I’ve known Meagan Francis for more seven years. We’ve been writerly colleagues, cyber friends, and in real life conference companies. We’ve also had pregnancy scares at the same time (only, her test was positive–tee hee). Meagan’s not only a prolific, hard-working, and incredible writer, she’s also an amazing mom. She’s about a thousand years younger than I am and she has way more children: four boys and a girl. Her children are ages 13, 11, 7, 5, and 2. And she’s not going out of her mind! In fact, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, her latest book, which is hot off the presses, is called THE HAPPIEST MOM. I asked Meagan to share some of her best secrets on how to celebrate motherhood and be a happy mom.
JM: Sometimes I beat myself up about my parenting abilities because I tend to lose my temper, especially with my seven year old who has been going through a trying stage lately (think: constant whining interspersed with belligerence … over things like the quantity of butter on the morning toast.) Does being a happy mom mean you never yell at your children?
MF: I wish! No, being a happy mom doesn’t make you a perfect mom. I still yell, I still gripe, I still overreact sometimes. I think what’s changed the most about me as I’ve gone down this journey toward being a more intentionally happy mom is that I can now break out of the anger sooner. I recognize what’s happening when I start to overreact, and can stop myself and redirect my feelings a lot faster than I used to. And because I decided that I value family peace and love over being “right” I’m so much quicker with an apology and a hug than I used to be. I still screw up every day, but I feel less defined by my screw-ups, because I am willing to apologize, forgive, move on, and face the rest of the day with optimism rather than digging into that anger and stress and chaos and staying there.
JM: Do you tell a lot of jokes in your house (got any good ones for 11-year-olds? How ’bout 7-year-olds? Toddler jokes?)?
MF: Actually, I am a horrible joke teller. I can tell really funny real-life stories, but as far as memorized jokes go? My repertoire has maybe five jokes and I am sorry to say they are all dirty, except for the one about the pig with three legs…stop me if you’re heard this one…
My five-year-old tells a lot of knock-knock jokes, which are hilarious because the punchlines he comes up with make no sense at all.
JM: Is your book part of a trend to celebrate motherhood? There was a rash of books that appeared at the same time about the dark side of motherhood. It was almost cool to complain about how much motherhood made you miserable. Have we emerged from those dark ages?
MF: Gosh, I hope so. I think the early days of the Internet were almost intoxicating: Finally, I can admit that my kids make me nuts sometimes and I think Mommy and Me is totally boring! But after a while the stories we were all telling swung so far toward the complainy side that people almost looked at you suspiciously if you claimed you were happy to be a mother. I’m not going to suggest motherhood isn’t a lot of hard work and doesn’t have its drawbacks, but moms can be happy, and can make choices that help us live happier lives.
JM: I get the sense that happy moms aren’t afraid to ask for help. What are some of the ways that you get help? And how have you learned to be able to ask for it?
MF: This is vital. When I was a newer mom I had this “every woman for herself” mentality and thought it would look like I was admitting weakness or incompetence if I asked for help with my children or anything else. As time has gone by I’ve learned that asking others for help actually does them a favor, because now they know they can ask YOU for help, too! And our kids really benefit from being part of a larger “village” that can love and care for and watch out for them as they grow. I’ve still got an independent streak, but I now have a much easier time asking my mother-in-law to babysit, asking a neighbor to watch my kids in the yard for a minute while I run in to answer the phone, or asking my husband to run out to the grocery store just because I’ve had a hard day and don’t feel like it. Helping each other out makes the world a better (and happier) place for everyone.
JM: What do you think the most important take-away message is from your book?
MF: Be yourself. Honestly, I think if you are true to your own personality and values, it makes motherhood so much easier. Of course you can let motherhood shape and change you for the better (for instance, I learned the importance of some gentle structure after having children—before kids I fancied myself as a completely free spirit, which doesn’t work as well when you’re trying to meet deadlines and take good care of multiple children!). But I have tried to make changes that make sense for me and my personality. For example, I use very simple organizing systems because I know that’s what works for me.
But overall, I try to hold on to what’s important to me, not necessarily anyone else. I value creativity, innovation, and self-sufficiency highly. Another mom might value academic success or tradition more highly. That doesn’t make her right and me wrong or vice versa—but if we are both true to ourselves, we will be better, happier moms than if we tried to change our deepest values.
Want to know more about Meagan? She blogs at www.thehappiestmom.com and you can follow her on Twitter at @meaganfrancis