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Get Happy!

I admit it: After seven years of being a mom, I have days when I'm just counting the minutes until my girls are in bed. The stacks of dirty dishes seem overwhelming; the whining is unrelenting; and I'm irritated and tired and feel more than a little put upon.

Luckily, I've found ways to pull myself out of my funk  -- at least most of the time  -- and get the energy and purpose I need to enjoy the rest of the day. So the next time the tasks of motherhood bring you down, try one of these:

Give and Take

Give a little, take a little
Laura Hargrave, a mom of two in Austin, Texas, had to do two loads of laundry, prepare a meal, make the beds, and run a couple of errands  -- all before lunch. But Lilly, 4, and Henry, 2, seemed determined to derail her plans. Rather than press on and risk making everyone grumpy, Hargrave took a different tack: "I got on the floor and started singing songs and playing with them. They were in heaven. And because they were in heaven, I was too."

Although stopping what you're doing to entertain your child seems unproductive, Hargrave says it actually bought her more time in the long run. "Things have to get done around here, and my children know that. But if I just give them ten minutes of undivided attention, I find they usually give me back twenty to do what I need to do."

Divide and conquer the chores
"Whoever said housework can wait because your kids are only young once must have had a cleaning person," says Elizabeth Severn-Eriksson, mom of Annika, 15 months. Like most mothers, Severn-Eriksson finds that keeping up with the house is something that never ends  -- and waiting just makes the mess bigger.

Her strategy: She breaks large tasks into smaller ones, dusting on Mondays, vacuuming on Tuesdays, and so on. She also takes advantage of her daughter's early wake-up call, knocking off the chores first thing while Annika watches a video or just follows her around.

Some moms divvy up the cleanup by tackling different parts of the house on different days. The key is to do a little at a time so you don't feel overwhelmed, and to do it when you have energy.

But the most important lesson: Don't give up your personal time to get the chores done. "It doesn't restore you to do housework during your child's nap," says Severn-Eriksson, who runs a guest ranch in Big Sky, Montana.

I've found that when I analyze what I don't like about certain chores, sometimes I'm able to figure out ways to make them easier. Recently, I realized what really bugged me about putting away the clean clothes was that my daughters' dresser drawers were always too full; I hated stuffing clothes I'd just folded inside. So I made time to sort through their drawers and gave lots away. Laundry has become much easier, since I'm no longer struggling with the drawers.

Another task I despised was dumping the trash and then returning the cans to each room. Now I carry a garbage bag upstairs and dump everything into one bag, without having to make those extra trips.

Pare down your to-do list
"I always thought the philosophy of making your child fit into your family life rather than vice versa was a good one," says Meg Ringer, a Woodinville, Washington, mom and former schoolteacher. "But then I had Rylie."

Ringer, whose daughter is a year old, says her attempts to get as much done as possible just don't work anymore. "I've had to learn the hard way to stop myself from doing 'one more thing' because if I do, it's at her expense  -- and that means my expense too."

Instead, she's careful not to push anyone's limits. And it's not as inefficient as it appears: Skipping that five-minute stop to pick up milk now might mean a 30-minute car trip later, but you'll likely save time (and stress). Those quick stops have a way of turning into lengthy battles when it's time to get your exhausted toddler back into her car seat.

Sarah Robinson of Evergreen, Alabama, says she stays sane by not planning her day too rigidly. "If my to-do list is too big, I just feel like a failure. So I divide my list into more manageable bits  -- like only focusing on yard chores or finding a box to put stuff in instead of making a scrapbook." That allows her to be more gentle on herself  -- and her 9-month-old, Thomas.

Rest and Be Joyful

Put your feet up
At least twice a week, Celeste Becia, a Boise, Idaho, mom of four, ages 7 to 18, puts an older kid in charge, spends a little time getting each child settled, and then goes upstairs and takes a 15- to 30-minute "power" nap.

Even when her kids were younger, she'd start her nap with the baby in bed with her, then let him continue sleeping once she got up. Or she'd rest when her husband was home. At first, she often had a hard time justifying the shut-eye when she had so much to do. "I'd think, I need to pay the bills. But I discovered I did things better and faster when I was rested."

If you can't sleep during the day, slow down. "I had to learn that just because my fourteen-month-old goes down for a nap doesn't mean it's time for me to start going full speed," says nurse Kamee Pasquarello of Billings, Montana.

"Otherwise, I'd be in an awful mood by the time my husband came home." Pasquarello sometimes just reclines in front of the TV or reads, but that's enough to give her the energy she needs to get through the rest of her day.

Remember the big picture
Whenever Pasquarello gets frustrated, she peeks in her son's bedroom. "We bought this house five years ago and picked out the nursery. But then it took us four years to fill it with a baby. I just look in there and remember what a blessing he is."

Such tangible reminders of the things that make you grateful are a wonderful way to gain perspective when the devilishly drab details get to you. I look at a photograph of my now 7-year-old, Anna, when she was 2, and it reminds me how fast time passes  -- and how precious it is.

Another quick strategy: Make a mental list of everything you can come up with that's great about your kids, and take the credit. After all, you're willing to blame yourself for their failings, so why not concentrate on what you've done well for a change?

Be kind to yourself (and your husband)
"I worry a lot about my son's nutrition," confesses Pasquarello. "Meanwhile, I forget to eat." She's not alone. But you can't do much when you're fatigued and stressed, which is what happens when you don't eat regularly. So take 15 minutes to feed yourself too. (And for heaven's sake, sit down while you're doing it.)

"We expect to be able to do so much so well. But there's never anything left over for you if you plan like that," says Sarah Robinson. "I've learned it's okay if Thomas watches a video so I can take a shower or put on clean clothes, or even give myself fifteen minutes to read or meditate. I really don't have to engage him every minute of the day."

A regular night out with your husband is wonderful if you can swing it. But if that doesn't work for you, make a point of hanging out together at home  -- plan it if you have to. After the kids are in bed, meet back at the table for a "dessert date." Or just find time to talk to each other, even if you have to fold the laundry during your conversation. At the very least, get yourselves in the same room  -- or better yet, on the same sofa. You'll find that merely sitting close to each other, toes touching, can be amazingly restorative.

Just Let Go

Set an early bedtime — and stick to it
Back when I was the mom of a baby and a toddler, I found the phrase "24/7" the perfect description of my life.

I woke up with my two daughters when the sun rose (as early as 5:30 in the summer) and didn't get them to sleep until after 9 p.m. Overwhelmed by exhaustion, I realized I was working close to 16 hours a day  -- with no personal time. I told my family that my "work" day ended at 8:00. This gave everyone an incentive to get into bed (my kids loved when I read the last story), and my husband even started taking the pre-8 a.m. shift. The payoff: a much happier mom (and wife).

My friend Alex Tyson, who's an anchor for the local CBS morning news in Billings, Montana, and the mom of 15-month-old Cade, had to make the same decision  -- by necessity. She reports to the TV studio at 4:15 a.m.; when her workday is done at 11 a.m., she goes home and spends the afternoon napping and playing with Cade before the whole family has an early dinner. Cade goes to sleep at 8:00.

"It's tough to send him to bed, but that's my time with my husband," says Tyson. And with her own lights-out fixed at 9:15, there's no wiggle room. She says her hours have been a blessing, especially when she sees friends who let their kids stay up and, as a result, end up being on mom duty every waking hour.

Let love rule
"It's amazing how much my three-year-old likes to sit next to me and hold my hand. Sometimes we just sit outside and look at the beautiful things around us. That's when I really enjoy just being with my children instead of feeling I have to accomplish something," says Aimee Mury, a mom of two in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Taking a moment to acknowledge how much you love your child may be a big secret to enjoying your life more. For me, it can be as simple as putting two straws in a glass of milk and drinking it with my youngest, our foreheads touching. Or reading books outdoors with both girls, holding hands when we go for a walk, or letting them jump into my arms for a hug. At times like these, I totally forget about my chores.

Cut yourself some slack
Of course, we all know that even on a good day, the milk spills, someone's hair gets caught on a button, the dog poops on the rug  -- and all the healthy foods, rest, perspective, and patience in the world amount to nothing in the face of our frustration. We get tired. We lose our temper. We say things we regret.

But here's what I've discovered: The very thing that can make life feel like such a grind is actually its saving grace. Motherhood is an incredibly long-term enterprise; you've got tomorrow, and all the days after that, to get it right. So go easy on yourself. Everybody has a bad day, no matter where they work. Odds are that your kids still think you're just about perfect for the job. As a matter of fact, they probably couldn't imagine you any other way.


Contributing editor Barbara Rowley, a mom of two, lives in Big Sky, Montana.