Creating a Balanced Life

How to clean up your emotional messes.

When life gets hectic, as it does when you’re a mom, it’s important to know how to compartmentalize your emotional space. Doing so enables you to feel happy even when things feel out of control or full of conflict.

In The Nine Rooms of Happiness (Hyperion), we allow you to think of your life as a big emotional house. Using this metaphor, some rooms are messy, others are neat. But by concentrating on what is going right and not letting the messes bring you down, you can be happier as a parent, a friend and a person in your own head space.

We think of it as having a “mess of the day.” There can be eight clean, neat or happy rooms. However, if one is a mess, you might be thinking about it in the other rooms, and it can steal your happiness like a thief. In fact, we often ruminate on the messy room even when we are in the clean ones.

Employ the right strategies to clean up the mess when you have the time. It’s in your control to do this. Our book gives you nine key processes for how to think about what is making you unhappy in every room of your emotional house— the bedroom for intimacy and romantic love; the bathroom for body image, health and well-being; the living room for friends; the attic for family expectations handed down; the basement for childhood memories; the office for work, bills and money; the family room for your nearest and dearest; and the kitchen for chores and how to get it all done. Most of the strategies work in more than one room.

Key Suggestions to Apply to Your Life

Self-Preservation
Being too nice or giving and ignoring your needs is not a good thing when it means you are depleted, feel tired or are slogging through the day. Haven’t gotten to the gym in weeks? Don’t feel you can when you need to carpool, volunteer at school, get dinner on the table, do the housework and perhaps also a desk job? Here is an important news flash: You need to take care of yourself and be strong to help others. As the airlines say, put your own oxygen mask on first before you help the person next to you. If you don’t, you may wear yourself out. Know your limits. Ask for help from your partner, family and friends. It’s not selfish, it’s self-preservation.

It’s Not Either/Or, It’s Both/And
This is the best strategy of all when dealing with family conflict. You may be faced with a toddler who, hands on hips, stance wide, screams at you, “I hate you!” and it’s like a spear through the heart. What did you do to deserve this wrath? Perhaps you asked your child to brush his teeth and get ready for bed. You tell yourself he’s tired, and he starts to fuss more. You think he is not a devil child and I am not a bad mom, but your hurt is spreading through your body and it’s hard to breathe and be calm and not want to spank your son for his insolence. Here is the moment you say to your child or yourself: “You can be mad at me, and you can disagree with me, but you can both feel that way and love me. And I can both feel sad or upset when you say you hate me and I can love you. We can disagree about bedtime and love each other.” Trust us, your child will hear you. This works for contemporaries, too.

Finding Balance
As working moms, we have been asked how we do it all. It’s easy when you lower your standards. We only half believe we have. You might take your first child to every possible activity, from music to sports, while juggling work and everything else. With your second child, you may have to relax a little. Rather than accompany both children to everything, you might need to send the kids to some classes on their own, or with another parent, your partner or a babysitter, whatever works. When this was the case for one of us, that working mom had palpitations because the guilt of not getting it all done, with grace and fluidity and joy, weighed on her conscience.

Then one day we came across an article about these amazing kids who grew up in the countryside away from all the over-stimulating and over-driven Type A New York moms. These kids each got perfect scores on their SATs.
The children’s mother was asked: “How did you do that?”

“I don’t know how they did it,” the mom answered. “I just left them alone.” Meaning no tutoring or overscheduled afternoons of piano and such. The kids read, played, explored and let their own curiosity drive them to learn. What a concept! A real childhood the way it was meant to be.

When one of us applied this thinking at home, the results were incredible. A daughter left in her room instead of at her usual swim lesson came out to say she had written a book. A son started tinkling the piano keys and picking out songs. This was easy and kind of fun! Perhaps we could all benefit from a little less to do. Now it’s a balance: Our kids get to choose some programs, but not all. And we don’t sign up for something just because the other moms do.

The Relationship Equation

Another idea to offer you parents is the relationship equation, which is A + B = C. You are A, the other person is B, and the outcome of the relationship is C. You can never change the other person (B). But by changing yourself or how you react to that person, you change the relationship. Therefore, if your child or spouse or another mother is driving you nuts, just say to yourself, “I am going to play this differently, change my approach and see what happens.” Don’t let the other person get to you. Be calm, draw a deep breath, take a mom’s time out and escape from the tension for a while.

You are in control and have the power to clean up the emotional messes in your life. Visit www.ninerooms.com for details.