"We hear from mothers all the time who say they feel alone. They feel overwhelmed; they feel sometimes inadequate. And you say you're afraid to admit the truth for fear of being judged," Oprah said on her April 6 show The Secret Lives of Moms.

The show goes on to reveal that the one universal truth about motherhood seems to be that no one ever tells you what to really expect.

Amy Nobile, co-author of I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids, added, “We feel like we don't have permission to admit that it's really hard, so we're all walking around with these smiles on our faces, but really we feel alone. We’ve raised the bar so high.”

Today, women enjoy such freedom in the workplace and in the home. What the woman’s lib movement didn’t take into account was the expectations that accompany those freedoms. And those expectations fall squarely on the shoulders of mothers.

Co-author Trisha Ashworth described this phenomenon in detail, "The expectations we have on ourselves is completely unrealistic. This generation of women was raised to believe that we should and could do it all. And that list [of expectations] is so huge that we think if we can't live up to that, then we're not good moms."

Oprah’s reason for having this show was to start a dialogue. She hopes to support mothers to stop pretending they have perfect lives. She feels mom should open up and be honest about “the toughest job in the world” so they can start supporting each other instead of competing.

That’s a fabulous start, so thanks, Oprah! Support and honesty are necessary to change your life, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could also reduce those expectations? That takes more than just dialogue; that takes some action!

What’s eating away at your happiness?
The first way to reduce expectations is to identify them -- all of them. Take out a sheet of paper and list everything you thought parenting would be like. Did you think it would be easier than it is? Write it down. Did you think you’d do it the same or differently than your parents? Write that down.

Now look at the expectations you had of your life as a parent. Did you think you’d be able to watch an uninterrupted TV show? Did you think you’d be able to go to the bathroom by yourself?

How did you think your children would be? Would they sleep through the night by the time they were 8-weeks old? Would they never whine? Would they listen to you’re wise and sage advice? Did you think your kid wouldn’t be a picky eater?

All of these expectations build up like plaque in our lives. And just like the plaque on our teeth causes tooth decay, expectations cause happiness decay. They are the root of complaining, judging, compromising, avoiding, struggling, comparing, worrying and procrastinating. They leave us feeling powerless, resentful, bitter, irritated, annoyed and dissatisfied.

Pick just one of those expectations. Write it at the top of a page and then make two columns by drawing a line down the middle of the page. As you read that expectation, write down all the feelings that come to you in the left column.

For instance, maybe you had the expectations that you’d be such a “cool” mom your teenager would want to spend more time with you. Maybe you’re angry about your relationship with your teen. Maybe you’re sad, because you miss the time when your teen was younger and you spent all kinds of time together. Maybe you feel rejected by your teen. Maybe you feel like a loser, because you’re just not cool enough.

Now that you’ve got your list of feelings: angry, sad, rejected, loser. In the right column list the things you do when you have those feelings. For instance, maybe you get impatient and yell when you’re angry. Maybe when you’re sad you withdraw and eat a double-scoop hot fudge sundae. Maybe rejection sends you back to bed. And when you feel like a loser, perhaps you get defensive and moody.

There it is in black and white. Maybe you overreacted when your son left his lunch bag at home. But the truth is you were already being affected by unfulfilled expectations.

You were already walking around with a low level of impatience and anger. You already had the tendency to yell or withdraw back to your bedroom. And then there is the extra shame of eating that hot fudge sundae, all because your expectations were eating away at your happiness.

Taking action to restore happiness
It would be wonderful if we could get rid of those expectations for good. Then we’d be happy, right? Well, the bad news is that we’re human and expectations come with the territory. The good news is that we can significantly reduce expectations by living with intention.

In Deanna Davis’ book Living with Intention she writes, “Even if each day doesn’t necessarily measure up to your standards, the grand total of your days can be anything you want it to be, given thought, choice, and a powerful perspective.”

She adds, “Perspective or attitude is all about how you assess situations and what you decide to do as a result of those assessments.”

So with your 2-column exercise you’ve done your assessment of living a life with happiness decay. Now you have the opportunity to reframe and rebuild your life as a mother through the use of intention.

There are countless ways to create an intention, but to get started, just focus on a three-step process.
Step one is to fill in the blank in this sentence: I want to be a ___________________ mom. Don’t overthink it, just put down the first thing that comes to mind. Maybe your answer is fun, calm, happy, energetic, caring, excited, cool, respected, careful, loving or peaceful.

Here’s the part where the thinking comes in. Define the word you put in the blank. This isn’t a dictionary definition, but what the word means to you. From the earlier example, a “cool” mom might be a mother who knows the latest pop groups and is willing to watch teenage TV dramas. Maybe she knows the current style trends and applies them to her wardrobe an age-appropriate way.

Step two is to write down your top personal value. A value might have shown up in step one, so if it did, make sure to pick a different to add more dimension and richness to your intention. Some sample values include: harmony, joy. freedom, integrity, service, trust, respect, self-expression, service, peace, courage, truth and compassion.

Once you’ve chosen your personal value, you’re going to define it again. For instance, the value of integrity might mean following through with what you say you’re going to do. It might involve walking your walk, and talking your talk. And it also might include some of the other values like respect and truth.

Your last step is to list your number one need in life. Is it respect? Community? Control? Belonging? Other sample needs are safety, family, faith, health, joy, love, acceptance, peace of mind, understanding, structure, support, to be heard, space and solitude.

And of course, you’ll get to define that one, too! Someone who needs safety might need to be surrounded by people who support without judgment. Yelling might shut them down. Safety might mean having structure and the space to make mistakes.

Happiness is ... the mother that’s already inside you
Now you’ve put together a whole picture of the mother you want to be and the environment you want to create. The sample intention would look something like this, “I am willing to be a cool mom who practices integrity and nurtures safety.”

This could look like an expectation, but making it an intention roots it in being proactive and empowered. It’s not about being a different kind of mom or a perfect mom; it’s the mother that’s already inside of you, lurking in your values and needs, that’s just waiting to be put into action.

That’s why the definitions are so important. They are the blueprint for living your day-to-day life. In the example, the intention is specifically defined as being a “cool” mom who is up on the latest music and fashion and is willing to hang out and watch TV with the kids. She walks her walk and talks her talk with respect and truthfulness. She nurtures a safe, structured environment where people don’t judge or yell.

For this sample mom, baking cookies every week and practicing soccer skills isn’t one of the top priorities for being “cool.” She gets to let go of those expectations and focus on what’s important to her. In this case, it might be important for her to go on a quarterly shopping trip with her teenager and make time to watch Gossip Girls.

While walking her walk with integrity, she’s going to release activities that don’t align with her main values. Maybe she volunteered for the PTA, but she really doesn’t like going to the meetings. She’d rather be home having a family meal. She’s going to practice integrity by giving up the PTA and better serve herself and her family by serving dinner.

And when her son forgets his lunch, instead of yelling, she’s going to respectfully tell him that he’ll be on his own for finding food today. When he gets home they’ll work together to find a structured way to help him remember his lunch.

Is it really realistic?
Basically, your intention becomes your mantra, “I am willing to be _____________ practice __________________ and nurture ___________________.” Make it a habit of checking in with your intention regularly, just like brushing your teeth.

As Davis puts it, “[It’s] about making one thoughtful decision at a time, re-committing yourself to those choices for a vibrant life every day and taking action to create it.”

The habit of using your intention will help you make decisions about what you will and won’t do. It can guide you in choosing your responses to life. Using intention lets you blossom into the mother that’s aligned with your heart and soul; you end up maintaining a life moderated by your unique and personal standards, and not some unrealistic expectation of being a perfect mom. This is how you create happiness -- by living a life that’s important to you.

Now, it’s not realistic that you will always meet the standards in your intention. That’s why the words “willing” and “practice” are so important. They give us the room to be human and make mistakes. They give us permission to let go of the guilt.

When you do fall short of your intention, maybe yelling at your daughter when she spills juice all over the floor, use your intention as a check point for you and a teaching moment for her.

“Honey, you know I don’t like yelling in this house, so I’m really sorry I lost my patience this morning. Next time I’d like you to wait for me to help you get the juice, okay?”

In this example, the mom reinforced that yelling is not acceptable in the house. Plus, in accordance with the intention statement, she’s shown respect for her daughter and personal integrity by apologizing. She’s also created a structure to help prevent future occurrences. No need to feel guilty about the little mis-step.

“We need to give ourselves a collective break,” says Nobile, who also co-authored Dirty Little Secrets from Otherwise Perfect Moms and I'd Trade My Husband for a Housekeeper: "We're insecure about the choices we're making—that's why we're judging each other."

And that’s where the intention is most powerful. You become secure in the choices you’re making because they are rooted in your commitments, values and needs. Instead of reacting, you become a mom who’s proactive, confident and centered in yourself. You become the mom who’s already inside of you, and that mom is itching to come out and have some fun and happiness!

Author's Bio: 

JJ Frederickson is a Certified Coach and Trainer with the Fearless Living Institute (FearlessLiving.org). She was formerly a newspaper reporter, local on-air personality and small-business owner. In 2005 she hired a Life Coach to balance motherhood and her career. The coaching experience completely transformed her life, and she's now a Life Coach with the mission of helping others bring ease into their homes (Parent-Coach.com) and lives (JJtheLifeCoach.com).