SingaporeMotherhood | Parenting
“How Can I Be a Happy Mother When I’m Always Tired?”
Some time back, someone asked me, “Junia, are you happy?” I kept quiet because it would not look good to admit that I wasn’t. Yet my heart said NO. It was not just my honest answer in that moment, but happiness seemed a distant memory. I could not remember the last time I was truly happy.
I sat down for an honest conversation with myself. It was obvious, even to myself, that I was not happy.
Because I felt irritated at the sound of my children’s laughter when they were supposed to be in bed. “Sleep NOW!” I’d yell.
Because I woke up with a list of chores on my mind and if any of the children failed to meet my expectations, I would inwardly fume. And the outward explosions were increasing.
It was easy to smile for the camera or when I was among friends. Yet that was not a true representation of the emotions raging within. How could I be happy when I was exhausted all the time?
Tune Into the Truth
I got out pen and paper, found a quiet spot, and ‘tuned in’. My heart knew the truth and it was time for me to listen. Putting my hand on my heart, I quietly asked myself: “How do you feel?”
The answers came swiftly — sad, tired, distant, worried, anxious, guilty, scared.
The simple act of writing down the uncensored answers was powerfully therapeutic. It felt so good to acknowledge these bottled-up emotions. By tuning in to the authentic me, I felt free! I did not need to hide behind a smiling face anymore. And in daring to express my inner emotions, I found access to a happy consciousness.
Everything clicked into place. It was no wonder I was a walking timebomb. My face looked stern. My neck was tight from all the tension, and I could not remember the last time I laughed out loud.
It dawned on me that I was not consciously choosing to be happy. I was a zombified mum who was busy doing too much and inwardly growing resentful. After all, it was impossible to revel in my children’s laughter when it contrasted with my feelings inside. “How dare they be happy while I am miserable?” — said the unconscious resentment I didn’t know I felt.
I looked up the definition of ‘happy’ — feeling pleasure or contentment. My gosh, it had been a long time since I experienced pleasure. And I was definitely not content because there was a long mental list of things that weren’t meeting my expectations.
It was time to develop a happy consciousness and let that become my default state of mind. As opposed to being an anxious, busy, stern, and grumpy stooge. I was done with feeling yucky.
(See also: Do you have Parental Burnout?)
Develop a Happy Consciousness
First, I started generating a list of things that make me smile. I asked myself to complete the statement: “I would like…”
- to sleep for hours undisturbed to catch up on much-needed ‘beauty sleep’
- to have a mochaccino all to myself without sharing a sip with anyone!
- a massage for those tight knots
- to connect with my husband instead of disagreeing
- to laugh with the family till tears fell from my eyes
- a holiday even if it’s just to JB
As I scrawled an uncensored list of what brings me pleasure, I connected with simple things I had been depriving myself of. Being mothers, our automatic tendency is to focus our energies on others. As a result, we forget that we have needs too. And that it is necessary to ensure our own needs are met.
Necessary is the key word because at the exhausted point I was at, there was no way I was a blessing to my family. I was saying unkind words, shouting at everyone, and generally such a killjoy. I was so starved of happiness that I needed a speedy and immediate top-up.
So, I boldly decided to schedule time to do everything on my list within a week. Why wait? It felt like a gigantic springboard was waiting to catapult me into a universe of happiness. Plus, it was a reminder that it was fine to indulge in all these. Because I’m so worth it!
What brings you pleasure? Give yourself permission to write down what comes to mind, and then carry them out. If you haven’t practised being kind to yourself, it’s no wonder you haven’t been generous to others. The person who denies themselves pleasure will naturally resent giving pleasure to others.
10 Things I Love About Life
Now that I managed to hotwire my emotions into a more pleasurable state, I created a maintenance programme. This was to ensure I didn’t fall back into being Oscar the Grouch.
I call it my 10 Thank Yous. It’s a simple habit that takes barely a minute every morning and every night.
As soon as I awake, I start each day by stating 10 things I am grateful to the universe for. While still in bed, I say: “Thank you for…”
- this comfortable bed
- the cool morning breeze
- my good health
- the money in my bank account
- five amazing children to learn from…
Try it! And as you say what comes to mind, take time to feel the joy each item brings to you. By the time you reach the toilet, you will be smiling because that’s what contentment is. Truly appreciating — not with our heads, but with our hearts — what we have.
End your day with the same practice. Because if we are to have six to eight hours of unconsciousness, it might as well be headed towards something pleasant. It doesn’t matter even if you drift off at item number six. The point isn’t to list all 10 things, but to slow down and delight in what we have.
Drive Towards Happiness
The final step is to pass it on. Make someone else’s day better, and the best place to start is with family.
I’ve since formed the habit of greeting each of my kids with a cheery “Good morning, my beautiful Niel, my gorgeous Ling, my amazing Bel!”
Customising an adjective for each person brings happy consciousness to the fore. Each child personally experiences how a deliberate choice of words can have such a positive — or negative — impact.
And if you’re up to it, give each a tight hug. Loving touches release oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that creates an instant positive connection. Even if for only five seconds, take time to breathe in their shampooed hair in those precious moments.
Continue to consciously extend feelings of joy beyond the home through simple acts of generosity. It could be a kind word of appreciation to a neighbour, a small gift from your decluttering exercise, or a genuine smile to a stranger.
Once, I gave a gardener near my place a pack of instant noodles and was amazed at how I felt as I walked away. It was a variety no one at home liked, but he was so appreciative. Not letting it go to waste was heartening too. It is truly a blessing to be a blessing!
As social beings, we forget the power of connection. It truly lifts our spirits! When did you last meet up with a friend, or called or sent a text to ask they’re doing? The positive vibes from a connection is worth the effort! And you never know — the other person could need that call as much as you.
Today, it’s clear to me. Happiness is a choice. Since we are in the driver’s seat of our emotions, why not drive towards happiness?
Happiness is Contagious
The truth is we infect the people around us with whatever emotions are bubbling within. It’s futile to even try to hide it. We are all connected at more than just a physical level. We ‘spidey-sense’ one another’s emotions and vibrate the same frequency back.
So, now when my daughter comes home tired, I greet her with a smile, hug, and cold drink. She perks up because I have successfully interrupted her ‘tired frequency’ with a loving one. She begins to get in touch with her own loving vibrations and reflects it through a smile, a hug, and chatter about how her bus ride home was.
Since our family is going to catch something from us, why not let it be something positive? No, not Covid, but something actually worth catching!
Then teach your children to do the same. Here are the three steps:
#1 – Keep a list of what makes you smile — to refer to in times of unhappiness
#2 – Practise being grateful every morning and night — to keep your heart young and in awe
#3 – Bless someone, even and especially if you’re not ‘in the mood’ — to connect with others is a ticket to the universe of happiness
Right now, with your hand on your heart, ask yourself: “Are you happy?”
Author of “The Naked Parent”, founder of Mum Space, and mother to five amazing children, Junia is a respected thought-leader in the parenting space. Recognised for empowering parents and kids with her 21st-century parenting model for over a decade, she now brings her ‘Modern Asian Mother’ expertise and experience to this exclusive SingaporeMotherhood column.
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