow guilt to gnaw at you, you erode your happiness.
7. Hone in on special small moments: the hug from your child, the kiss from your partner, the sun pouring through the window while your toddler plays quietly near you. In short, be mindful of the ordinary things that bring you joy.
8. Laugh. Look for the humor in what your children say and do. Tell jokes or watch some comedy programs. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
9. Bear in mind perfection comes at a cost. Trying to achieve perfection as a parent will wear you down.
10. Remember that time is precious. The speed with which kids grow up shocks parents. For many of us, we look back and realize how much we missed, because we focused on the wrong, often stressful aspects of raising children—and not on taking care of ourselves and savoring the bright spots, the quiet times together reading a book, or making the time to just be together.
None of these takes an inordinate amount of time and those you do will make you a much more content mother—a way of being that your children will note, appreciate and likely absorb. My step-daughter’s children, now young adults, have followed their mother’s lead. They, too, put their lives and their stumbling blocks in perspective and extract fun and joy...focusing more on being happy than being made miserable by all the “shoulds” that come their way.
Copyright @2019 by Susan Newman
Eanes, Rebecca. (2019) The Gift of a Happy Mother: Letting Go of Perfection and Embracing Everyday Joy. New York: Tarcher/Perigee.