How does supermodel, fashion designer and mother-of-three Kathy Ireland balance it all? In her new book "Real Solutions for Busy Moms: Your Guide to Success and Sanity," the celebrity mom dishes on everything from her marriage to her faith to raising her children. Offering smart and simple advice, she encourages fellow busy moms to enjoy their family while also leaving time to take care of their own needs. An excerpt:
Chapter 2: Every Home Needs Happiness
Lately, it seems like our family time at home is depressing and tense, just one frustration after another. What's a better way?
Recently, during a furniture convention at the World Market Center in Las Vegas, our team was having a pretty exciting evening. We were surrounded by friends, family, our manufacturers, and retailers. My friend Erik Estrada was master of ceremonies for the party. My friend Anita Pointer was headlining a concert for us. You can imagine my surprise when she dedicated one of the Pointer Sisters' most exciting songs, "Happiness," to Kathy Ireland Home. My jaw dropped, and it got me to thinking: every home needs happiness.
When you and the rest of your family are happy, your day goes more smoothly, your problems are resolved more quickly, and your life flows like a fresh and beautiful spring. As world champion boxer and entrepreneur George Foreman has said, "You just can't beat ol' happy." Happiness is something we all desperately want and need. In childhood we learn about the Declaration of Independence and the phrase "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." We Americans consider happiness an inalienable right, and we pursue it with passion -- but often, sadly, without success.
Happiness seems elusive for many of today's families. We're overwhelmed, underpaid, and under pressure, and the results in many homes are tension and conflict. Too many parents and their kids turn to destructive habits to get through their days: alcohol, drugs, inappropriate sexual activity, overspending, and more. In these as well as less dysfunctional families, bickering is a standard mode of communication. Families turn to counselors, therapists, and church leaders to mediate disputes between husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister, yet frequently the conflicts remain unresolved. Divorce, to a staggering degree, has become commonplace: more than half of today's marriages break up. In extreme cases, parents physically abuse their children, a terrible tragedy. But are we aware of our kids' vulnerability to emotional abuse? A thoughtless, cruel, or sarcastic comment at an unguarded moment can cripple a young life forever. Both forms of abuse take place every day.
Some time ago I heard a story I will never forget. A woman was describing how miserable her life was with her husband. When asked what she could do to change her circumstances for the better, the woman answered, "I'll never leave, and we'll never be happy, because my revenge on my husband is not complete." This bitter attitude toward life is scary, and it's likely more common than we realize.
What's wrong with us? We may be pursuing happiness, but we're not catching it. Are we sacrificing happiness today because of hurts from yesterday? Are we going to be discontented, or, worse, miserable for the rest of our lives? Do we have to live this way? The answer to that, of course, is no. In fact, you may be surprised how easy it is, after a little strategic thinking, to bring real happiness into your life and home. Keep reading, and I'll explain what I mean.
By now you've probably asked yourself, "Am I happy?" Before you answer, I suggest you ask yourself another, far more important question: "How do I define 'happy'?" Go ahead, pull out a piece of paper or open up your laptop and record what comes to mind. What does your happiness look like? Feel like? How do you touch it? How do you experience it? Your answers to these questions will be more profound than you might think.
I once was a guest panelist at a speaking event with Barbara Walters and Dr. Maya Angelou, both women I greatly respect. We were speaking at the conference at different times. Ms. Walters made the statement that women can't "have it all." Later, when it was my turn to communicate, I politely disagreed with her. I said that women can have it all but that we may not be able to have it all at the same time. Marriage, career, motherhood, household CEO, commitments to church and other nonprofit organizations, and other life responsibilities are enormous challenges that can drain even the mosthighly skilled and motivated among us. Trying to fill all of these roles successfully as well as simultaneously is like juggling three balls while riding a bicycle across a tightrope over Niagara Falls. Sure, you might be able to pull it off, but it's far more likely that sooner or later, something will be going over the edge — and it will probably be you!
My point is that you don't need to have it all at the same moment, with the pressures that go along with that. What does having it all really mean, anyway? Your "all" needs to be just that -- yours. You need to define it. Don't allow your perception of someone's fantasy to become your blueprint for living. Your life, like your fingerprints, will be different from someone else's. It's your unique gift from God. For me, that means following the path I believe God has set me on. That path is a wonderful place, where we can be happy.
If you're a mom who's trying to be everything to everyone, are you doing it because it brings you happiness or because it's part of someone else's agenda? As moms we aim to please. We want to meet and exceed the expectations of others, whether they are our children, spouse, friend, neighbor, or our own mother. We may buy into someone else's idea of a successful, happy life without ever really thinking about how it will impact our own. Be careful that you don't let another person's definition of happiness substitute for yours.
Letting go of others' expectations can be extremely freeing. Suddenly you don't have to work crazy hours each week to make payments on a car you don't really need. You don't have to prepare the perfect meal every night — your family will survive the occasional tuna sandwiches and vegetable sticks. You don't have to have every item of clothing washed, folded, and put away at the end of the day. It'll wait until tomorrow. If taking off some pressure gives you greater peace in your heart — and more happiness — then allow yourself the freedom to be less than your image of perfection.
Knowing What's Truly Important
Let's take a look at what you wrote for your personal definition of happiness. Does it match up with the way you're living your life? When can you make changes to move closer to your definition of happiness? Don't put it off until tomorrow -- let's start today. If you aren't quite sure how to answer these questions or are simply feeling overwhelmed, make a list of your priorities. What is most important to you? What people and activities and attitudes bring you the greatest joy? Are you thinking "big thoughts" about your life and your future? Do you have a vision for fulfilling your goals? It's tough to be happy if your daily life and priorities aren't aligned. If you spend most of your time focusing on your priorities and passions, you'll probably be much happier.
When I write out my own priorities, my faith in Jesus Christ tops the list. He is my foundation. He is my daily source of purpose and joy. The Bible says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds" ( James 1:2). We can find joy even when the state of our lives isn't all we're wishing for. Since God wants us to find joy even in our trials and tribulations, I believe He expects us to celebrate the good times even more. That's a great encouragement to me.
One of the little things I do to remind myself about my priorities is to take a sheet of paper and write, in big capital letters, JOY. After each letter, I fill in a word: Jesus, Others, You. I keep one of these JOY signs on my bathroom mirror and another in my kitchen. On days when I'm feeling more stressed than joyful, those signs stop me in mid-step. I'll think, Okay, wait a second... maybe I need to rearrange my priorities at this moment. And when I do that, the joy returns. It's a simple technique, one anyone can use to help remind him or her of what's important. Your list will be different from mine. Whatever it is, keep it in front of you so that your eyes are focused on the prize. The key is to stay attuned to what matters most to you so you can maintain a joyful atmosphere in your life and home.
What matters most to the moms I talk with is time with their families. Kids, especially, change quickly and move into new phases of life. We don't want to miss anything. Our sons and daughters need our guidance and steady presence. They also need us to be happy so we can bring happiness into their lives. Yet unless we are vigilant in protecting our family time, it disappears. It's easy for seemingly important events to intrude on this precious resource.
I remember a wonderful offer that came to me several years ago. I was invited to participate in a short-term project that would pay three times the annual salary I was earning at that point. My advisers thought it was a great opportunity and strongly encouraged me to say yes. The problem was that it was scheduled on the same day as my wedding anniversary, it couldn't be changed, and I'd already made plans with my husband. I'd decided early in my marriage that celebrations on special days such as anniversaries and my husband's and children's birthdays were too important to postpone. I do admit that I have worked on my own birthday, and that's probably not the best boundary. When I considered what to do about the conflict with our anniversary, it was no contest. I turned down the project and enjoyed my time with Greg instead.
Husbands and, even more so, your children, will intuitively sense if they are cherished and if they are your priority. When you set aside other important and pressing issues to make time for them, it sends a message that they are first in your life. You may miss out on a business opportunity, a fun time with a girlfriend, or that haircut you really need. Sometimes you'll even miss out on your daily shower (we moms know that perfume is shower in a bottle). Yet by letting go of other priorities, you'll be honoring your family and cultivating a happy home. In the long run, it will be more than worth the sacrifice of any other opportunity.
The Power of Place Another key to a happy home is maximizing the impact of our physical environment. For most moms, even if we work outside the home, our house or apartment is our primary "office." For better and worse, it is the space that communicates how we're feeling about ourselves and our lives. Never underestimate the power of place to either lift your spirits or take a toll on your emotional well-being. I urge you to step back and consider how your home is making you feel. Years of living in the same spot can have a numbing effect on your senses. You may not even realize that the atmosphere of your living space is making you tense, anxious, and depressed when it should be leaving you relaxed, at peace, encouraged, and happy.
You may sense that your physical surroundings are draining your energy but aren't sure why. It could be that your furniture feels hemmed in and out of balance. It's possible that the colors on the walls, which once felt exciting and enlivened your decor, now appear out-of-date, stuck in the past. If your life has changed, why haven't your colors? Or are you overwhelmed by one of the most common culprits of all — clutter? With tons of clutter, you may not be able to even see the colors of your walls.
Is your home filled with things you no longer want or need? Are you hoarding to compensate for or cover up some emotion? Are your tables and floors covered with toys, clothes, dishes, and unread magazines? These are signs that clutter is taking over your life. It's easy to get weighed down by possessions. In some cases, the desire to acquire becomes a disease. People have closets and rooms full of things that weigh them down. If that's your situation, don't hesitate — it's time to act. Attack your home one room at a time. As you come to each item, either put it to use or get rid of it. If it's a ticket from a movie with your kids that evokes a special memory, put it in a scrapbook to preserve the memory, design a Christmas craft with it, or throw it away. Learn to let go. As you do, you'll rediscover the inviting home you once knew and loved.
I don't mean that every item and scrap of paper in your home has to be out of sight. That's certainly not the case in our home. My desk, which used to be my kitchen table, is covered with paperwork. You might call it a mess. Yet I know what each piece of paper is and where it goes. It's an organized mess! So I'm not suggesting that your home has to pass a white-glove inspection. On the other hand, if your bedroom doorway is blocked by boxes of Christmas cards from people you haven't talked to in ten years, it's time to step in and "clutter bust."
I am a firm believer that we are influenced by our environment, usually more than we realize. You may be reluctant to put much energy into transforming your home into a more welcoming place. I understand. However, once you acknowledge the far-reaching impact a positive living space has on your spirit, you can begin making changes for the better. We'll talk in this chapter about how relatively small steps, such as adding a touch of aromatherapy or setting out candles, can make an enormous difference in the atmosphere of your home (it's hard to have arguments by candlelight). We'll discuss fun ideas for displaying personal items that celebrate your unique personality and make you feel comfortable and honored. We'll also explore ways to establish a cozy little nook in your home that is just for you, a private place you can turn to for tranquility.
If you're anything like me, you'll need help — expert help — to make all the changes needed to transform your house into a happy home. I freely admit that cooking and gardening are not among my strengths. That's why I often turn to my good friend Chef André Carthen of ACafe and renowned landscape designer Nicholas Walker of J du J for advice. In this chapter Chef André and Nicholas will offer you solutions for entertaining and for developing a refreshing physical environment outside your home — as well as enabling some of that outdoor refreshment to come inside.
You may not be an expert on kitchen, garden, and living spaces. You are, however, an expert on you and what your family needs. Even if you have limited time and financial resources, with a little bit of help, you can develop a style for your home that reflects who you are and what makes you happy. We'll talk more about that, too. What is crucial is looking for opportunities to allow your surroundings to flourish. It can be the magnet that attracts the joy hidden inside your heart.
Looking for Joy in All the Right Places
We've talked about how many families are pursuing but not finding happiness. Some moms, though, are tired of the chase. They've tried for so long and have become so discouraged that they've given up. They're waiting for someone or something to come along and rescue them. They feel empty. They have a void in their hearts that desperately needs to be filled.
I remember the day one of our children wanted to run away from home. I'd read all the manuals and instruction books that said parents should question the decision but then allow their child to pack. The key was to never let the child see you panic or allow him to think he could intimidate you. Yet when my child was the one announcing plans to run away, my response was the complete opposite of what I'd read. As soon as I heard the words, I dissolved into tears. Not a good example of parenting! So believe me, I do understand how overwhelming, intimidating, and even frightening it can be to have mom responsibilities, and how that can leave mothers with an empty feeling that cries out to be filled.
For me, that void is filled by the Lord. When I take my troubles to Him, I find comfort and strength that give me an inner joy and allow me to keep going even when I'm discouraged by my circumstances. I appreciate that you may not share my faith. If you don't, you won't find your support in the same way I do. I will tell you this, though: if we wait for happiness, we are likely to find ourselves paralyzed by the waiting.
A mother once wrote to me and said, "I want to be happy. I'm waiting for something to happen to help me be happy." I wrote back and encouraged her to begin moving toward joy that day. We corresponded further, and I urged her to start with simple steps: Organize a junk drawer. Discard things she didn't need. Visit her children at school. Decide that rather than argue with her husband over their differences, she could realize that they each had their own visions for their lives, and she could focus on what they had in common. Today this mom leads a much happier life. She has stopped waiting for happiness to come to her and is starting to look for joy in the right places.
I don't mean to imply that discovering happiness is easy, especially for anyone struggling with genuine depression. Without doubt, there are circumstances and medical conditions that require professional help, including prescription medication. Emotional illness is as real as any physical illness. If you find yourself in a place of depression that you can't break through, or if you're overwhelmed to the point of danger to yourself or another human being, please put this book down immediately and get help. Too often, however, people turn to chemical substitutes — even from our own physicians, who may be quick to prescribe them — rather than attempt to solve the core problem. If you're unhappy, there is much you can do to change your situation. Life is too precious to go through it without joy.
One of the best ways to discover joy is to reach out to others. When we see beyond ourselves and observe the needs of the people around us, we open ourselves and our children up to all kinds of opportunities for joy. Years ago I worked in a convalescent home. It was a pleasure for me to deliver meals to the elderly patients, many of whom had no one else to visit them. Many were not happy. Their health was poor, and they were lonely. Yet the simple act of giving them a smile and hug and of serving them a meal brought heartfelt smiles to their faces. When my shift was done, I felt joy over the fact that basic acts of kindness could cause someone to feel a small difference in their life.
When you reach out to others, the impact goes beyond you and the person you're helping. Imagine the lessons your children will learn if, from an early age, they see you volunteering once a month to read to the blind or serve in a soup kitchen. Better yet, if your kids are old enough, encourage them to volunteer with you. In Santa Barbara we have a program in which we bring flowers to people who otherwise don't have access to them, so that they can experience one of God's wondrous creations. The program serves women and men who have limited mobility or are confined to their living space, including those in convalescent homes. Even people at our local mission, who may be temporarily homeless, benefit from the program and can enjoy the scent and beauty of a flower. This is something we've participated in as a family. I believe our children have learned powerful lessons from seeing firsthand the impact of kindness. No matter how much joy they give out, they receive even more.
I'm not suggesting that you should volunteer at the expense of your family time or your own overwhelmed schedule. It's important to set boundaries and establish what you can and cannot do. Still, when you make it a priority to focus on others, you may find that other, more trivial concerns will begin to fall away.
If you're reading this and thinking that you have very little time or money to give to others right now, I understand that. If you are a person of faith, however, you always have the option to pray. I'm reminded of a time when I learned that two boys at school were bothering one of our children. My first reaction wasn't very loving. I was upset. Later that evening, though, when I calmed down, our child and I prayed for those two boys. Just leaving the matter in God's hands was a blessing. Knowing that He hears and answers every prayer created a sense of peace and happiness for both of us. And the next day I found out that the situation had indeed improved.
Put simply, compassion leads to joy. In the Bible, the apostle Paul wrote, "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love...then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love" (Philippians 2:1-2). Any time that we follow the example of Jesus, we radiate joy. Everyone around us will see it, receive it, and most often, reflect it back.
You can be happy today. Remember when I said that some people have a void they want someone or something to fill? It's as if they're stuck in an "if, then" mode. If I can just have a baby girl, then I'll be happy. If we can make enough to afford a new house, then I'll be happy. If my boss gives me that transfer I want, then I'll be happy. They're always waiting for some external event to bring joy into their lives.
You don't have to wait. You can choose happiness right now. God tells us to be patient in our trials and in waiting for the return of Jesus (see Romans 12:12 and James 5:7), but He doesn't say we have to wait for joy. On the contrary, He wants us to always celebrate our lives and faith: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4). Remember Paul and Silas, who were severely flogged and chained to a prison wall (Acts 16:23-24)? They seemed out of options, yet they raised their own spirits and those of their fellow prisoners by offering prayers and hymns to God.
Yes, we will have moments of sorrow in our lives; but real joy isn't based on circumstances. Real joy is something that cannot be taken away. Even in the midst of crisis or grief, deep in our hearts, we have the joy of knowing that we're not alone. We have God, the people we love, and the precious gift of life. No matter what else is going on around us, those are blessings we should never take for granted.
This excerpt was reprinted with permission from “Real Solutions for Busy Moms: Your Guide to Success and Sanity,” by Kathy Ireland (Howard Books).