I’ve turned into Miss Cranky Pants lately. Unsettled about my hands nudging me into early retirement from my massage therapy practice (see last month’s blog post). Not abundantly thrilled with the type of work involved in the first stages of supporting the baby sign language side of our business. Wondering if I made a wrong turn somewhere a while back because I’m feeling off course and finding it hard to be happy.
I’ve been blessed over the last 14 years to wake up every day loving what I do for work. I worked hard in the beginning stages of my massage therapy practice to build my client base but, after experiencing a few jobs in the corporate world, growing my business felt like play every day. And going to work was my retreat - especially after my boys were born. Soft music, dim lights, blissful quiet and peace not only for my clients but for me, too.
These days, I’m spending a good chunk of my time as program manager for the baby sign language side of Touch Blue Sky. The work isn’t awful by any stretch of the imagination: I manage my own time, get to come up with new ways to simplify and streamline processes, and eventually I will have more opportunity to contribute creatively to the next phase for the business.
But for right now, most of my time and energy is invested in supporting Bill’s dream, not mine. Many of my responsibilities involve just moving information around and it feels like work, not play. And now that I’m working at home, I’ve noticed that I’m not setting good boundaries and work is encroaching on my family time, personal time, and happy time. I find myself slipping back into old, unwelcome and unhelpful habits, like focusing on the negative, allowing work to become all consuming, telling myself that I’m too busy for the activities that create happiness - like dance class, hiking with girlfriends, Tai Chi, quality sleep habits, playtime with my husband and kids. I’ve become more and more mired in a mess of my own making.
My life coach, the supreme Christy Miller of Point Be Coaching, has been valiantly working to help me see the unhappiness that I'm creating all by myself with my story. And I'm sure that Christy has sometimes felt that coaching me is like singlehandedly trying to push a beached whale out of the wet sand and back into the deep blue ocean.
I’m well aware that finding my way back to happy means rolling back into the open sea, avoiding the undercurrent of urgency wrapped up in all that needs to be done, and finding the time to float. But when I feel resistant, cranky, and stuck, I just want to wallow in the shallow, silty water at the edge of what comes next.
Here’s the deal though: when you’re feeling like a beached whale, you have to actually DO something in order to move along.
How I feel these days reminds me of how I felt when the boys were little. I, like so many moms, put my well-being on hold when my children were born. My definition of what’s important changed radically — self-sacrifice became lodged at the core of what defined me as a good parent. I ended up on a very narrow dry stretch of sand, stuck and unhappy even though I had a long list that included everything I ever wanted: healthy, happy children, devoted husband, beautiful home, rewarding work… But I had so little time in my life when I could enjoy what I loved, discover what deepened my life, and define who I was separate from being a mom.
Mother Theresa said “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” I have learned that as mothers, we must do small things with great love for ourselves, first and foremost. When we are fulfilled, our joy, happiness, delight, and contentment spills out, surrounds, and envelops everyone around us, just as the salty water surrounds a swimmer as she dives under a wave and into the sea. We become the endless ocean of love.
“Think not lightly of good, saying, “It will come to me.”
Drop by drop is the water pot filled.
Likewise, the wise one, gathering it little by little,
fills oneself with good.”
Drop by drop
So what do you do when you are feeling so stuck because the self-sacrificing nature of motherhood has drained your energy and washed you to the shore? You remember to do a small thing for yourself filled with great love. Try this.
1. Make a list of 20 things that make you happy - or made you happy sometime in the past. If you have trouble thinking up a list (which is really normal based on the negativity bias built into our brains) go back to being an eight year old. What did you like to do then? What felt like love, delight, happiness? Tell the logical part of your brain to sit still and be quiet and let your ideas fill up the page.
2. Look at your list and pick just one thing.
3. With this one thing from your list, write down how this activity makes you feel when you remember doing it. For example, my just one thing from my list is dancing. When I dance, I feel energized, engaged, and happy in my body, mind, and soul. I am inspired when I listen to music that entices me to move. I like the sounds that my feet make when I tap dance. I feel creative when I think of tap routines for my favorite music.
What you can do in tiny chunks of time that will create those feelings? My kids are older and I now have time to consistently attend a tap class and a dance-y aerobics class weekly. When the boys were small, there was no way I could make it to class regularly, but I didn’t want to miss out on the good mood that dancing created for me. Even now, I want to have happy feet in and out of dance class. So here’s what I did (and still do) to invite in the tide:
• I put on good music when I cook and dance back and forth between counter, stove, oven, and refrigerator. (Yes, it’s quite a show and Pandora is awesome.)
• I download tap routine music and practice in the kitchen.
• I tap dance while waiting for my tea to warm up in the microwave.
• When the boys were babies, I would hold one of my sons in my arms and dance around the living room. Once they were bigger, we’d have a dance party with the whole family jumping and wiggling around. They’re way too easily embarrassed for that kind of thing now but my memories still make me happy.
So if you like to create art, figure out what it is about art that fulfills you. Is it playing with color? Is it seeing the vision in your head come alive on paper? Can you find a corner of your house to set up your materials so that you play with your passion just a little bit every day? If your kids are older, can you create art with them? (Go to The Artful Parent website for ideas.) When the kids are napping, can you go online and appreciate beautiful art? Or perhaps plan your next date around a gallery opening or an evening at a local museum? Even a drop of art, no matter how small, fills you with good.
4. Do those things from #3. Regularly. Add more activities as new ideas come up. Stop doing the things that don’t bring in the tide. If you start feeling stuck again, pick a new activity from your list and start fresh.
Each day, the tide brings in the good and as Rilke writes, “takes hold of even the smallest thing and pulls it toward the heart of the world.” Each day, go to the heart of your world to nourish yourself so that your love will spill and splash on everyone around you, like great big sprays from the happy slap of a whale’s tail.
Like the idea of inviting the happy tide but need a little nudge to get rolling? I’d like to help. I offer a free 30-minute sample session to help moms figure out next steps to creating full, happy lives. I hate to sell so there won’t be a sales pitch anywhere in our conversation. I promise. Fill out this form or send me an email so that we can get started. I hope to talk with you soon - Kathleen
I'm a mother of two incredible boys, wife to Bill White of Happy Baby Signs, author of the books The Well-Crafted Mom and Signs of a Happy Baby, and an intuitive life coach. I like to blog about my adventures with my family and the life lessons I'm learning along the way. I hope you'll join me on this journey.
Check out our past newsletters by clicking the link below.