An Excerpt from Living a Joyful Life as a Mom and Wife by Tiffany Tyndall — The Entirety of 4. Maintain One Degree of Separation

On the days when it is hard, like when everything is irritating and there are no moments of real relief, what helps me cling to my joy in motherhood and housewife-ing is to consciously take a mental and emotional step back (so, a figurative one, not a literal backwards step) while a child is talking or when I’m in the middle of completing a task like responding to crying or cleaning up a spill or cleaning a bathroom.  This has been one of the top ways I can quickly regain my perspective without going through the long drawn-out process of trudging along without my joy and then having to recover from being in a down or less-than-pleasant mood.

This happened today where there was a very clear choice to “lose” my joy as it’s said or to hold on to it despite all else.   (I – and we all – still have a choice every day and even every moment of whether or not we are going to go with the flow of our negative emotions and the external factors that can often trigger the negative emotions or if we are going to find a reason to have positive emotions, allow ourselves to feel them, and then ride their wave so that the externals become completely irrelevant to how we are choosing to feel.)

To dissect this thought, emotions are fickle, yes, and joy is more of a deep, constant abiding of contentment, not necessarily an “emotion,” yes, but – and hang with me here – a huge key of all of this if you are in the middle of struggling with the joyful part of taking care or your children, home, and husband is to learn to recognize the coming and going of your emotions.  Capitalize on their ability to ebb and flow (while minimizing the push-and-pull effect of their fickleness) in your life by rejecting the negative emotions and receiving in full the positive ones.  You can decide how you are going to feel; you don’t have to be at the mercy of whatever floats your way.  That goes with thoughts, too.  Keep (and make) the positive ones; reject outright (and work to prevent) the negative ones.

Joy is deeper than happiness and abides even during sadness, but that doesn’t mean that joy never feels like happiness.  Joy is the happiest happiness.  It’s the highest of highs, what we’re all essentially seeking in life: to enjoy ourselves.  I’m still resisting the urge to make a list of quick and easy tips that work, but I’d like to throw something your way.  If you find it difficult to come up with a reason to be in a “good mood,” try making a list as fast as you can of all the things that you’re glad about.  It might feel a bit sarcastic at first, but that’s okay because the point is to write – not to have the right answers (because no one is going to read it except you).

Write, “I’m glad that,” and then fill in the blank.  Repeat until you fill up a page.  Your list might start off with, “I’m glad that I don’t have a cold today,” and it might end with, “I’m glad that I have the freedom to create my own schedule and routine during the day and night.”  We all know that there will be catches, like the fact that you’ll probably have a cold tomorrow because that’s just how it works when you have kids.  For every day that you are well, you’ll have three more that you aren’t.  That is just how it is, but all the more reason to put it on your list because today you are not sick.

And with the other one, I don’t even have to say it.  What’s a schedule?  What’s a routine?  As soon as we put either one into place, we are reminded so fast that kids and real time don’t jive.  You just got to do everything on kid time and do the best you can to get the stuff done on your list whenever you can, even if you’ll be catching up for the next fifty years (which really isn’t that long in the grand scheme of things).

Even though you’ll be tempted to morph this list into a “reasons why this gig is depressing,” try your best to stay focused on the positives.  If you don’t, then there’s nothing really stopping you from slinking into the renowned depression that stay-at-home moms and housewives are susceptible to.  Staying positive will prevent depression from sneaking in and will protect you from its long-term effects if you are already feeling depressed.  (Obviously, if your depression is debilitating and is restricting your ability to function relatively regularly, then seek the professional help you need to get well.  Stuff like “staying positive” and “reward yourself with soda and chocolate” won’t heal your deep down pain.)

So going way back to taking a step back from situations that are irritating, doing exactly (figuratively) that will put you right back into reality so that you don’t get caught up in the irritating-ness of whatever it is that is going on.  Envision yourself watching yourself (I know, sounds weird) in the moment.  Observe yourself in your imagination, and notice all the things that you are doing kindly and generously.  Watch yourself as you listen to your child tell you something.  Notice how you give your full attention to him as you wait patiently for him to finish.  Did you hear how you said something nice to him about what he said to you?  See him smile?  Isn’t that the best?  He’s grown up so much, hasn’t he?  What a precious boy.  What a privilege it is to raise him.  (The irritation you felt at first might still be there, but now you also have a good feeling, which balances it out.)

Pick a situation that might qualify as irritating: the jug of juice just fell out of the refrigerator and busted as it hit the ground.  Yep, there’s juice everywhere (the color is purple, in case it helps you to visualize).  Oh, how tempting it is to let yourself lose it during times like these because the inconvenience of the matter is so evident.  But look: lose it if you want, but it’s a waste of time.  The amount of effort it takes to allow yourself to get worked up over things like this (and then to actually be worked up over it plus the time necessary to de-escalate yourself) is more than the amount of effort it would take to just clean it up without the fuss.  Work smarter not harder.

What if this is hard for you?  What if you feel like you just can’t help it?  Like over-reacting to things is just how you are?  What if you don’t want to choose to stay calm and want instead to justify all the ugly stuff that comes out of us when we do the kind of stuff that we do all day long, day after day?  To that, I would say that maybe there’s unfinished business in your life.  Motherhood (and parenthood in general) is like a mirror into yourself.  You see who you were as a child, you see your parents, you see yourself as the parent now, and whatever issues that were there (and still might be there) come front and center.

We, as parents, have the unique ability to deal with our issues head on.  We can’t bury ourselves in work anymore or in our extra-curricular activities as a way to avoid knowing our real self and working to recover from injury to our personhood, whether affected as a child or later in life.  (Well, we can keep the work and extra-curriculars on high octane mode, but then what about our relationship with our child?)

As we strive to be effective parents to our children, the topic of our own childhood and growing up years will often come up in our mind.  If there is unfinished business, make it a priority to finish it, however that makes sense for you.  And then take steps to be a healthier you all around.  What a gift it is to a child to have a parent – and a stay-at-home mom at that – who is becoming her best self.  This is an inside job where the deep recesses of your soul come to light.  No stone unturned.  If you do this, it might be the scariest (and hardest) thing you’ve ever done, but you will come out of it stronger and better positioned to take on the stuff you encounter in the present, such as spilled juice.

Living a Joyful Life as a Mom and Wife by Tiffany Tyndall is available for purchase here.

This writing is also included in Loved: Writings on Motherhood and Caregiving, a collection of reflective and expository writings by Tiffany Tyndall.

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