My sister called me recently, exhausted, overwhelmed and at her breaking point. “It’s Groundhog Day around here,” she said, her voice shaky. I knew exactly what she meant. It was a reference to the Bill Murray movie in which his character wakes every morning and has to repeat the same day over and over again.
My sister has a 2-year-old and a one-month-old and is struggling to cope with the everyday grind of being a new mom, postpartum blues, baby fat that isn’t melting away, long and boring days with minimal adult interaction and nothing to get excited about beyond naptime and baby’s good poop following another breast-feeding session. Not to mention the terrible 2’s.

“I could handle one, but two?” she says. “I’m not sure I’m cut out for this. You make it look so easy.”

“I do?” This was news to me.

“Yes. It’s like you really enjoy being a mom. How do you do it?”

I could hear the anxiety in her voice. I knew this wasn’t a rhetorical question. She needed help. Fast. She needed concrete, step-by-step instruction, not a your-love-for-your-children-will-carry-you-through pep talk from her big sister.

So I thought about it. How do I do it? How do any of us do it? What could I tell her beyond “this too shall pass” that would offer comfort and give hope that there really is more to her life than sore, cracked nipples; diapers; spit-up; and sleepless nights. Do I tell her what’s coming — potty training, temper tantrums, biting and head lice? Then eventually homework, bad grades, eye rolling and large cash demands? Do I use the old “You think this is bad? You just wait!” method of consolation?

No. Those things are better discovered without portent.

The truth is, I’m no better mom than she. My sister is a phenomenal mother. I’ve seen her in action. But I’ve done this three times and come out healthy and mostly unscathed on the other side. She’s just getting started.

How do I do it? Hmmm. Being the good big sister that I am, I sat down, dissected my day and figured out exactly how I do it. How do I get through each and every day without losing it, running away, hiding under the bed or throwing in the towel and just giving up? Most of all, how do I do the hardest thing I have ever done in my life and find a way to really enjoy it? My journey through motherhood has been a 14-year, ongoing experiment of trials and errors, successes and failures, all with the ultimate goal of raising healthy, happy kids while being a healthy, happy mom. And what I discovered was, I do it by keeping me happy and healthy.

For once, this article is not about raising kids. This article is about Mom and Mom alone. This is about raising Mom. These are the things I do, each and every day, not only to survive, but to find peace and enjoyment in my life. Over the years, the details have evolved, but my underlying needs have not. This is what I shared with my sister: the secrets to my success. They are, I believe, applicable to any woman at any stage in her life as a mother.

1. Have a schedule. Kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from a routine. Knowing how your day is going to unfold and what to expect can help you feel in control of your life. Keep a calendar, either on your phone or computer, or a day-minder if you like to write things down. I need things to look forward to, and I need to see them written down in my calendar, i.e., Pedicure — Wednesday, 9 am; Lunch with Melany, Friday, 12 pm. Do something nice for yourself that you enjoy and look forward to weekly, and put it on the schedule. Make yourself a priority.

2. Exercise. Whatever form you choose — walk, run, bike, weight train, tennis — it doesn’t matter. Just make it something you like. I do step aerobics five days per week, and I love it. This is my time, and it is non-negotiable. I don’t schedule appointments or go to meetings during my exercise time. I strolled all three of my children up to 12 hours per week when they were infants, then moved them to the nursery at the workout facility when they were older. For me, exercise is as much for my mental state as for my physical well-being. For stay-at-home moms, exercise is an activity for young children and knocks at least an hour off a long day. For working moms with double-the-stress, exercise is imperative and benefits all concerned. (When Mom is stressed, everyone is stressed.) Exercise can actually give you more energy, which is so important when you are bogged down in mommyhood and need a boost.

3. Pray. Find time each day to talk it over with God. Remind yourself daily that nothing is too big or too difficult for Him to handle. He doesn’t get overwhelmed or anxious. Pray for your children. Pray for your spouse and family. Pray for yourself. For patience. For happiness. For a joyful heart. Just pray. Your spiritual health is just as important as your mental or physical health, so get your spiritual exercise every day.

4. Spend time alone with your spouse. I have many friends who have a set date night once a week with their spouse or significant other. My husband and I aren’t that regimented, but we do like to catch up every day on what is going on in our lives. Whether it’s at the table after the kids are excused from dinner or on the patio with a glass of wine before bed, we sit and talk. Sometimes, when we are incredibly busy, we have to plan a date night and bring a list of things we need to discuss. It’s not sexy, but it’s practical. That’s the reality of a busy life. The important thing is that you never stop communicating and never take each other for granted. Try to remember and remind each other why you embarked on this journey to begin with: because you love and adore each other.

5. Find a hobby. Don’t laugh at this suggestion, because I am completely serious. Every woman needs to have something that she enjoys doing that has absolutely nothing to do with her kids, job or husband. Read, sew, bike, play cards, join a running team, hike, cook, paint. It can be absolutely anything as long as it something you really enjoy. For me, I listen to audiobooks. I love to read, but don’t have time to sit down during the day and read. I listen to audiobooks while I do laundry, clean the house, run errands, stroll my daughter and while chauffeuring big kids around town. I also needlepoint and enjoy spending time with friends. You may think you don’t have time, but you can make the time. It’s worth it.

6. Be positive. Smile. Find the good in your day. Use your “happy voice” even when you don’t feel happy. Having a positive attitude is so important because it rubs off on every person that you come in contact with, including your children. This is not about waiting on good things to happen to be happy about; this is about causing good things to happen. That’s the power of a positive attitude. This may be the hardest one on the list to accomplish sometimes, but it definitely has the most rewarding results.

Moms, this list is for you and about you: your sanity, your physical and mental well-being, your marriage and your happiness. Without these things, you can’t be the best mom to your children. You can’t find those important daily moments with your kids that make it all worthwhile. To use an old expression, you can’t see the forest for the trees.

Being a mom doesn’t mean you have to give up everything about you as an individual. There’s no “u” in mom, but there should be. Take care of you, so you can take care of them. That’s how I do it each and every day.