What tired, overwhelmed, and busy mom hasn’t picked up the keys, hopped in the minivan and dreamed of driving away to the Bahamas? I used to get so tired and frustrated that all I could think was that it would be better for everyone if I just got on a plane one day and flew off to Europe. I would take some money and just go–no email, no forwarding address. Then finally I wouldn’t feel so crappy every day—I wouldn’t yell at my kids anymore, neglect my spouse, and I would be free to do whatever I wanted. What I couldn’t figure out was whether the freedom would be worth the guilt that would come from leaving them all behind, so I never went further than the Whole Foods down the street. (Why I feel that the grocery store is my personal refuge, I’m not sure – but it sure helps their bottom line every month!) Nevertheless, escape was always on my mind until I learned that I could escape without going anywhere.
I now escape every day. It isn’t a physical escape (at least not all the time), it is a mental one. And to tell you the truth, it isn’t about escape at all. It is the opposite—complete presence. Before I learned how to be present, I was always upset because I was so focused on what I was doing wrong. The messages that constantly went through my head were “I am wasting my expensive Ivy League Law degree by staying at home.” “I am ruining my kids because I yell at them all the time.” “I’m not doing enough for my spouse.” “I have everything I need – I should just be happy.”
What all those thoughts did was take me away from looking at the positive events and moments in my life. And, like a garden, where we put our focus is what tends to grow. I was unintentionally growing my disappointment, frustration, and negative interactions with my family because those were the moments I thought about. So I began to shift. My first goal was to simply experience more joy. I started keeping a joy journal. Every time my kids cooperated, I noticed. When the sun shone through the leaves making a speckled pattern on the grass at the park, I noticed. When my husband told me he appreciated me bringing him lunch, I noticed. Slowly I started to realize that the joy had always been there – I had just been missing it.
I wish I could say that it was as easy to accomplish as it sounds. And I wish I could tell you that I have it mastered. We are surrounded by so much negativity that it is easy to see fault. But with practice and a simple shift, you can begin to see beauty and escape the overwhelm and negativity.
Here are three ways to start:
Keep a joy journal. Put a little notebook in your purse, or create a note on your phone, and just start to keep track of the moments of joy.
Each time you do something great, no matter how small, say it out loud. For example: You are in the middle of bed time, and your 3-year old starts crying because she’s hungry. She didn’t eat her dinner (even though you told her to many, many times). You decide to go down and get her a yogurt. Say out loud to her and yourself: “I am a great mom because I am getting you a yogurt when you should be sleeping!” It feels funny at first, but you’ll get used to it in no time!
When you finally collapse into bed, take a few moments before you go to sleep. Name to yourself 10 things that you did really, really well that day. Even if they seem small at first. When I started, some of mine included “I did a great job driving the speed limit today!” and “I paid all the bills before the due date!”
With practice it will become easier and easier to see all the ways you are incredible every day. And when you realize how amazing you are, everyone around you will to. And then escape will be the furthest thing from your mind.