At the end of the month of October I found myself struggling with frustration, discouragement, impatience and low self-esteem. It had gotten to the point where it was a daily thing that bogged me down and I wondered if I was struggling with some postpartum depression since I’d struggled with it a little after each of my other babies. It was different this time, though. I didn’t live in a dark cloud, I was just unhappy. Grumpy. And I yelled a LOT. I was not having a good time being a mom, let’s say. I talked to my doctor about it and as we explored the option for professional help I resolved to first try a few things to avoid triggers before I started any medication while nursing (which I did not want to do). Thus, #AJoyDaily on Instagram was born.
I’d gotten into the silly habit of sort of half-smiling on Instagram, thinking it was more flattering on my chubby cheeks than a full smile. I have some insecurities about my smiling face (that only I would notice or care about, of course) and while I have always considered myself a joyful person for the most part, I don’t think it read in my feed. So in my efforts to seek out more joy and avoid triggers that were discouraging me as a new mom of three, I dedicated the month of November to #ajoydaily where I posted one picture on Instagram each day of a full-on smile coming from joy I was feeling. It made me have to find at least one thing that brought me joy in each day, and it ended up teaching me a lot about myself as a mother and how I can have more joy in my daily living.
The first thing it taught me was that the things I was insecure about with my smiling face actually make it more beautiful. I’ve come to prefer my big hammy grin now over my little pursed-lipped smirk that kept my cheeks in line. I find myself smiling a lot more since starting this project. I love it! I don’t hold back! And this amazing thing happens when I smile–I feel something ever so slightly start to bubble in my heart, even when I’m just forcing myself to smile without feeling the genuine happiness. The bubbles get bigger and my heart gets softer and the smile comes to create the happiness itself.
The next thing I learned was that my children are holy beings. This realization didn’t exactly come as a direct result of the #ajoydaily project, but it happened in November and I strongly believe it came to a softened heart that was prepared by this project. One night I was just done. DONE DONE DONE. I had yelled all day, I had cried several times, I just wanted to be alone. I finally got all the babies down for the night by myself (John was on campus until super late and I was single-momming it) and then practically flew into my bed and stretched all my limbs out as far as they could and was ready to relax. But then I had the distinct impression to go pray over my sleeping children. I fought it for a moment, wanting to just fall asleep in my big fluffy kingsize, but then finally listened and headed into the nursery. It was quiet, dark, and messy. And there were my sweet sleeping babies. So innocent in their dreaming. So still. I started with Charlie. I knelt over him in his little bed, kissed his eyes and lips and began to pray to my Father in Heaven. I didn’t have anything in mind to say, I sort of just waited for the words to come. I definitely asked for forgiveness, I remember that. But everything else I said was sort of generic, I guess. Until a phrase came out that didn’t come from my brain: “Please help me treat my babies as holy beings.” That has changed the way I approach my babies as their mom.
The next thing I learned through this project was that I have been relying on the behavior of my tiny babies to determine my level of happiness. They’re naughty, they’re loud, they fight–I’m ORNERY. Which means I’m ornery all the time because they are TINY BABIES. I’ve realized, though, that if I am first happy, their behavior is a reflection of it. It’s so easy to be a grumpy mom, believe me. It is definitely the easiest type of mom to be. But it’s the least fun for everyone involved. And that is how it is when mothers depend on their babies’ behavior to determine their level of happiness. So while it isn’t easy to first be happy and then respond as a mother, it is the holier calling and the challenge for all of us as mothers. So of course I still fail at this, but I try so much harder now to elevate my behavior first. It helps my babies’ behavior so much and sure makes things easier in the long run.
The last thing I learned through the #ajoydaily project was that I actually am a good mom. Part of the discouragement and self-esteem problems I mentioned above were a result of feeling like I was failing my babies. People would try to console me and say, “You are doing so much better than you think you are!” But I would immediately think, “You really don’t know how bad I’m doing, though! Even if I am, I’m doing bad enough that it’s still really, really bad!” I felt completely unfulfilled as a mother of three. Yes, I had this amazing infant who was the saving grace in my life, but I felt like all I did with the other two babies was stick them in front of the television, yell at them, and be annoyed that they needed me. I was on the verge of tears to a great friend as I was explaining to her how bad of a mom I felt like. She smiled her soft smile, looked me in the eyes and said, “You are a good mom. You just need a break.” MUSIC TO MY EARS. I finally realized what was making me feel so inadequate—never getting a chance to recharge! Like, EVER! You can be sure that has been remedied, and it has made such a difference. Even the best of moms needs a break!!
But then there’s this gnawing question in my mind, “Well, what makes a mom a good mom?” This is something I’ve pondered and explored and discussed for years. I’ve never been able to pin it down in a way that puts my heart at ease. I’ve wanted to be able to identify something I can measure so I can really know how I’m doing on the “good mom” scale. Well, #ajoydaily has helped me realize what I expect from myself to be a good mom! I was talking with my dad one evening and was explaining to him how bad of a mom I felt like I was and he casually said something along the lines of, “You are a great mom, you teach your kids the Gospel.” And guess what! I do!! So I am!! I finally feel good about measuring how good of a mom I am based off of how well I teach my babies what I believe to be good and true. I may fail in so many other ways, but in comparison to how important it is to me to teach them about Jesus’ love and how hard I work to do so, those things don’t disqualify me in the slightest. This helps me be more merciful with myself, which every mom could use a little of.
So, to recap the lessons I learned from this project:
-You are beautiful.
-Your children are holy.
-Relying on your children’s behavior for your happiness will leave you ornery. Choose first to be happy and then respond to your children’s behavior.
-Every mom needs a break.
-Being a good mom means you teach your children what you believe to be good and true.
The photos you’ve been looking at here today are some of my favorites from the #ajoydaily series over on my Instagram. I had no idea this project would be as fulfilling and as educating and uplifting as it has been. I mean, I am literally a new mother now. I approach each day with excitement again. I know what my frustration triggers are and how to manage them. Each of these lessons is a direct gift from a loving Father in Heaven to a desperate mom who wants to show up for her kids, and now I feel like I have the skills and heart to be able to do so. Please do yourself a favor and do your own #ajoydaily project. Who knows how it could change your life for the better?