I love my job. I work a 24-hour shift every weekend at a Domestic Violence Shelter. I essentially just play with kids and talk with moms about how to be happy on their own. In the time that I have been there, I have seen some truly marvelous mothers come through the doors. Mothers who pour on the love and act as an anchor for their children to rest on. I have seen the other side of motherhood as well. I have seen mothers threaten, yell, degrade and ignore. I have seen the whole spectrum.
In my time with these mothers and with my personal friends and family, I have noticed some very clear-cut differences between "happy moms" and "angry moms." Here's what I've observed:
Happy moms don't expect perfection
From anyone. Including themselves. They don't place unrealistic expectations on their children or their housekeeping. They are not the moms sitting at the parks asking other moms loaded questions like, "My daughter was potty trained in three days with no accidents ... how is your 4-year-old doing?" No, happy moms are not competing with anyone. They are simply learning ... just like you.
Happy moms make you happy
Not because they are constantly doing things for you but because they radiate love and self-acceptance. My mother-in-law is a good example of this. My husband swears that the only reason he made so many good choices growing up is because he wanted to be the kind of person his mother already thought he was.
Happy moms pick their battles
Happy moms are not the ones following their kids around critiquing every little thing they do. You can sometimes tell a happy mom from an angry mom by watching the way parents interact with their kids at the playground. Happy moms laugh when their kids climb on the "wrong" side of the monkeybars ... angry moms yell, "Hey! That's not the way we play!" When a child is critiqued more than they are complimented, I have seen them essentially "quit" trying to be good.
Their kids know that when mom says something, she means it. She follows through on time outs and on promises. Angry moms are not consistently honest and there is a lack of trust between mother and child. Earning trust back is one of the most difficult hurdles I have seen mothers struggle with. It's not always easy doing what you say you're going to do ... so sometimes happy moms just say less.
Happy Moms play hard
I know my husband isn't a mom ... but he would rock at. Anytime we are at the park with our kids he isn't googling his iPhone, he is fighting off aliens and playing wild monster in full-on magic childhood style. As a veteran people watcher, I get immense enjoyment from watching other parents react to him. At first they are a little shocked (it's not everyday you see an incredibly sexy 6-foot 8-inch man do an intense somersault to kill pretend aliens). Then the shock slowly turns to a little smile ... and then without even realizing it, they start playing with their own kids.
Happy moms really listen
As a social worker I have spent countless hours in trainings and seminars all talking about HOW to listen. It is rare sometimes, to listen with the intent to understand rather than to respond. There is nothing more tender than seeing a mother in our shelter have a tea party with her little girl as the little girl chats away and the mother laughs at appropriate times and listens. Really listens.
Happy moms teach
I'll never forget when I started hanging out with my now best friend. Whenever her kids asked her a "silly" question like why is the sky blue? I felt like I was in listening to a Bill Nye video. And if she didn't know, they would find out together. Happy moms are not afraid to teach their kids stuff that is way over their pay grade. Angry moms do more shushing than teaching.
Every single day mothers have the opportunity choose what kind of mother they are going to be. That doesn't mean they are perfect. But when I recognize that I'm acting like an angry mom, I try to choose something better. Happy moms choose to be happy ... and usually their kids follow their lead.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Kristin Anderson's blog, Candy House Blog. It has been republished here with permission.