Each year in early May, my partner and the kids lovingly poke around to see what I might like for Mother’s Day. It’s super sweet, and, since I love surprises and genuinely love whatever kids create on their own, I usually say, “Whatever you come up with!” This year felt different—I actually couldn’t even say what I’d want.
My “meh” response to this sweet annual ask made me reflect on how I’m feeling—a bit foggy, uncertain, and out of my groove—as if I’m watching a movie I’ve always loved but I can’t quite experience how good it’s supposed to be. I’m not hopeless, but I’m definitely not firing on all cylinders.
Then, my partner sent me a link to an article written by psychologist Adam Grant that gave my emotional state a name. He called it languishing—that heavy middle space on the mental health spectrum between true depression and flourishing.
When teaching kids to understand their emotions, giving a feeling a name helps them make sense of it. Just like a kid, I suddenly felt like I could better see what was happening for me emotionally. And, after a year marked by intense fear, uncertainty, grief, and the constant confusion of mothering and working in the same space (and all too often at precisely the same time), I know I am not alone.
The good news? Realizing that I am languishing led to curiosity about how to move myself towards flourishing—and, even better, the steps to get there are actually quite doable and aligned with the work I do every day as mom.
Here are three ways to do it.
#1/ Find Small Wins
When you’re raising small humans, small wins are everywhere if you look! A little walk, a discovery kids share with you, or even just how kiddos look when they are sleeping—these little embers spark all day, and if we fan them, they can become powerful sources of well being.
A few years ago, we wrote about the best 1 minute you can spend—at the end of every day (or week) find one parenting moment that felt really good and just meditate on that moment. As humans we are wired to focus on the dangers in life (makes sense for survival), but we can retrain our brains to focus on the highs, the wins and those moments that fill our buckets.
Research shows this makes a meaningful difference in our overall mood. I asked members of our OutdoorsAll4 Facebook community to share a parent win. Moments ranged from small to huge, including things like new meals cooked and enjoyed by ⅔ of one mom’s kiddos (a definite win in my house); seeing our kids display empathy towards critters; tantrums successfully navigated (always a win!); and even thrilling learning breakthroughs for kids. It quickly became one of our most joyful, engaged posts, and reading it gives me a big boost. Join in, and you can bathe in the stories of wins and regular supportive ideas, too!
You can find plenty of small wins in other corners of life, not just in the realm of parenting. For example, slow down to feel the satisfaction in daily tasks, listen to music that stirs your soul or snap photos of the things you find beautiful outdoors.
#2/ Practice Gratitude
Experts recommend focusing on gratitude to help fan the flames of flourishing. It’s the routine act of feeling and expressing thanks for the world around us, which includes everything from the natural world you live in to the family, friends, and neighbors that make up your community.
A gratitude practice can take the form of a Sunday dinner chat about what everyone is thankful for, a walk where you and your kids point out what you find beautiful in nature, or it could be taking the time to write a thank-you card to someone in your life each week. Every November, we keep a family gratitude journal, each person taking a day of the week to suggest something for which they are truly grateful. It’s such a lovely reminder of all that is good, and it teaches the kids this practice, too.
#3/ Cultivate Your Community
We can get serious benefits from relationships and spaces that offer what researchers call “high-quality connections”—two-way interactions that feel really good, trusting and open for both sides. Aided by vaccines, longer days and warmer weather, we can all start to build in even more chances to walk, talk, sit and be with the people we love and trust most in our lives.
I made a list of the friends and family I miss, and am working on summer plans to visit or touch in with whomever I can. I’ve also listed the community spaces in which people are truly curious, open and supportive. I’m particularly grateful for communities like OutdoorsAll4 and Wildschooling, for example. Shedding spaces that are otherwise and spending time in communities like this has already started to buoy me.
#3 Find "Flow"
Find healthy stretches of time to focus deeply on something you love. This can lead to what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi first called a state of “flow”—that state of being “in the zone,” directed, energized and fully immersed in whatever you are doing. I see my kids do it when they play (and I remember not to interrupt). It’s easy to get busy (i.e. overwhelmed) and struggle to find that kind of time, especially as a mom.
For me, the most attainable way to find “flow” is to head outside. Every morning, I’m trying to take a walk and use all of my senses to soak in nature’s goodness. Sometimes, it’s only 10 minutes, but I love smelling, feeling, listening, looking and moving my body in the space that is both calming and invigorating at the same time.
Wherever you feel you sit on the spectrum of well being, I am so proud of all parents and guardians everywhere this Mother’s Day. And, I hope you feel the love and the life you give your kids and everyone you care for in your life. I see you and celebrate you!
Some Wins from the Community
Enjoy a few of the marvelous “wins” our Outdoors All 4 Community shared.
I'm revising an article on the benefits of focusing on one positive thing from each day or each week. And, I'm curious to see if crowdsourcing these moments can lift us all up! In truth, I'm also just a bit weary this week from balancing it all, and want to bring back this practice for myself! Thank you to anyone willing to share a recent parent win and inspire me and others to focus on the wins!
- My eldest (2.5-yo): "yay mama" (when I finish vacuuming), random and unexpected occurrences of "thanks mom", and using "please" voluntarily to ask for things. Also, today, she looked at me dead serious and said, "let's not watch anything (meaning TV - we usually watch a short show in our second language right after breakfast to ease into our day a little) today. I want to work in the garden and play outside instead". There are plenty of challenges at this age, and we definitely have our share of meltdowns, but these are the wins I'm celebrating this week.
- I love this! My 4yo has been testing and tantruming a lot lately and tonight I was really proud of the way I held space for her without getting dragged into it emotionally... And then when she finally said, "I think reading a story would help me feel better," I was proud that she was able to identify a strategy to calm down.
- Nice, mom!
- We went to explore a new spot that I heard was stocked with trout for my teen. Unfortunately there were no trout to be found, but instead we found a frog pond with tons of frogs and eggs! My 3.5 year old has never seen anything like it before. Then we saw a snake swim across the creek.
- Sweet serendipity!
- Was reading some article that said when kids are mad or in a panic they feel physically insecure and providing them with the reassurance that they are safe helps defuse the emotional ride. This week my 3rd was having a tantrum about not being aloud more screen time. I put my hand out for him to hold. He grabbed it and we walked to another room without a single word about his tablet.
- Tried a new recipe and 2/3 kiddos gobbled it up! A rare but delightful win here.
- That's always a great feeling!
- That is the best...2 of 3 is passing with flying colors here as well!
- It rained all day today and we went hiking, to the beach, and playground and had a great day ! I love showing him that all weather is good.
- My 5 year old was diagnosed with hearing loss last summer and we’ve been trying to slowly introduce some basic vocab words in sign language. I caught her teaching her cousin the word “friend” unprompted recently. Made my heart swell.
- Wonderful! Teaching is the highest expression of knowing!
- My daughter has a debilitating fear of bees (well all bugs actually) and yesterday we went on a walk and observed lots of nature around the neighborhood. We stopped to smell the tulips and daffodils and in one was a bee! I told my daughter it was there and she was scared but approached with extreme caution/apprehension to see it. We continue on our way and on the way back she wanted to see it again! Then on our evening family walk, she was on a mission to show it to her sister and super proud. This tiny moment made me feel like all of our talks about our tiny friends payed off, even if it was only for one day and helped me as a mom take a breath and feel so proud of her to face that fear!
- Hooray for tiny friends and big, brave hearts!
- My 2 year old son got frustrated and instead of full blown tantrum mode he came to me (still in tears) and asked to do lion breath (his favorite deep breathing exercise)
- Lion breath is our favorite, too!!
- He likes making up his own, we have alien breath, hippo breath, etc.
- Hearing my 5yo tell my 2yo in the car “hold on, buddy, we’ll go in a second. I know it’s hard to wait.” It’s so great to know the things I say sink in!
- Witnessing my previously language delayed 3 year old proudly tell his friends at school “My mommy protect me from ghosts at my house” No idea where it came from but it was clear as day, everyone understood him, and it sparked conversation between them.
- Wow! Big moment!
- Wow! Big moment!
- My 7yo son can be extremely challenging but I saw some glimmers of empathy in him that made me stop and smile. He got devastated on our walk because construction was cutting down trees and he was so worried about the animal and that they wouldn't have homes. So we brainstormed an action plan to let him use his voice. So he is going to work on a letter to the city to explain his concern and ask what their plan is for these animals. I felt/feel like a proud momma. I think Tinkergarten has truly added this empathy into his life.
- That is a beautiful story and empathy in action for sure. Please thank him for his idea to use his voice to help, too!
- I actually sat down with him today and pointed out his multiple empathetic acts after posting this. I wanted him to understand how helpful and kind his acts were.
- He also stood up to his friends who were trying to hurt a bug. He was really upset about it.
- My almost 1 year old signing “more” for the first time did just that today!
- Hooray! Imagine how satisfying it must be to achieve new ways to communicate!
- My five year old was having a rough time and went full tantrum and went to his hangout corner in his room to calm down with books but was still crying. His newly one year old sister ran into the room and sat with him, patting his head and he stopped crying. It was the best moment of my week!
- Empathy right there!!
- I learned that my 4.5-year-old noticed a little kid at the playground playing alone and went over and invited her to play with her and her friends because she didn’t want her to feel left out. My heart exploded.
- The best!
- Mine is kind of sad, but I'm really proud of my 3 year old. We have a blind, old cat that's been having some health problems lately, and we've been preparing the kids to say goodbye to him possibly some time soon. We had to put down our other almost nineteen year old cat just last year, so my daughter has some idea about what to expect. So she's been all over our blind kitty. She's been trying her best to take care of him, but she's 3 so that mostly translates into shoving him into a bed, covering him with blankets, and hugging the bejeezus out of him. Our toddlers have started following her lead and have been grabbing him, too. Luckily, he is a very, very tolerant cat. Earlier this week, she was a little too rough with him and I had to separate her and give her a time in. During that, she said she missed our other cat, and we had a very good discussion about being sad and missing him. We cuddled and looked at pictures of the other cat, and talked about happy memories with him. Then we went to find our blind guy, and she was amazing with him. She actually gave him space, and he was purring and head butting her. She's slowly learning cat body language. Not quite there yet because 3, but her little heart is in the right place. I'm proud of her.
- So much love in this story!
- 5yo while on a walk. "That's a pretty dog. And a pretty person."
- I could tell my almost 3 year old really wanted to be physical with her baby sister, but she managed to stop herself, and said, “I can kick a ball!” (instead of her sister ) this is a result of months and months of reading the book “feet are not for kicking people”!
- I love that book!
- Snuggling in the hammock with my 4 year old who was mixing a "potion" of beautiful flowers pilfered from the neighbors' gardens.
- My 3 year old just brought every one at the table a napkin. Unsolicited!
- My almost 4 year old sat down at the table and told me that she was going to eat all of the healthy things so that they wouldn’t be hungry later. (We’ve been struggling at dinner time recently).
- Even though I have had both my vaccines, my grown son is constantly protecting me in small ways. I am so proud of his love and concern for others. Even though he is grown, as a parent it is heart warming to see those qualities in your child. To parents of young children, always model the behavior or quality you want your child to have.
- Lovely and inspiring!
- My 10 and 7 year old sons nearly came to blows yesterday while making their lunches for school. Little brother was in big brother’s space and trying to remove foods that he he thought were “unhealthy choices” for big brother. Big brother was already upset after not getting to connect with a friend after school. I was so impressed with how they both managed to work it out after this super charged emotional exchange. Rather than storming off, our 10 year old allowed us to help him reconnect to himself, us and his brother. Little brother helped bring him back as he shared through heartfelt tears that he just missed his best brother and didn’t know a better way to be close to him. It was a hard and raw moment and I was amazed at the way they were able to get to the heart of it and reconnect.
- How great that they can find a way to work through...and only 7 and 10!
- I have provided childcare for my grandson since he was 6 weeks old. He is now 23 months and has been saying names of all the family and extended family except mine. This week he finally called me "Grammy"!! (It sounds like Baby, but I'll take it!)
- That must have felt wonderful!
- That must have felt wonderful!
- We have just started to “whisper” to each other little things we want to be extra special - both our boys aged 6 and 4 are constantly whispering aka spitting sweet messages in my ear this week and I couldn’t love it more It started last week when we were all struggling to “hear” or listen to each other
- That is the sweetest!
- I spent all week thinking I missed the mark on mothering, and then my 4yo came home from pre-k with a painting she made entitled, "Juliet is happy. Mommy and I walked to school together." That put things in perspective a bit!
- My kids are in their 40's --one 51. 5 granddaughters every day is a blessing......
- Just popping on to say you momma’s posting about your little having tantrums is saving my sanity today it’s not often my little explodes beyond reason, but it’s an all day event for her.
- We’ve been trying belly breathing, calm down toys (I was happy to see some of you posting your methods and I feel relieved I’m doing the same things!) and a quiet corner until we can chat about what to do next, “I’m sorry _______ + I wish I didn’t_______.” and “What can I do to make it better/help you? Can I fix it/bring you a bandaid or ice/can I give you a hug?” She’s been recovering a little quicker, and offering “I’m sorry” more sincerely... but we still have a long way to go. Thanks for this post!
- We just came back from the playground. He was bouncing silly on a little hanging log bridge. A little girl, younger than him was cautiously and patiently waiting to cross the bridge. I just called his name, and he stopped the first time (it’s usually two or three times to get his attention), took a look around, tried to steady the bridge with feet spread wide, and when that wasn’t assuring enough to the little girl, he crossed to the other side and stuck his hand out as if he would be ready to help her if she needed help and gently said: “Here you go”. Then waited for her to cross the bridge.
- My 5 yo was having a hard time waiting for sister to be done playing with a toy. He said Mom I’m going outside to listen to the birds. It gives me peace.
- I am going to use that same strategy!!
- Learning to hold firm to boundaries while cheerfully giving my love and empathy through the anger! Finding the joy in the little moments! Lowering my expectations of what it looks like to be with and have fun with my child.
- We looked through pics on my phone last night before bed and were able to have a real dialog instead of me mostly talking. My daughter got very engaged, pointed at her daycare friends naming them, explained certain things to me. It was cool, she is 19 months.
- Looking at photos people and experiences is SO opening for kids. What a great way to reflect, remember things and get kids talking!
- Agree, it is so great when they can finally talk back to you. I am not the most talkative person myself and usually just very quiet before bed. I didn’t realize she had so much to say.
- I also was speaking Russian to her (my mother tongue) and she was speaking mostly English for now but we could perfectly communicate. It gives me hope to raise her fully bilingual although I know it is not easy.
- Wow! When I was a principal, my school included a dual language program, and it was amazing to see the outcomes for kids who stuck with it! How wonderful you have two languages in you to give her that gift at home!
- Thank you! It is hard especially because I am not a chatterbox. My husband is American and doesn’t speak Russian but he is very supportive of my efforts. I am taking our daughter this summer to my home country (a Russian speaking part of Ukraine) and hope that full immersion will make it’s wonders.
- My son told me yesterday a picture he drew at preschool of 3 flowers and the sun, reminded him of God and God was the sun watching over us . Made my day.
- My 3 yr old whispered love you too rather than "alright" this morning. My 5 was NOT the most wild guy in the neighborhood this evening and my 13 month put her hands on her hips and walked right by me to climb into the sandbox alone. All bittersweet but proud moments.
- Recently, my 10 year old (who is really exploring expression of opinions and his pre-teen self) announced that he is "always up for a hike" with the family, and that made my heart feel really full.