I have been a mom for 15.5 years. I have 3 beautiful, energetic and healthy children, 1 ex-husband, and an infinite amount of stuff to do (on any given day). I am tired. I am over-scheduled, under-rested, and knee-deep in laundry. I wake up at 5:30 a.m. each morning and lay my head on the pillow around 10:45 p.m each night. The 17 hours in between? I am constantly doing for others. I am finding socks and packing lunches, working hard for my money, bringing home the bacon AND frying it up in a pan. I am a taxi driver, a nurse, a teacher, a cook, a housecleaner and a hairdresser. On the rare occasion when I have an extra $50, I immediately ask what it is my kids need most — whose sneakers have holes in them? Which daughter is ready for a new sports bra or a long-overdue haircut?
Being a mom is hard work no matter what; it is hard, freaking work. It doesn’t matter if you are a mom with a spouse; it doesn’t matter if you are a single mom or a widowed mom. It doesn’t matter if you are a divorced mom with a deadbeat ex-husband or a divorced mom with a picture-perfect, amicable divorce. Rich mom, poor mom, fat mom, or skinny mom, anyway you slice it, being a mom is hard work. You want to know why? Because 99.99% of the time, us moms are thinking of everyone else before ourselves. We put the oxygen masks on our kids first despite all of the warnings to do otherwise. We spend on them, we provide for them and we choose their happiness over our own every chance we get and that, my fellow mom-friends, is exhausting.
In the almost 16 years that I have been a mom, I have failed often and I have succeeded more often (I hope); I have said sorry more than I care to admit; and I have learned the most valuable lessons through the pain of regret and guilt. I have done the best I can in both the best and worst of times and here is what I have learned:
Gratitude is the key to happiness.
I can focus on the haves or the have-nots: it is up to me to choose. For the longest time, I choose to focus on all that I didn’t have but so desperately wanted. I wanted a bigger home and an even bigger bank account. I wanted a husband and a book deal and a size 4 body complete with a designer wardrobe, and I just knew I deserved it all.
I was miserable. I was so focused on all of the things I didn’t have that I was missing out on the blessings right in front of me: the health of me and my children, enough money to pay my bills, a home, a job, my sobriety and love all around me. Somewhere in the world, someone is wishing for those exact things — a healthy child (I have 3), a home, a job. These are all things I myself wished for one day. Why was I taking these things for granted? When had I become so greedy? It was no way to live. So through the pain of living in jealousy and greed, I learned.
I practiced gratitude. I made a list every morning and I read it often throughout the day. I started to say thank you — to God, to the universe and to the people who made my life amazing and wonderful — including my precious children. Suddenly, I became happy with my thrift store clothes, my old car, and my size 8 jeans because I chose gratitude and I continue to choose gratitude every day.
Self-care is not promised.
Self-care is not built-in to the busy schedule of a mom (or any caregiver for that matter). There is no guarantee that we will get that downtime each day; and even when we schedule it by means of a manicure or an hour at the gym, life has a way of interrupting those plans — kids twist ankles or get sick, work requires longer hours, you name it, we have to roll with it and skip the nurturance we had been looking forward to. And so motherhood has taught me to be creative with self-care. Sometimes self-care is binge-watching Netflix while the kids play outside. Sometimes it is telling the kids they are missing soccer practice because mom just can’t be a taxi driver tonight. Self-care can be leaving the dishes in the sink overnight or turning the cell phone off. I must always build a little self-care into my day and never, ever apologize for it, because it does, after all, make me a better mom. My most recent indulgence? Relaxing under my weighted Gravity Blanket, which makes me feel like I am nestled in a safe, warm cocoon of comfort and helps me sleep like a teenager on a Sunday morning.
Yes, sometimes, a blanket alone is one giant serving of self-care.
I never regret not yelling.
Patience is a virtue. It is a virtue that I do not have. I was not granted the patience gene when I was born, and thus I am prone to yelling, snapping, barking orders or perhaps simply speaking in a louder-than-necessary- voice. For many, many years, I yelled. I snapped. I screamed. I ordered and I guilted my kids into doing the “right” thing. I was constantly full of guilt, too. I lived with regret every day. Every time I yelled, I regretted it almost immediately. But I kept doing it. It was in my nature for whatever reason. Lucking, guilt freaking sucks. It feels awful. The knot in the stomach, the pounding heart, and the play-by-play of my actions haunted me and made me feel like the world’s crappiest mom ever. Slowly, I learned new ways of communicating with my children. I talked to my friends about it. I owned it. I accepted that my way was wrong. I admitted that I needed to change, and then I started to change. I would walk away when I felt myself starting to grow angry or annoyed. I learned to take deep breaths, to text a friend first, or to simply practice the pause by waiting before reacting. I begin envisioning the guilt and regret before it set in and slowly, I have grown more patient. Do I still yell? Yes, on occasion, I do. Of course I do because I am not perfect. I am, however, better. Better and still learning.
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My kids are always watching (and learning).
My kids are watching my behaviors and learning how to navigate this world based on my actions. They are always watching and always learning. If I say please, they will say please. If I tidy up my bedroom, they will learn to tidy up theirs, too. If I put on a napkin on my lap, they, too, will learn the habit. This is not exclusive to toddlers. Teenagers are watching and learning. I am 40 years old and I am still watching and learning from my own parents, so apparently this is a lifelong thing. I must always remember that I am a role model. Always and forever because it comes with the job. With that being said, one of the most important behaviors I can teach my children is to make mistakes. Make mistakes and own them. Make mistakes and say sorry. Make mistakes and be humble and remain teachable and be open to learning the valuable lesson in every hard lesson life throws at them.
And so, my tired moms, take on the day with a heart full of gratitude and look for the lessons that life has to offer- just for today. We are tired because we are constantly giving, constantly learning, and we are growing every day as we learn through our mistakes and the tough times. We are tired because we are invested and we are love. It is no easy task. Do the best you can and even when your best feels like it just isn’t enough, rest easy and know that somewhere in your crappy day, is a silver lining- you just have to find it.
Embrace the life of exhaustion, because the time will come when you are bored, well-rested and missing your children dearly.
This story originally appeared on Today Show Parenting Community