Do you know how much joy weighs? Those are the words I sent in a text to my husband on Mother’s Day. Next I sent a photo of our infant son sleeping peacefully with the answer to the question I had just posed, “About 18 pounds.” Then I was struck by something. Mother’s Day 2019 was filled with joy and a sense of fulfillment, but my outlook just one year ago was much different. I wondered to myself: How did I get here from there?
Let me take you back a year to my starting point. I cried my way through Mother’s Day 2018. I was in the midst of a family conflict that’s much too personal to write about here. Suffice it to say that I was devastated and reeling from that being the third event that turned my world upside down in as many months. I was in a dark period in my life, but sadly I wasn’t even at my depths. A bitter custody battle, my father’s cancer diagnosis, and a traumatic birth experience were still on my horizon, though I didn’t know it yet.
In short, 2018 was the most difficult year of my life. For most of that time, I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, so that joy-filled text to my husband surprised me. I hadn’t even noticed the darkness dissipating.
As an aside, I will say that I am not a mental health professional. For those with mental health issues, there is no substitute for therapy with a qualified individual. There are countless others of us, though, who struggle to maintain equilibrium in a world of demanding schedules and events outside of our control. For those, I will share how I came to find joy in the chaos that is my life.
- As a caregiver, I am not comfortable with accepting help, but I had to admit to myself that help was in order. I faced six life-changing events in 2018, and I recognized that anyone would have difficulty in the face of such challenge. Rather than feel defeated by them, I decided to work with a counselor who is helping me to sort through the complex emotions that accompany life’s challenging moments.
- I had to regain a sense of myself. Before my youngest child was born, I put countless miles on my bike, in the pool, and on my running shoes. My exercise time helped me to define myself outside of my roles of wife and mother, but my pregnancy with Miles was difficult. I watched my fitness and my figure vanish during those months of nurturing a new life inside me. After Miles was born, I was so out of shape that I didn’t even know where to begin exercising. My weight and lack of fitness was as embarrassing to me was it was depressing, but my gym offers something enticing—free childcare. It took me nearly five months to develop enough courage to go to the gym, but now I drop Miles off to play in the kids’ room while I take 30 minutes to myself. This brief break from my mom duties is enough to help me decompress and feel a little bit like myself again.
- My husband and I are making an effort to reconnect with one another. If you have even one child, you know that the demands of parenting can make finding time with your spouse difficult. My husband and I have six kids! We had weeks pass when we didn’t spend five minutes alone together. Perhaps some people are content without adult time, but that’s not a recipe for happiness in our home. Even if we have to wake up at dawn on a Saturday in order to spend time alone together, that’s what we do. A sense of peace between us as the parents sets the tone for the whole household, so our children also benefit from us prioritizing our relationship.
- I am reconnecting with my children. Dating my husband is important, but my children need quality time too. I’m a total type-A personality. I love nothing more than a color-coded to do list, but my quest for order in my hectic life was causing me to leave out the things that cause me joy. Before I started to seek happiness in my life, I would not take time off from my duties. I can’t get everything done, I told myself, so how can I afford a break? My new outlook is: I’ll never get everything done, so I might as well enjoy a break. While it’s challenging to find activities that all of our children enjoy, we have managed to go canoeing, see a movie, go to the beach, have a cookout, play board games, and more. The joy I experience in connecting with my children far exceeds the contentedness I would have if my house were perfectly in order. I need joy in my relationships with my children every bit as much as I need happiness in my marriage.
I’ve been working toward regaining a sense of contentment in my life since early this year. There are still hard days, but they are fewer and farther between. Fortunately, the joy I experience most days carries me so that my stressful days don’t seem so overwhelming. In the midst of mothering and circumstances beyond my control, I have found happiness. If you are in a time in your life where contentment seems unreachable, I encourage you to be introspective about what brings you joy and then be deliberate about doing those things. Your recipe for equilibrium may look completely different from mine, but I am convinced that joy comes to those who seek it.