by Arielle Haughee
Four Tips for Busting through the Forced Happiness Trap
“Enjoy every minute!” It seems like there’s always an elderly lady at Publix saying this to me while I’m rushing to escape, lugging my toddler who refuses to sit in the cart while telling my three-year-old for the fifth time not to crush all the chips in the bag he insisted on getting.
Then there’s the quote frequently shared on Facebook that says something about never having this day again with your kids so you should cherish it.
And of course, the helpful neighbor who tells me “these are the best years” of my life so I need to love every day. Why does it seem like moms are constantly bombarded with messages forcing happiness? I’m supposed to be enjoying this time with my kids, I mean REALLY enjoying it. And if I’m not, then I’m apparently making some kind of terrible mistake.
I personally find the idea that moms should have a perma-smile beyond irritating. In fact, if I see a mother with a constant grin stretched across her face, I’m going to recommend a good therapist, that or compliment her Joker impersonation. It’s not physically possible to enjoy every single minute I spend with my little ones, so why do I still feel like I should?
Believe it or not, I was actually getting mad at myself for not being happy more often. Then, of course, I remained unhappy and got mad at myself all over again, like being stuck on a really awful ferris wheel of self mom-shaming. I kept questioning whether or not I was enjoying our stroll around the mall enough and not really knowing if I was having any fun at all anymore.
I wanted to be genuinely happy and enjoy my time with my children naturally, not because I felt like it was some sort of requirement. So I decided to refocus and let go of the pressure I felt to be a smiling robo-mom all the time. Here are four things I found that help let go of the hyper-happy expectation and allow moms to enjoy days organically:
1. Allow yourself to have a bad day. It’s okay if your fun plans were ruined by a frowny-faced four-year-old refusing to participate at the splash pad, or even worse, someone suddenly forgetting how to nap when you’re on a family vacation. You don’t need to spend time beating yourself up because things didn’t turn out perfectly. And it’s okay to just have a normal day. Not every single day needs to be a celebration of all that is family and shared on Facebook.
2. Give yourself a do-over. If you find things have been going south for a bit, tell yourself that you get to have a restart. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine a beautiful sunrise over the water. It’s your new beginning and everyone gets to start again. Forget about the tantrum at the checkout in Sams and go forward like it never happened, releasing the anxiety from your mind. The kids have probably forgotten it already anyway, shouldn’t you? Even if you’ve found yourself in a situation where you’ve lost it, feeling guilty because you yelled at the preschooler for losing his shoes for the third time, you can still refresh your mind and begin again. Let go of the guilt for the slip-up and tell yourself you’ll try harder to keep your cool next time.
3. Laugh at yourself and your situation as much as you can. This may be hard, if not impossible, in the moment—like when you finally got around to making those protein smoothies for your baby since he doesn’t eat meat but he just tosses the expensive concoction all over the floor. It’s not funny at all when you’re mopping up cold blended fruit while your oldest child cracks up. Save it for later and joke about it with your partner telling him/her your floors got a lovely organic treatment today or plot your revenge with friends on a mom’s night out. (Eating a whole box of Oreos in front of them both without sharing sounds good to me.
4. Reflect on things from your day that brought genuine happiness. I started doing this with my husband after the kids were asleep. It’s surprising what truly made me feel warm and fuzzy inside, things I didn’t expect. It wasn’t during dinner time when we were all sitting down together as a family to eat and what people might expect for a warm, fuzzy experience. Dinner’s actually quite stressful for me with one picky eater and one very picky eater. It was when my oldest was “napping with mommy” (aka rolling around and keeping me awake) and he inched all the way to the edge of his pillow, as close to me as possible, and gave me the biggest grin with love pouring from his sweet brown eyes. This practice helps me be more tuned in to my real feelings and allows me to feel genuine happiness during the day.
So now what should we say to those lovely ladies at Publix telling us to “Enjoy every minute!”? Somehow I don’t think “I’m trying” quite covers it. I think I will just smile and laugh, truly enjoying the ridiculousness of it all.
Any other ideas?
This post was authored by Arielle Haughee, a double-boy mom who is an Orlando-based writer with short stories and creative nonfiction published in a variety of web and print publications including several pieces for Screamin’ Mamas magazine and a Royal Palm Literary Award finalist mommy-memoir piece in the anthology “Lost Dreams.”
Do you have a mantra helping you be a Zen mama? Contact me if you’re interested in sharing it here on Zen Mama Mantras.
Would you like to subscribe to receive email updates from ZenMamaMantras? Click here.