Get Away or Get a Hobby—How Moms Keep it Together

A single mother asks her mom friends for guidance on what they do to stay sane when motherhood drives them insane.

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Today, I got out of the shower to step on a crumbled cereal bar that had been smashed into the carpet. As I bent down to clean up the mess, my son decided that was the perfect time to take off his pull-up diapers and jump into my arms with a dirty derrière, begging me to change his pants.

I washed my hands, shook it off, and quickly finished making a lunch that would surely be scrutinized at school if it did not include the four food groups. In that moment I realized that as a single mom who runs my own business, this is the reason I no longer have the time or energy to blow-dry my hair.

A variation of this scene plays out nearly every day. And somehow, I’m still standing. Despite the constant juggling. Despite the messes. And despite the 37 minutes it took me to make my coffee and get the cup to my lips between making breakfast and lunch while navigating the movements of my son, which included (but was not limited to!) running outside the house naked, throwing the remote across the room, and laughing at (and also with) me.

But I did it. I got him dressed, I finished his lunch and my coffee, and we got in the car. We all do it. And we continue to do it, regardless of our circumstances, support systems, marital, financial, or mental status, day after day.

Motherhood is sometimes little more than a daily struggle to simply survive.

As a mother amongst mothers, I’ve learned that most of us reach a point in our motherhood when we realize that a full night of sleep, perfectly clean house, or afternoon without at least some whining, pushback, or tantrums is a myth better served by a Hallmark Christmas movie.  

When that reality hits, we learn to lower our expectations, put on our big-girl smiles, and focus on sustainment, sustenance, and sanity. While the essentials of motherhood look different for each of us, we all have them in our mom purse. And there’s a lot that we can learn from each other.

People often ask me how exactly I do it, and at times like this, I find myself wondering. Folding laundry while on a conference call is one thing, but smelling scrambled eggs beginning to burn while chasing my half-naked son around the house trying to get him dressed is another, especially when I am feeling utterly sleep-deprived. That’s when it all seems a little more than insurmountable. And that’s when I seek support.

We all do it. And we continue to do it, regardless of our circumstances, support systems, marital, financial, or mental status, day after day.

How do I keep it together on any given day? How do any of us do it?

To remind myself of what it takes, I asked forty women with children of all ages who are within my greater network about what they do every day to survive the relentless, unabating reality of motherhood.  

Specifically, I asked, “What is the one thing that you absolutely need to stay strong and present for your family?” Responses flooded in almost immediately from dozens of women, with accuracy, minimal complaints, and a matter-of-factness that demonstrated a true focus and unmatched ability to move forward through the challenges we each face with grace.

We are warriors, my friends. I commend you all, and I thank you for your insights.  Here’s what I learned from you.

Making time for solitude, exercise—here’s how my mom friends do it.

1. Get Yourself Some Alone Time

Amazingly, the most mentioned element of mom-saving sanity was simply time. Time alone, quiet time, and time for ourselves is necessary for survival as moms. Whether reading, getting pampered, or sleeping, the specific activ ity mattered less than the opportunity to enjoy quietude and reflection.  

Of course, it was noted that sometimes you have to actually make the time. Carve it out of stone if you have to, but making the time for yourself is the essential element. What you do with it is up to you, because it is yours. Fleeting, but yours.

Some ideas to maximize that time are to wake up before they do. Drink coffee, watch mindless TV, and relax before the craziness of the day begins.

One amazing momma wakes up at four in the morning to go for a run. (Four in the morning!) After the kids go to sleep, taking the time to relax in a hot tub—even if you have to catch up on emails while you soak—can be as delightful, as is ending the day with a book or short story that lets you get lost in the fiction on the page vs. the reality of your day.

Whether you have a meditation practice or take time for a morning devotional, mental and spiritual focus keeps moms grounded throughout the day. One mom uses the Insight Timer app to help her stay on track with her daily meditation practice and ensures that she doesn’t nod off in the midst of it.

2. Get Moving

Moving your body in some way or enjoying a favorite workout was the second most noted sanity-saver.  One mom trained for and ran her first marathon this year. Another does home workouts when she can’t leave the house, and yet another works out at the park while her child plays on the jungle gym. Hip-hop dance class and yoga were also mentioned as favorites. Another mother talked about having access (even if occasionally) to pastimes she loved before kids: soccer and horseback riding.  

The old adage, sleep when your baby sleeps, was mentioned a few times.  And, for those who don’t get much shut-eye, coffee was the number one answer, as well as time-saving nutritional choices. Moms who started the day with an energizing green juice or a B-12 shot said it helped them get rolling and feeling healthy.

3. Get Away

Weekends away with the hubby or with friends were mentioned, without the kids, of course. For those who can’t get away, having other moms to confide in is a great reminder that you that you are not alone.  In fact, many mothers mentioned a sense of community.

We all know it takes a village to raise a child, but we also need that village to lift us up as individuals.  Every mom needs friends with whom she can share the full, unedited truth, especially if she is feeling isolated and alone. Time with friends could be as easy as talking on the phone.

Social media, on the other hand, while helpful for updates, does not provide as much emotional connection as hearing each other’s voices.

4. Get a Hobby (or a Laugh)

And then there is feeding the brain.  Having a work outlet that is totally separate from the kids and also fulfilling for moms is a great way to stay focused on the bigger picture. For working moms, having a flexible work week can make all the difference. Make Friday “my-day.” Do things around the house, catch a lunch date with your partner, or get a manicure.

A good laugh everyday, “usually at my own expense,” suggested one mom, who also has an active practice of performing some act of kindness daily.  She tries to compliment someone, smile, offer help, or do anything that brings joy to others.

5. Get Help

Finally, get some help. Ask for it, accept it, pay for it if you have to, and don’t feel guilty about it.

Whatever form that takes. One mom’s best advice on whether to hire a cleaner or therapist: cleaner for sure. “It is hard to be depressed in a clean house,” she said.

Another mother suggested tapping into the village that’s around you. Ask the in-laws to come to town. Ask your neighbors to grab you something from the store. Ask the friend who loves kids to take yours to the playground for a bit so you can get a coffee.  

Remember to simply makes space for the things that make you you.

After learning from the incredible moms who wrote me back, I decided this morning that even if I bring someone into the house once or twice a week in the mornings to help with the slog that is my non-morning, decaffeinated self, and I have the opportunity to start the day with a semblance of order, we will be on to something.

For me, reminding myself that I am beautiful as a woman is helpful too.  It can be as simple as taking a daily shower and putting on makeup—even if I’m not leaving the house.

And when all else fails, essential oils, margaritas, and wine were mentioned last, but not least. Ideally to be shared over laughs with your favorite mom-friends.

Lauren Eastman loves telling story for a living. As a PR executive, she has spent more than 17 years punctuating the story of each business she represents with a unique voice. With an energetic and creative three-year-old toddler by her side, she can usually be found on the beach chasing waves, reading through a library of children’s books at bedtime, or in a rare moment of solitude on her yoga mat.