“Make Yourself Happy”

I have long been a fan of Meagan Francis and her blog, The Happiest Mom, where she dishes on juggling life as a working mom of five (!) and dispenses advice on staying sane while doing it.  So I was thrilled when Meagan teamed up with the editorial team at Parenting magazine to bring her wisdom to book form in The Happiest Mom: 10 Secrets to Enjoying Motherhood.  (I was also delighted that Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness, the first pick of the Motherese Book Club, penned the introduction to Meagan’s book: what a beautiful, big, small bloggy world!)

Meagan’s book is chock full of practical tips on becoming happier through motherhood.  Her writing is breezy and fun and the book feels much more like a coffee date with a mom friend than a heavy-handed parenting manual.  I especially enjoyed Meagan’s clever quizzes that helped me quickly realize certain tendencies – some good, some, eh, not-so-good – I have when taking care of my kids.

But even though The Happiest Mom is certainly a book about being a mom, the biggest lesson I learned from it was about being a partner to my husband.

Each chapter of the book – with upbeat titles like “Aim Low, and Go Slow” and “Find Your Tribe” – could stand on its own and Meagan advises early on to head first to the chapter that addresses your biggest concern as a mom.

My choice?  Chapter 10, “Love Your Love Life.”

I read The Happiest Mom when Baby Sister was a newborn, sneaking in chapters during those quiet moments after I laid her in her crib and wondered if she would really stay asleep or would wake up again the moment I tiptoed out of the room.

All things considered, I was a happy mom.  I was out of the hospital after a nearly month-long stay that had capped off a challenging pregnancy.  I felt like Husband and I were doing a good job of making the boys feel loved in spite of this new creature who was taking so much of our time and energy.  I was tired, but I was okay, still feeling the benefits of my then latent Happiness Project.

But, it occurred to me, one part of my life that felt a little out of whack was my relationship with Husband who, with the demands of my pregnancy, my hospitalization, and life with a newborn, toddler, and preschooler, felt most days more like a co-worker (fellow soldier in the trenches?) than the love of my life.

I wasn’t spending much time thinking about all of the ways in which I’m lucky to have a husband who is really a partner in this parenting gig.  And I was certainly starting to hold onto some of those little creeping grudges: “He gets to go to work everyday while I’m here taking care of the kids and the house.”  “He’s sound asleep and I’m up feeding the baby.  Again.”  “He gets to pee with the bathroom door closed.”

But then Meagan spoke some words I really needed to hear:

One of my biggest mistakes in Marriage 1.0 was waiting for my husband to make me happy.  Whatever I wanted – whether it was a social life, financial security, or a break from the kids – I expected him to “give” it to me…

It took me a while, but I finally learned that if I really wanted something, I had to take responsibility for getting it or at least asking for it directly, without hinting around.

Characteristic of the simple wisdom she offers through the book, Meagan cut to the heart of a problem that I suspect plagues many relationships (especially ones with kids) and one that I can certainly cop to: I am definitely guilty of playing the martyr, of making passive-aggressive comments, of not taking responsibility for my own happiness.  And I was grateful to Meagan for the wake-up call that – even with three under four at home with me – I need to speak up and ask for the things that I need to keep my head, keep my cool, and be happy.

So what are those things? Time to write, help with childcare, time alone with Husband, one-on-one time with each of the kids (preferably not in the middle of the night due to the croup), and lots and lots of coffee.  🙂

Are you good about asking for what you need?

Disclosure: Meagan provided me with a review copy of her book, but the opinions expressed here are my own.

29 responses to ““Make Yourself Happy”

  1. Yup, this totally resonates for me as well. Way too much passive-aggressiveness on my end for all sorts of things, but mostly kid-related, chores etc. (e.g. why am I the one to put away the milk and breakfast materials every morning? etc. etc.)

    I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot vis career/money/financial security lately and realizing that rather than waiting for hubby to sort out what he wants from his professional life, I need to do this for myself. The two don’t have to be sequenced – i.e. he figures it out and then I do. Rather, I can go ahead and ponder what I want professionally and try to act on that NOW. (He is totally on board with this, BTW.) I think that figuring out what you need is key and takes the pressure off of both of you b/c you are acting and s/he doesn’t feel as much of a need to be the prime mover vis HH decision-making. Thanks for this-glad to see you back and busier than ever! (I marvel, honestly…)

    Delia Lloyd

    • Thanks, Delia. It’s nice to be back.

      And your comment resonates for me as it relates to issues of career and financial security. We moved to a rural area for my husband’s job when I was pregnant with my oldest. I’m content to be at home with my little ones now – while trying to do as much writing as I can – but I do think about the near future when our location will hinder some of my career aspirations. And I tend to assume that we’re “stuck” here as long as he has the job he has. But whenever I express my concerns, he’s quick to remind me that a big city is only an hour away and that he’s more than willing to commute if a move would help me professionally and give our kids a chance to attend better schools. The takeaway for me is to speak up – just as, it seems, it’s been for you.

  2. One of the most important things you mention here is not only taking responsibility for what will make you happy, but asking directly.

    I believe women are slower to do this (perhaps culturally ingrained not to?) – and not only during marriage, but before. Perhaps if we did more of both prior to taking those vows – taking responsibility and clearly communicating – we’d increase the probability of doing marriage justice, and truly honoring each other.

    • Yes, indeed. And this asking directly is not so easy for me. I totally default to stewing in silence and assuming that my husband will intuit my every need. It’s an ugly quality, when I think about it, and one I still need to work to overcome.

  3. This same idea is something I’ve been pondering over, though in a slightly different way since I’m not married. 🙂 But I was and I know that some of those nasty ungrateful thoughts still pop up in my new relationship. I wonder sometimes why it is that I am perfectly fine searching out and making my own happiness when I do not have a partner, but as soon as I do, I find myself wanting *him* to make me happy.

    I think BigLittleWolf nails it. Whether we are single, dating or married, as women we need to learn to asking directly from others and stop assuming that anyone will ever read our minds/hearts and know exactly what to do.

    With that, I think I’m going to email the GuyFriend and ask for those flowers I’ve had my eyes on. 😉

  4. I loved Meagan’s book too, and wasn’t surprised by how welcome I was to her advice. My relationship with my husband has certainly suffered the most in this age of motherhood, among other things (ahem, blogging), and sometimes I feel like we couldn’t be further from each other. But I feel our relationship is strong, and we’ll weather this as we have so many other storms. And I’m getting better at asking for my own needs, and making my family the priority. When we’re together, because we want to be, that’s pure heaven!

    • In my first post back after my maternity leave, I mentioned that I thought the transition from having no kids to having one was harder than the transition from two to three. And the area where I think the move to having children is toughest is in the relationship with your partner.

      One of the big challenges of parenthood for me has been leaving enough in the tank at the end of the day to take care of myself, let alone my husband. Lately I’ve been interested in figuring out what fills me up – ahem, blogging 😉 – so that I feel like I still have some of myself to give to my relationship with him after giving so much to my kids.

  5. I have a very dear friend who I have known since we were ten years old. Last month she called me and ranted for ten minutes about all the things that her husband doesn’t do and then finished with “men are so stupid.”

    My response to her was simple, “we can’t read your mind.” Tell him what is bothering you and what you want. We are so busy in our roles that we sometimes forget to talk.

    • Good advice. And I’m lucky to have a husband who is happy and willing to help (even if that means standing in the dreaded swimming lesson sign-up line, as he did on Tuesday at my request).

  6. I made this giant leap a few months ago–after I addressed my anxiety and depression issues (it’s funny how those things really get in the way). Ben and I went from being business partners (in parenting) to being friends, co-conspirators, and, yes, lovers. It’s been refreshing to have him by my side through all the difficulties we have both experienced.

  7. I learned by seeing my parents interact that my husband is NOT responsible for my happiness. It upsets me to see my mom pinning all her hopes on my father who simply goes about his business and his day without realizing that she is waiting for him to make things happen. I always swore up and down that I would never do that. Oddly enough, my husband would probably love it if I did!

  8. Asking and being direct about what you want – so important!! It reminds me to “plant my own garden instead of waiting for someone to bring me flowers…”

    Thanks for introducing me to this author, this book sounds like a must read.

    • Hi Heather,

      You should definitely check out Meagan’s book and blog. I think you two would really hit it off.

      And I’ve never heard the expression, “plant my own garden instead of waiting for someone to bring me flowers,” but it’s a new favorite. Thanks!

  9. Kristen, it’s not always easy to see what is right in front of us. I am glad that the book helped you . I hope you and your husband make the time to just be with each other . I have a feeling that you will. 🙂

  10. Thank you so much for the kind words, Kristen! I’m so glad the book has helped you. And it’s funny how something that seems so obvious to me NOW took me so long to realize when I was so caught up in the day-to-day muck of parenting. I felt like I was so drowning in motherhood that I simply didn’t have the energy or brain space to articulate or ask for what I wanted – that I NEEDED him to figure it out for me. But all it took was making a small, simple list, like you’ve made here, and arranging for those things to happen for me to suddenly feel like my head was above water and I could breathe again, and swim, and actually ENJOY my husband instead of just co-existing with him. You’re so smart to be figuring it out now.

    • You’re very welcome! Thank you for writing a book that is chock full of those “Aha! moments.” (Are we still allowed to say that now that Oprah’s off the air?) 🙂

      Sometimes something – like asking for what I want – seems so simple, but it takes a little motivation to get me going. So thanks for the permission – and the kick in the pants!

  11. It is so true that you are responsible for your own happiness. I recently took on a new job because I realized that a big part of my unhappiness was feeling underutilized in my old one. I do not have to be a victim to my own fears and limitations – I am the only person putting that on myself.

    • “I do not have to be a victim to my own fears and limitations – I am the only person putting that on myself.”

      Words to live by. Thanks, Cathy. Isn’t it amazing how much the thoughts in our head can either shackle us or free us, all depending on the power we give them?

  12. In the “baby-boot-camp” days I never took charge of my own wants & needs. I waited for him to “give” them to me, and sometimes he did but mostly he did not. I get exactly what you mean Kristen. Now I don’t know if the first time was because I was too young & still a newlywed to assert myself but the second time around with Domo I was much more self assured. Now I TAKE time for myself. I go to zumba, run, write, and photograph all by myself. I take the time for myself, and I rarely wait for him to “give” it to me. However sometimes it makes me feel selfish. Do we ever give up that guilt? A question for the ages I’m sure.

  13. This, in part, is why my “marriage” crumbled over the past year. I felt that we were just “in this together” without actually being together. However, this in itself is a solvable issue once it’s noticed. But it opens the door for bigger issues to tear things apart. So I’m glad you had a wake-up-call and are taking steps to a bigger happiness.

    • I’m glad too. I realize that the silent stewing that I tend to do can be incredibly corrosive. Now it’s a matter of being more proactive, since I think I do default to the passive-aggressive approach. (Not pretty, but true.)

      Thank you for sharing your experience, C.

  14. I guess I’m my husband’s worst nightmare: I ask for help a lot and, sorry for him, always let him know how I feel. Maybe it’s because we’re both kind of different – he’s quiet and I’m bit more boisterous, but it makes me want to make sure there are no misunderstandings. I think it was just something I started doing when we were dating and it became the template for our relationship.

  15. I recently purchased Meagan’s book and can’t wait to delve in.
    I believe in order to ask for help, you need to know what makes you happy. Sometimes I am not the best at articulating what those needs/wants are and therefore some personal dischord rumbles inside of me. I’m learning to identify what decision would give me the most happiness and am trying to make a concious effort in asking for help in order to get there.

    • I think you make such an important point here, Rudri, and one that I didn’t consider enough in my post.

      I’m also not always that good about figuring out what makes me happy (although I’m getting better) – and it is an absolute necessity. How can you ask for what you want if you don’t know what that is?

  16. I have a hard time doing things for myself that make me happy but have been working diligently towards making myself do it. When it comes to spending time with my husband, who is often as frazzled and overworked as I am, we make an effort. Just like laundry and groceries are necessary for survival, so is having a late meal, just the two of us, after the children have gone to bed. Without the two of you, there would be no them…With practice, it gets easier, and I suppose you should start in with baby steps. But I have found it to be very nice to do one thing for myself each day, however small…

    • “Without the two of you, there would be no them.”

      I remember reading a version of this quote when I was pregnant with my oldest. I think it’s a critical idea to remember, but one I sometimes forget.

  17. My mother raised me alone. Often when we got into a conflict about something she expected of me, she’d say, “I shouldn’t have to ask.” I can’t describe how terrible and helpless this made me feel. It’s an issue between me and my wife as well. My wife says, “I need to feel we’re in this together.” This seems to me a different issue from “I want to do the things that make me happy,” although both involve more sharing of responsibilities around the house. I try to do the things that will free up her time, and the process of negotiation is more or less constant. It’s gotten easier as our son (approaching nine) has gotten older. I think it’s important for women to ask for what they want, and to make relationship a conscious priority. It’s important for men to value and cherish their women, without covertly begging for their approval.

  18. What makes me happy?
    The beach.
    Babysitting nights when Hubby and I get to be Just Us.
    Family days/nights when we all do something fun together.
    Reading a book under the covers at the end of the day until I doze off.
    The sun.

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