The Trenches of Motherhood: 10 Steps to Feeling More Joy

As everyone knows, being a mother is one of the most difficult, brutal, heart wrenching adventures you can embark on. In his address “Because She Is a Mother” Jeffrey R. Holland said, “The work of a mother is hard, too often unheralded work. The young years are often those when either husband or wife—or both—may still be in school or in those earliest and leanest stages of developing the husband’s breadwinning capacities. Finances fluctuate daily between low and nonexistent. The apartment is usually decorated in one of two smart designs—Deseret Industries provincial or early Mother Hubbard. The car, if there is one, runs on smooth tires and an empty tank. But with night feedings and night teethings, often the greatest challenge of all for a young mother is simply fatigue. Through these years, mothers go longer on less sleep and give more to others with less personal renewal for themselves than any other group I know at any other time in life. It is not surprising when the shadows under their eyes sometimes vaguely resemble the state of Rhode Island.”

With that unpleasant truth in mind, I wanted to help the mothers find ways to be happy and feel joy while in the trenches of motherhood, when you are feeling the most run down and worn out and the light at the end of the tunnel is just a pinprick in the distance of years.

I’ve made a list of ten things that have helped me feel joy even in the darkest times. Sister Barbara W. Winder said, “Each woman is responsible for her own happiness.” And I believe with my whole heart that happiness is a choice, but I’m not saying you should not feel grief, sorrow, exhaustion, or pain. Those feelings are necessary and unavoidable. However, following these steps will help you cope through such times and keep you from losing your way or your identity.

These are in no particular order except for the last two which are the most important.

  1. Make friends. When I first moved into my neighborhood 15 years ago, I had a husband, a baby, and zero friends. I was fine with that. I’ve been introverted and shy my whole life, and I felt content to be alone. A year went by. My husband worked, and I stayed home with the baby. But my baby grew, and pretty soon he was toddling around the neighborhood. I would grab a book and follow him around while reading. In our neighborhood at the time, the women would take their kids outside and sit on the grass together, chatting while the kids played. My toddler saw these groups of women and kids and wanted to experience the fun. He marched over and joined in. So of course that required me to sit down with the moms and (gasp) talk to people. I didn’t recognize it at the time, because I was not lonely, but I needed those women. I needed them so much! We formed beautiful friendships that last to this day. They taught me about fashion and femininity and politics and decorating and so much more. They strengthened my testimony of the gospel as I watched them be righteous mothers. Those friends are an immeasurable treasure. You need to make friends, even if you don’t feel lonely.
  2. Take care of your body and mind. Eat healthy foods, exercise, get enough sleep. I know that’s hard, particularly with newborns, but it’s impossible to feel joy as a mother when you’re exhausted. So don’t feel guilty for taking a nap instead of cleaning the bathroom. Take your medication, and if you don’t have any, but you feel like you might need some, go to the doctor and get checked. Sometimes you pray and pray and pray for that baby to come and then it does, and you just feel blah. Hormones can be vicious and do wild things to your body and mind. Sometimes you need medicine to manage your mental health after having a baby. Sometimes you need medicine to manage your pain. Sometimes you don’t need medicine at all, just a nap, a well-balanced meal, and a walk. It’s all good.
  3. Continue to pursue your dreams and do things you enjoy. Your hobbies and interests and goals still matter. You might have to change your expectations about how to do them, and it might take longer than expected to finish projects or accomplish goals, but the joy you feel when you are successful is extremely important. Enos 1:12 states, “And it came to pass that after I had prayed and labored with all diligence, the Lord said unto me: I will grant unto thee according to thy desires, because of thy faith.” He will do this for you, too. Heavenly Father wants you to be happy, and if having an art exhibit in a gallery is what you dream of, then he will help you accomplish it even while and often because you are a mother.
  4. Do the housework. I didn’t want to have this as part of my list. I hate chores. They are so tedious and eternal. I know some of you weirdos enjoy cleaning and find it therapeutic, but I most definitely do not. Cleaning the bathroom is revolting, and it’s so frustrating to clean poop off the toilet only to find more poop on it the same day. But I really appreciate being able to use a clean toilet. And stress and tension is so much easier to manage in a clean house. So I made myself a schedule. I do laundry on Mondays, clean bathrooms on Tuesdays, Wednesday is a day off, I vacuum the basement on Thursdays, Friday is a day off, and I vacuum the upstairs on Saturday. Sunday is a day off. I give myself lots of days off. Only dishes get done daily. Kids clean their rooms on weekends to earn video games. I don’t dust, and if I want clean windows, walls, baseboards, and blinds, then I’ll have to buy new windows, walls, baseboards, and blinds, if you know what I mean. Find a system that works for you. Doctrine and Covenants Section 42:41 says, “And let all things be done in cleanliness before me.” A clean home empowers you to feel happy and successful.
  5. Laugh and play and enjoy experiences together. This is probably one of the biggest sources of joy for me and my family. We love to get out of the house and do things together. For us, it’s camping, hiking, and swimming. We take tons of pictures. Exploring our beautiful planet helps me refresh and reset my brain. It’s more powerful than medicine. Find things that your family loves to do together and do them often. The unity that is forged on these outings is invaluable.
  6. Don’t be afraid of sacrifice. When I was pregnant with our first child, I had a significant choice to make. I could take a six-week maternity leave and then go back to work. Or I could choose to stay home and raise my son. I felt very strongly that the right choice for me was to stay home. But it was a terrifying choice. At the time, I was the one paying the bills. My husband was in his last semester of college. He worked only on Saturdays because he was doing student teaching at the time and was not allowed to hold a real job. He earned about $200 per month. Just our rent was $475 per month. If I quit my job, we would have zero income after my maternity leave payments ended. We took a leap of faith and I quit working. We had insignificant income from February until the following September when my husband received his first paycheck as a teacher. I don’t know how it was possible that we managed to pay bills, feed our family, and buy a house during those seven months, except that we were blessed because we were faithful tithe payers and we put our trust in Heavenly Father. Living on a single income has not been easy, but I have been able to be with my children through every illness, injury, failure, and triumph. I’m not saying that all moms should be stay-at-home moms. I know that’s not possible. This is just an example of a sacrifice that we made for our family and the blessing we received for it. Doctrine and Covenants 97:8 says, “Verily I say unto you, all among them who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice—yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command—they are accepted of me.”
  7. Focus on the positive and express gratitude. Social media makes it extremely easy to be exposed to all the filth in our world. It is fraught with criticism and complaints and conflict. Such negative attitudes are easy to adopt when we are bombarded with them constantly. Yet I have found that I can counteract the negative by strictly posting positive, funny content on my own social media pages. By restricting myself to positive posts, I force myself to focus on the brightness in my life instead of the darkness. Trials are not sidelined or ignored, but they lose their weight in the vast scheme of things when I am focused on all the awesome blessings I am receiving. And the coolest thing is that when we express gratitude for the things we have, Heavenly Father blesses us with even more. Sister Barbara W. Winder said, “Developing a cheerful disposition can permit an atmosphere wherein one’s spirit can be nurtured and encouraged to blossom and bear fruit. Being pessimistic and negative about our experiences will not enhance the quality of our lives. A determination to be of good cheer can help us and those around us to enjoy life more fully.”
  8. Document joyful moments and celebrate accomplishments. Write down the funny things your children say and do. Reward yourself and your family members when you are successful. After a time of recording your beautiful moments, you’ll have volumes to look back on in the hard times so that you can laugh even in the midst of grief. Alma 37:2 says, “And I also command you that ye keep a record of this people, according as I have done, upon the plates of Nephi, and keep all these things sacred which I have kept, even as I have kept them; for it is for a wise purpose that they are kept.” Now this was obviously so that the Book of Mormon could exist for generations of people. But I believe that a record of your joyful moments is also sacred because it can restore those feelings when they have been forgotten.
  9. Make your family your priority. Back in 2016, I was feeling extremely discouraged about my writing career to the point that I was considering giving it up. I could not dedicate the time to it that I wanted to, and I wasn’t making any progress. But writing was the one interest I had clung to throughout my years as a mother. Other hobbies and interests had been sacrificed along the way, and I felt that if I gave up writing too, then I would lose my identity. Instead, I told Heavenly Father that I would continue writing and striving to be a successful author, but that if my family’s needs and my writing came into conflict, then I would always choose my family first. That meant that if I was typing away on a story and five o’clock came along, then I would stop writing and make dinner. Or if a child interrupted me, then I would quit mid-sentence to fulfill that child’s needs. And guess what happened. That same year, I was hired as an acquisitions editor for a publishing company, a job I never dreamed of having but one that brings so much value to my life. I have also published two novels and some short stories since then. I am not able to produce at the rate that I would like to, but I have been incredibly blessed in ways that I never imagined possible. Jeffrey R. Holland said, “Yours is the work of salvation, and therefore you will be magnified, compensated, made more than you are and better than you have ever been as you try to make honest effort, however feeble you may sometimes feel that to be.”
  10. Nourish your relationship with Jesus Christ. Go to church, read your scriptures, say your prayers. It really is that simple. Jeffrey R. Holland put it this way, “Rely on Him. Rely on Him heavily. Rely on Him forever. And ‘press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope.’ You are doing God’s work. You are doing it wonderfully well. He is blessing you and He will bless you, even—no, especially—when your days and your nights may be the most challenging. Like the woman who anonymously, meekly, perhaps even with hesitation and some embarrassment, fought her way through the crowd just to touch the hem of the Master’s garment, so Christ will say to the women who worry and wonder and sometimes weep over their responsibility as mothers, ‘Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.’ And it will make your children whole as well.” The dangers that face our children are worse and more numerous than ever. I often read the news and wonder how it’s possible to raise children in this environment and expect them to grow up to be good, wholesome, righteous people. It is terrifying to think of sending them out into this world. Elder Marion D. Hanks said, “Our strength and our peace and our happiness are in the Lord. In this world of trial and affliction, we have need of the comforting and qualifying assurances that come with faith in God and repentance and service to his cause. If we will acknowledge him, be thankful, serve him, love his children, and accept the responsibilities of being truly Christian, we will be happy, notwithstanding problems or troubles.” Following Christ will give us the capacity to experience infinite joy. There have been moments when I am in the midst of mothering chaos, making sure kids get dressed and fed before school, checking backpacks and homework, and then on the drive from my home to the school, the stress melts away and I am filled with inexplicable joy. I attribute that joy to striving to be righteous and follow Christ. Elder Marion D. Hanks said, “[Wo]men without God and the living Christ in their lives lack center, and thus lack joy they could have.”

Being a mother is the most exquisite, rewarding, and joyous adventure a woman can embark on. Despite the difficulties that you will face, I know that you can experience joy unlike anything else on this earth. All your efforts, even the tedious and repetitive chore of cleaning the toilet, can be energized with joy if you follow these suggestions and cling to the Savior like he’s a lifeboat in a dark and turmoiled ocean.

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