Thursday, May 27, 2010

On Happiness

I've been thinking lately about the importance of positivity. For me, taking control of my own happiness is the most critical part of the job as a stay-at-home parent. It's connected, somehow, to the life-shift from individual responsibility to mama-land - a whole different kettle of fish fingers.

A happy house is welcoming and warm. The people in it cheer when you walk through the door, and it pulses with it's own personality. Negative emotional energy is a terrible house-guest. As the one running the home-show, my mood can effect the tone of the family, for good and for bad.

Lots of things get in the way of positivity. Small people can be so frustrating, housework is endless, and life can be lonely. My body hurts. Keith has to travel. My family live too far away. Viruses keep arriving and things never turn out at 4pm as I had planned them at nine. But as John Lennon- or was it Jesus?- said, life is what happens when you're busy making other plans.

It occurs to me that becoming a resentful, put-upon mother is an easy path to start treading. There's a hell of a lot of boring, repetitive invisible work that goes into running the machine of a household, and having a good long whinge is so satisfying in the short-term. But raising kids is a job, with crappy parts like any other job. I'm working on turning my own dial to happy, avoiding the martyr trap, choosing not to do those motherhood mathematics of 'everybody else first.' Trying to find the Zen of the washing-up, as they say.

Here's where the theory gets attractive:

Mamas must- for the sake of the family - take agency over their own happiness. For some mothers, that fulfillment would be found in an office, or a sports team or an occasional visit to a gay sex club. (No judgement.)

For me, it involves a creative approach to homemaking that selectively ignores dust-pockets in favour of half-arsed projects. Wonky curtains. Clutter-buckets. Baking bread, not cleaning showers. Enthusiastically washing clothes and pathologically failing to put them away. It requires taking time alone to write, to soak my pains in the bath, to read and retreat into myself. Floors can go uncleaned and washing-up can breed, if I need to step out from my work when my bitter/contented dial is tipping into the red.

Not for the first time, I'm thankful to have a partner that appreciates me in full: the good, the bad, the ugly. When he's away, my work is intense; and when he get's home, I take time to be joyfully, fabulously lazy whenever I can. It's good for the pain that ails me, and it balances out the non-stop action that characterises life with two small people.Is it self-indulgent? Yes, it is. Do I feel guilty? Yes, I do. Have I suddenly begun speaking in the manner of Kevin Rudd? Yes, yes I have. (And I will stop.)

But, man, there will always be unsorted washing. Corners to sweep. Meals to freeze. There's not always a Daddy around to play Murder In The Dark while I read Grass Roots Magazine and eat chocolate. I'm not the perfect, industrious, creative and nurturing mothering machine I wish I was. I try my best, in bursts of enthusiasm, but in the final analysis, I'm kind of a lazy slattern.

So I'm choosing to embrace my need to step back and be lazy in order to recharge; so that when I'm back in the game I'm match fit for kissing, dancing, cleaning, crafting and cooking. Primed for fun.

If I'm happy, goes my theory, Keith's life is sweeter. The kids laugh more. The cheers are louder when anybody returns home. If there's a choice - and I'm increasingly convinced there is- between the negative path in everyday life and the positive one, I know which one I'm taking.

I choose Happy.


  1. I loved reading this one. Two points:
    1. I have it on good authority that I give the Best Cuddles Ever Were. Consider yours sent electronically.
    2. At the risk of sounding like a life coach: you are more awesome than you think you are.
    Now back to the happy. Off you go.

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And AMEN. You've articulated it precisely.

  3. yay rach...tim sharp at the happiness institute would love you. amen to this...and I seems really complicated and hard...but its a choice that can anchor us and call us back again and again. happiness is a choice we should especiall;y relook at this choice again and again in motherhood...thanks for sharing and you are an amazing mum, exactly as you are! lisaxo

  4. I am absolutely choosing happy! Thank you for putting it all into words, I've been feeling it - but not sure how to say it.

  5. Hi
    I have been reading for awhile and not yet contributed. Thank you for such a great read. As being very prone to negativity myself,having a young baby has made me so acutely aware of the effect of my mood on others. I have noticed moments when I am gripped by some overwhelming worry,mind racing,ruminating, and then pulled back to the moment by a warm happy dear baby face that so needs my love and to be there for them. All the best and here's to happiness and making each day memorable.

  6. I'm reminded me of a column I once read in the NY Times - a mother who forbid her (older) children to disturb her while she had her first coffee of the day and read the paper, on the grounds that 'in an emergency, fit your own oxygen mask first before assisting others'.

    For what it's worth, my mother is the classic martyr and it just made all of us neurotic! I reckon your kids will learn much more about living a good life from creativity, fun and flexibility than they ever would from living in a sterilised (and sterile) house.

    This is the approach I aspire to when/if I get lucky enough to become a mama.

  7. You're my favorite lazy slattern, though, and as ever, you've hit the nail smack on the head.

  8. spot on! you are not of the hardest struggles of a mum is getting this all right well actually not getting it all right but the process and realisation that you DONT HAVE TO GET IT ALL RIGHT

    I am being inarticulate - just wanted to say Amen! I agree! You are not alone and all that (sisterhood in the mothering blahs with all its highs and lows). PS Great book - You Sexy Mother by Jodie Hedley-Ward if you want to take a read. Very basic stuff really but a good attitude adjustment reminder. Oh and CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) seriously, you dont have be nuts to benefit from it - a lot of looking at your thought patterns and catching and challenging negative thinking. Uber powerful stuff (when you remember to do it/use it and not spiral in the blahs/whinges/woe is me;'s ....speaking from personal experience as a mum and psychologist pre-mum days). It is a moment by moment choice (happiness/contentment) and sometimes a daily getting back on the path. Another thing I cant reccomend enough is the idea of Gratitude lists. I know I know I used to think yeah cheesey but I have found it is a great turnaround of mood. Have you seen the 365 Days projects around the net/Flickr etc especially the one by Hayley someoneorathor (polaroid photos). May find it in a Google search. it featured in a Notebook mag I think too. Love and happiness. Oh one last thing I really think the best gift we can give our kids is A HAPPY FULFILLED MUM WHO ISNT PERFECT AND DOESNT TRY TO BE BUT IS HUMAN AND STRIVING FOR HAPPINESS x Much love x

  9. oh what an incoherent ramble my apologies just wanted to get my thoughts out in a spare moment and say HEY! I GET IT

  10. You know, most times I leave this space feeling warm and fuzzy with sore cheeks from laughing. But everyone now and then you just grab right at the heart don't ya?

    This was beautifully written, and coincidentally just what I needed to read. Thank you. xx

  11. What a great post! And exactly what I needed to hear today

  12. So good to read this. I'm trying to choose happy too, and it's there to be found in all the little moments. Even just one or two of those moments can change my whole day.

    btw: I laughed at whether that quote was from Lennon, or Jesus! I always get them mixed up too - must be the beards...

    Lovely post.

  13. So well put. So true. At risk of sounding like I am at work i am a big beleiver of this concept:
    it is not the events in our lives that make us happy or sad- it is the way we interpret them... so yes, it can be monotonous and boring but I often remind myself- "this is what you have always wanted, a beauitful child, a happy husband and a lovely home so snap out of it and remember how good you have it!"

    when you write about stuff like this I want to file it away forever and remember it because it really does make me feel so much better about mothering.


Thanks for talking to me. I don't got cooties. Oh, except for when I got cooties.