Joyful people draw us in, infecting us with their cheerful spirit and hopeful perspective. The most joyful people, I’ve found, are those who are not shaken by passing difficulties or tragedies. It’s as if their joy is held firmly by an anchor that can’t be yanked with each passing storm.
And who are the people who experience passing storms day in and day out, morning, noon and night? Moms! Especially moms with lots of kids.
Of course, I don’t blame the ones I encounter who seem completely crushed by exhaustion or generally maintain a more dismal disposition. Motherhood, we know, is rough stuff.
But when I meet moms with abnormally large broods who also radiate true happiness and satisfaction, I can’t help but wonder: What is their secret?
With my fifth little one on the way, I figured now is the perfect time to investigate. Here’s what I learned from a handful of moms with six or more kids in tow and a noticeably joyful pep in their step…
1. A good night’s sleep and time for rest are non-negotiables.
If you’ve listened to The Messy Family Podcast, you’ve heard the sound of Alicia Hernon’s infectious laugh. There’s no denying she’s full of joy. When I asked how she has maintained joyfulness in spite of the stresses of mothering 10 kids, the first thing she mentioned was sleep.
“You would not believe how much more patient, clear-eyed, and well-behaved I am when I get enough sleep!” she gushed. “Many mothers of young children are chronically sleep deprived, but this can be overcome with a good routine, discipline on mom’s part, and help from dad.”
Besides sleep, though, the importance of creating a daily time to rest from the chaos of motherhood cannot be overstated.
Sarah deVries, who’s currently expecting her seventh child, said carving rest time into the day has been crucial in helping her maintain joy. “As soon as my kids drop their nap, I immediately make sure that they are able to [do something else] for an hour and a half to two hours in the middle of the day while I have some quiet time to myself.” Sarah said she often uses this time to do chores but also to pray, read the Bible, and reflect. She says it’s her “reset time to … refocus for the rest of the day.”
2. Close relationships are highly regarded in their homes.
Just about every mom I talked to said something about growing in relationship with their kids and drawing joy from their children’s relationships with one another.
Jenny Tuttle, mother of eight little ones, said, “Since we have a wide age range of children, it always warms my heart to see my older children enjoy playing and interacting with their younger siblings … Their laughter can be such a therapeutic sound and experience.”
But in addition to cherishing their children’s relationships with each other, these moms clearly seek to grow lasting, personal connections with their kids, despite the inevitable difficult mothering moments.
Lauren Mays, a mother of seven, explained how, as a cyclist, she began spending quality time with her kids on bike rides. “We started playing together in a way we could all enjoy. It’s been a really beautiful experience.” she said. “On a really hard day with one of my teens last week, I [said], ‘Go get your bike. Let’s just you and me go to the quarry before it rains.’ There was no profit in discussion between us at that point, but we could do that.”
Sarah, who stressed the importance of daily afternoon rest time in her home, revealed, “I often realize during this time that I was too harsh with a child in the morning and will go to them and apologize and make things right between us.”
It can be hard to remember that, although our kids need instruction and discipline from us, they also need to feel known and cherished. Happy moms have the commitment and humility necessary to provide that sense for their children.
3. They prioritize marriage over motherhood.
Although they fight for meaningful relationships with their kids “when the ground [is] fertile,” as Lauren put it, these moms recognize that their marriages come first.
Ginny Schlater, mother of nine, stated, “My priorities are God, then my marriage, [then] my kids and anything else flows out of these.” Moms who let their children’s needs take precedence over their marriage are on a path toward disorder and dissatisfaction.
“Remember,” Alicia cautioned, “the needs of your children will always be urgent, but the needs of your marriage, though rarely urgent, are always important.” Because of this, Alicia explained, “it is easier to neglect your marriage than your children.”
Ironically, though, “the most foundational need that your children have is a stable marriage!” she said. This is why it is so beneficial to the entire family for parents to set aside their urgent duties and prioritize quality time with one another.
As Meghan Zuercher, mom of six, mused, “A bowl of popcorn and a good documentary or comedy series with my husband in the evenings gives me peace.”
4. They don’t put their passions on hold.
An interesting paradox about these moms is their steadfast dedication to their families but also the commitment to not losing themselves or what makes them come alive.
“I’m a huge proponent of maintaining your identity as a person, not just as Mom, and taking time for that,” Lauren said.
Many moms, like Meghan, are rejuvenated by fitness. She said she makes a point to wake up before her kids for “gratitude, reflection, and even during a sweaty, challenging workout, I find peace in the fact that I am doing something for me, yes, but also for my family, as I am a better version of myself when I’ve had this time to myself.”
As a musician and singer, Alicia said that when her kids were younger, she would get together with friends once a week just to sing. “We all made time to sing because it gave us life!” she gushed. “All of us need to make space for creative outlets … Don’t say you don’t have the time. Make the time. It will make you a better mother.”
A mother’s forfeiting of activities that are fun or enriching for her should not be praised as selflessness, but pitied as self neglect. Motherhood is not meant to make us renounce the things we love. Instead, it should lead us to a deeper appreciation of them.
5. They don’t care much about social media.
We’ve all heard that adage about no one being able to steal our joy unless we let them. Well, how often are we letting our joy be stolen by hopping on social media?
“I could feel joy for my day leave my body,” Ginny said about the last time she was on Facebook. At the time, she had 2-year-old twins and a six-month-old when “a friend from high school posted pictures … of her vacation. … Almost immediately, I [thought] … ‘Will I ever be able to go on another trip?’ and my thoughts kept spiraling.” After that, she realized she couldn’t let social media interfere with her outlook anymore.
Ginny acknowledged, “It’s not that social media is bad, but it was a distraction for me.” There can be tremendous fruits from having a social media presence, but often, it triggers comparison and discontentment. “Do not compare … your family to other families,” Ginny advised. “That is the fastest way to lose your happiness. You only have grace for your family.”
“Whenever I slip into discontentment,” Sarah said, “wishing I did something that seemed more glamorous … I know I need a reminder … Whose approval am I living for?”
These joy-filled moms know that seeking approval and validation via social media is futile. At the end of the day, they know to look to their Creator for affirmation … and of course, to get a good night’s sleep.