When mama ain’t happy: 5 keys to a happier home

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mom-daughter-secretA few weeks ago, I had one of those days. My husband was sick in bed with the flu. My teething baby spent the day clinging to my legs and biting into my shoulder. My 7-year-old son seemed to have cotton balls stuck in his ears, and my 5-year-old daughter was talking back to everything I said. Oh, and it was my birthday.

because-I-said-so-REDIt wasn’t the greatest day ever, and although I tried not to let the utter lack of celebration get to me, it bothered me more than I let on. For the next few days, I was cranky. Not on purpose, not to prove a point. I just felt cranky. And guess what? My family was cranky, too.

You know the old saying, “when mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy?” As much as I hate to admit it, that colloquialism holds some truth. Here’s the way I see it: As the mom, I set the mood for my home. My kids reflect my attitude. This is simultaneously empowering and overwhelming. It’s exciting and depressing. It’s a great privilege, but it can also be a crushing weight.

On a good day, my cheerful greeting in the morning starts my kids’ day out right. I set a lighthearted tone with a joke and a surprise as simple as Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes can put a smile on grumpy, tired faces. I brush off a spilled cup of juice or broken plate because hey, they’re kids and it’s OK to make mistakes.

When I’m feeling positive, I can absorb my children’s negative behaviors without bouncing them back. I don’t let the nose picking, the bickering and the “I wanted the blue cup and you gave me the green one” arguments annoy me. I can correct and redirect bad behavior without throwing a tantrum of my own. My kids are more likely to be happy and agreeable because I’m happy and agreeable.

But on a bad day I could probably use a timeout. I am less patient and more irritable. I react poorly to undesirable but unsurprising everyday occurrences, like my kids whining about what I made for dinner, and when I raise my voice or mutter a snappy response it always makes things worse. My bad mood never fails to rub off on my kids, and before long, mommy’s bad mood is everyone’s bad mood.

So what’s a mom to do? Bad moods and bad days are inevitable. I don’t believe any mom, or anyone, period, should bury her feelings and pretend that life is perfect when it’s not. But being chronically short-tempered or perpetually grouchy isn’t healthy either, for you or for your kids. Of course, everyone wakes up on the wrong side of the bed sometimes. However, I’ve found there are things I can do to stack the cards in my favor. Maybe they’ll help you, too.

1. Exercise

I truly think daily exercise may be the solution to world peace. I exercise nearly every day of the week, and it isn’t because I’m a fitness model. I exercise because I need the endorphins. One of the best explanations I’ve heard on the power of endorphins comes from the movie “Legally Blonde.” To paraphrase Elle Woods: “Exercise gives you endorphins and endorphins make you happy. And happy people don’t kill their husbands.”

2. Pray or mediate in the morning

Taking a few minutes at the beginning of the day to connect with my Heavenly Father and ask for help in the enormous undertaking of being a parent makes a huge difference in my day. Even if you don’t believe in a higher power, taking time to meditate on things that are important to you brings focus into your day.

3. Get up first

In order to have time to exercise and pray/meditate, I wake up earlier than anyone else in the house. This task is not easy for me; I am not an early bird. For years I’ve tried to find a way around getting up early, but the truth is that when I sacrifice sleep, our mornings (and subsequently, days) go much smoother.

4. Mantras for moms

Throughout the years I’ve developed little mantras that I frequently use when I interact with my kids. For instance, when my oldest was little, I decided I would say, “It’s no big deal,” when he spilled milk or accidentally broke a dish. Now, I’ve said it so often that I hear my kids say it, too. Having a preprogrammed response saves me from saying something I regret in a moment of frustration. Other favorite phrases are, “I’m so happy to see you,” “What do you think?” and of course, “I love you.”

5. Try again tomorrow

There are days when I lie in bed and am tempted to mentally berate myself for the shortcomings of the day. But instead of adding to my mommy guilt, I try to do myself a favor and just go to sleep. “Everything looks better in the morning,” I remind myself, and what I often tell my kids is true: I can try again tomorrow.

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Natalie Hollingshead is a former magazine editor turned freelance writer and editor. She writes regularly about home, family, food and travel for a handful of publications, and is co-author of the book "Happy Homemaking” (Cedar Fort, 2012) with Elyssa Andrus. A native of Alberta, Canada, Natalie lives in Orem with her husband and their three children.

One Comment

  1. Jen Harford Reply

    I second the “Get Up First” rule. If I sleep in and wait until I have starving children peering over the edge of my bed fighting and arguing ensues. Especially when there are hungry tummies involved.

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