Find a good job. You'll be happy. Fall in love. You’ll be happy. Get married. You’ll be happy. Buy a home. You’ll be happy. Have babies. You’ll be happy. I used to think if I did all the things I was supposed to do, and did them perfectly, happiness would find me. I was wrong.
Happiness doesn’t always occur naturally. Sometimes we need to fight for it. And, that can be hard when the stress of parenting sets in. Because when we feel stressed, we become overwhelmed. And, we go into survival mode where it's sticky and escaping is a challenge.
There’s no such thing as happy when you’re drowning. I know. I flailed about in survival mode for several years. And, all the pervasive “surviving the baby years”/“surviving the toddler years” messages certainly didn’t help my “this life happened to me and I have to handle it perfectly or I’ll never be happy” mentality. I delighted in how universally acceptable it was for Mommy to reward herself for “getting through the day” with a glass of wine at dinner.
I believed there was happiness in that glass of wine. After all, I deserved it for all my hard work. My story has a lot of gory details but, suffice it to say, one glass in the evening turned into two glasses before dinner was over … turned into a bottle opened before dinner and finished before bed … turned into drinking all day. And running a business. And being a mom. And a wife. And pretending I was happy about all of it. Fake it ‘til you make it. Trying to survive. When all I really wanted to do was die.
This is not a “don’t reward yourself with a glass of wine” lecture. I'm not saying parents shouldn’t drink. Drink if you “want” to, but not because you “need” to, and only if you can do it with control. I envy the ever-living snot out all my momma friends who can have one glass of wine and be done with it. I idolize their presence on this planet. Think Wayne’s World and the “we’re not worthy” chant – that’s me to those who can drink. “One and done” with an adult beverage is a foreign concept to me, a language I know I will never speak.
This is a “find what makes you happy and be sure you have enough of it in your life” recommendation. My daily time out with my mommy juice did not make me happy. So I extended the duration of the time out and added more juice. The result was misery. Ultimately, I was lucky enough to realize the only way to get happy was to stop drinking.
But, that wasn’t enough. Since alcohol was my only method of self-care, cutting it out didn’t deliver the immediate happiness I was after. No more hangovers. No more wondering if I was going to get pulled over and arrested for driving while intoxicated. No more passing out on the sofa and waking up covered in red wine. No more trying to plan my fixes around work and family obligations. Quitting drinking was the best thing I have ever done for myself and my family. But, it was the only thing I was doing for myself. And, while I was proud. I still wasn’t truly happy.
I’ve been working on getting happy for more than a year now. And, while I no longer sweat the small stuff, most of what I do to achieve happiness is pretty small stuff.
I breathe. I call it breathing. Others might call it meditation. Every morning, when I wake up, I give myself about 20 minutes in bed with a cup of coffee (or tea, starting tomorrow when I try to give up caffeine … again). I read or write. Or I think about the day ahead. And, I set my intentions for myself.
I walk. By myself. My goal is 20 miles per week. Outdoors. I stop to photograph things that catch my eye – a butterfly, a heron, a newly blossomed wildflower, a dog chasing ducks in the river, leaves falling off the trees.
I carve. Where I used to multitask, I now carve. One thing at a time, one day at a time. I carve out time for the different things that need to be done – work, chores, food shopping, getting the kids where they need to be, helping with homework, etc. And, carving allows me to insert time for self-care – whether it’s that walk, working on my blog, reading, or relaxing with my husband after the kids go to bed.
I am authentic. What you see is what you get. No lies. No cover ups. No phony grin. My words are sincere. My actions are true. My smile is real. My laugh is not forced. Whether or not those around me appreciate any of this matters not. I am authentic for me and no one else.
I make mistakes. I goof. It happens. I don’t hide it. I don’t overcompensate to make up for it. My sober mistakes are a lot smaller than my drunken mistakes ever were and, because I am not impaired when I make them, it’s alright. No one is perfect.
I say I’m sorry. Because I am authentic and I make mistakes, I also apologize. I take ownership of everything I do, even when it turns out wrong.
Today, I can say I am truly happy. No, not every second of every day. I get mad and sad. But, I also get genuinely giddy when I think about my life and how full it is. What I used to drink to escape, I now embrace. It is a powerful feeling. And, it has changed everything for the better.
Parenting is overwhelming. But, it is not something to be survived. We survive bad things – heart attacks, car accidents, natural disasters, fires, assault – things we don’t plan for. But, even if we didn’t plan for it, parenting is something we chose. It’s not something that happened to us. Not a situation we need to “get through.”
Want to get happy? Step out of the survival zone and move into living mode. There’s an article that keeps popping up in my Facebook feed – it talks about how much wine we need to survive every back-to-school parenting situation. Even if parenthood was something to be survived, the right quantity of alcohol wouldn't be the tool. And, the sooner we change both these mindsets, the better off we are all going to be.
Yes. Parenting is hard. Nothing worth doing is easy. But, we only get to do this once. And, we’d be awfully foolish to wait to get happy until it’s all over. Self-care is one of the most grossly underrated parenting tools there is. But, it is a game changer. Figure out what makes you happy and create room for it. What an incredible opportunity we have to set the right example for our kiddos. What an impact our happiness can have on their lives.