That might mean a good counselor or possibly a mentor/coach. It might be a friend who is where you want to be and is willing to share insights. It may be another parent who manages what you are struggling with and is willing to walk you through how they have accomplished what they have accomplished.
1. Friends – I recall many decades ago I was struggling as a mom with a house full of kids. I was yelling and stressed and trust me so were my kids. However, I had a friend who was calm with her children, and she had one who was a tantrum thrower. I asked her about it, and she showed me how she dealt with her over-the-top child. I was astonished. It had never occurred to me that you could remain calm when your child was not. I had not seen that from the adults in my life.
This friend of mine helped me practice and talked with me weekly for a good while. She helped me on my journey to a calmer way of being. It didn’t cost a cent.
2. Hire a mentor/coach – When I was writing my book, I needed some help. I was doing OK in the writing department, but I needed accountability. So, I hired an accountability coach. We talked on the phone once a week. She had published several books and was able to show me the flaws in my excuses as to why I couldn’t do this hard thing. Having her to bounce my doubts and fears off made all the difference.
3. Hire a trained counselor – Another time, decades ago, when I had a child struggling in a way that I couldn’t manage I hired a counselor. As my daughter and I met with her she was able to help me see how to help my child and she was able to show my child ways that she could help herself.
Recently, I advised one of my mentees to hire a trained counselor to work on some issues that are wreaking havoc in her marriage. She has and it is making a difference. Wise people seek the correct wise counsel!
4. Read books – When I was a very young mom, with only two children, I began reading a book on parenting. It was so over my head that I couldn’t finish it. I hated that book because it made me feel so inadequate, but it had shown me that I needed some skills that I had never seen used. I must admit it took a few years for me to get serious about changing my way of being as a parent. When I did another book showed up, and then another book. Change for me was a process. I never did finish that first book but what little I read led me on a path to where I am today.
5. Prayer – One of my first lines of defense, when I am in over my head, is prayer. Yes, you heard that right, I pray. I have had decades of experience in hearing the voice of the Spirit and it has saved me a lot of grief. When I realized I would have to stop teaching and speaking, to care for my mother and husband I was at a loss. This was my dream and being a full-time caregiver wasn’t! But I also knew this was the correct path. How would I know what to do? How could I stay out of resentment? How could I still write when my time would be at a premium?
Prayer has been the BIGGEST help of all! I am counseled as I go through my day. I have been shown how to deal with resentment. I have been shown what my mother and husband need, things I never would have thought of by myself. My heart has been softened. I am learning to touch more. : ) It has made a world of difference in the last three years.
And I have been counseled as to how to continue to do what I enjoy, that helps me make a difference in the bigger world, write. That has meant a great deal to me. I know that I am loved!
Wise people seek wise counsel from the sources that are available to them.
As we seek help more resources open. I have a friend who is a single mother. She is also self-employed and homeschools. Wow! Yes, she is a busy woman, but I can tell you she is also happy. That hasn’t always been the case.
When I first began working with her, she was feeling very stuck in life, as a person, as a mom, and as an entrepreneur. She had been in this stuck place for a few years. But within six months she was unstuck in all three areas and moving forward. How does that happen?
Well, she reached out to me, and I was able to help her with her homeschooling dilemmas and point her to other resources that made a difference. That’s what she came to me for. But I was also able to help her with some of the places where she was stuck in life. Why? Because I am much older and asked lots of thought-provoking questions. I was able to help her see what she couldn’t see amid her worries and fears. We became friends, she trusted me, and she moved forward even when the path wasn’t totally clear!
I couldn’t help her with her business but because she had experienced the value of seeking wise counsel a resource opened which revolutionized her work. It took six months but by the end of that time, she had outsourced much of the load, had learned new strategies which streamlined her business and increased her income. All this before she even thought about adding new clients or raising her rates. Seeking wise counsel changed her life, her kid’s education, her work.
As an aside, let me say that a few years have passed, and she is again stuck. Yes, that is how life works. It is never easy or smooth. But she has learned that wise people seek wise counsel. She knows from experience that if she stays the course, takes responsibility, and prays, the resources she needs will show up.
If you are struggling as a parent, take the time to honestly look at the issues. Do your systems stink? Do you lack skills? Is your confidence in the toilet? Do you feel unfulfilled in some way? Are your most important relationships rocky? Do you need some behavior modification? Have you forgotten how to care for yourself?
Be open to learning and resources show up. Read, ask good questions. Look at your situation honestly. Make the changes you can. Then do a bit more, look deeply at yourself.
In the end, it is all about you. You are the only person you really have any control over. You are the one who must grow and change no matter what anyone else around you does. You have heard one of my favorite quotes before. This one voice made me so mad and changed my life at the same time. What Viktor Frankl said is true, whether you are ready to believe it or not. If you are not ready to accept it do what I did. Let it settle into your heart until you can bear it and then it will change you and your life.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
Wise people seek wise counsel. Determine what you can change and then take control of yourself. Let go of blame. Seek the help you need to begin making a change. Practice. Doing this gives you all the power and will revolutionize your life.
I am speaking from seven decades of experience on both sides of this fence.
I hope you believe me. : )
Do you ever feel like you do everything, and everyone else in your family sits by and watches! I know that feeling well. Last week I shared an example of how powerful our thoughts and the stories they create are in the happiness we experience in life. Today I want to share another example.
Back in 2015, before my mother came to live with us, there were two people living in our home, me and my husband, Don. Our children were out building their own lives, so the workload was less, but I was still taking care of most of the “family” stuff. I did most of the dishes, cooked most of the meals, did most of the cleaning and laundry.
I decided that I needed more help. I discovered that Don would fold the laundry if I put it in a basket on the couch. We had a conversation about meals, and Don determined that he would cook on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, my busiest days. He began vacuuming more often.
In the laundry room, there is a clothes hanger. When outer clothes are washed, they are taken straight out of the dryer and hung up. Saves on ironing! The challenge was getting the hung clothes from the laundry room to the bedroom closet.
After our talk, I noticed that Don was taking the hung clothes to the bedroom closet. That is, he was taking his clothes. I observed this phenomenon for quite a few weeks.
Each time I noticed that he had hung his clothes in the closet and that mine were still in the laundry room, I would feel a slight twinge of irritation. After all, when I hung the clothes in the closet, I would take them all, his and mine. After a few months, I began to feel something besides irritation. It was easy to allow thoughts such as these to enter my mind: “What, doesn’t he think that I matter?” “If he cared, he would put all the clothes away.” “Is he just trying to make me mad?” I recognized this place – story land – and I have learned that there is very little happiness there.
Take Control, Don’t Allow Negative thoughts and Stories
So, I did what I have learned to do, I wouldn’t allow those thoughts to fester in my mind, and so I asked Don about it. “Don, when I put the hanging clothes away, I put them all away, yours and mine. But, I noticed that when you put the hanging clothes away, you only put yours away. Is there a reason for that?”
You would laugh if you could have seen the look of confusion on his face. It was priceless, and he said, “Well, don’t you have your clothes in some kind of order?” Boy, I got it right then, and I began laughing. My closet would have been a maze to my husband. All my clothes are hung in order of color and type of garment. My new story – he was doing me a BIG favor by not hanging my clothes in the closet!
We have more control over our thoughts than we realize. We can choose which thoughts we are going to hold in our minds and which ones we will get rid of. It takes some work, but you can learn to control your thoughts and the stories that they create.
Good Relationships Flourish When Stories are Positive
When you hold thoughts about what you want rather than what you don’t want, you can improve your family relationships in some significant ways. Want to read a fantastic exampleof how one mother completely changed her relationship with a “problem” child by simply changing her mental story about him? It will enlighten you, and I hope it gets you thinking about your stories and how they affect your family dynamics.
When you lose control of your thoughts, you lose control of your life.
6 Steps to Take Control of Your Thoughts
Identify – Begin by identifying your daily negative thoughts. Write them down. Have a notebook to keep track of them or try journaling.
Say NO – Don’t allow the thought to stay in your mind and turn into a story.
Rewrite – Immediately change the negative thought into a positive one. For example, if you wake up thinking, “I am so tired!” immediately say out loud something like, “I am going to have a terrific day.” You don’t have to believe it; just say it.
Vocabulary Counts – Use positive language. Not “I am not going to yell,” but “I am calm.”
Facts, not Assumptions – If you have negative thoughts about an experience or a person, don’t make assumptions; get more facts. Ask!
The benefit of the doubt – It helps to believe that people are doing the best they can. They usually are even when it doesn’t look like it.
As we learn to control our thoughts, we give our children a considerable gift. They will know that they are responsible for how their lives look and feel. It will give them a leg up in the world and their relationships.
Change your thoughts and change your world. Norman Vincent Peale
Do you want a tool to help you begin taking control of your daily thoughts? If you do, reach out, and I will send you a worksheet to get you going on the road to better family relationships.
I have been doing this now for two years. I have learned many things while toiling in the field. This week, two experiences gelled for me that I believe will be highly meaningful to some of you. Because I want you to get the full import of what I am attempting to share, I will take the time and words needed. Thank you for bearing with me.
I have been able to keep this field cleared on my own with just a hoe. I go there six days a week for 15 to 30 minutes. I have carved the field into sections in my mind, and I do one area each day. But, here is something I have noticed. No matter how careful I am in each section, I miss weeds!
Since the field is weedless dirt, I can see where I have walked in each section. Often, right next to a footprint, there will be a weed or a small group of weeds. This is a consistent phenomenon. How does it happen? I scan the whole area around me before I take the next step. But no matter how careful and methodical I am, it happens every day! I have thought a lot about that.
Here is what came to me this week – focus and light.
You can only focus on one thing at a time. Then you shift your focus to the next place and so on. You cannot focus on the entire section, or even the whole area right around you, just one spot at a time.
Here is something else. When I walk out to the field, I hoe weeds as I move to the section I intend to work. There is lots of dirt, and those tiny green seedlings are clear. I can see them, and I hoe them up as I go. But the odd thing is that as I make my way back from the section I just finished, I see weeds I missed. What! In this case, it is an issue of light—the light matters regarding what weeds I can see. Depending on the direction of the light, I can see certain plants but not others. It happens every day. Like focus, it determines what seedlings I see and what seedlings I miss.
This focus and light issue happens in parenting. We can see a problem that needs resolving, and we give it all we’ve got. Then later, we realize that there was another issue just as vital, if not more so, and we missed it. It can cause us grief because if we were being good parents how could we miss something so important.
Let me give you a real-life example so that you understand what I am sharing with you.
There was a time when four of our oldest five were struggling in school and with drugs. It was bleak. I was a focused, good mother. I spent enormous amounts of time trying to help these kids, keeping them alive, finding them services, attending counseling, etc. It has been decades since then. They are in their forties and fifties, have worthwhile lives, contribute. I believe they are reasonably happy.
But in my effort to focus on what seemed so important, vital even, I missed the pain of my two youngest children. I was there physically; we had meals on the table, I attended concerts and football games. I loved them and made sure they were safe. But I wasn’t emotionally available to them. It was all going to the four I was keeping alive.
These two youngest are now in their thirties. They also have worthwhile lives; they contribute, they seem reasonably happy. But I know they are still dealing with the pain of feeling abandoned, unseen. This was never my intention. I thought I was getting all the weeds, but I missed some despite my careful scanning of the area.
And then there was the issue of light (knowledge). My resources were limited, my information was lacking, and I couldn’t see what I couldn’t see. As I have moved forward, I have gained more knowledge. I can clearly see what would have worked better for the four than what I was doing. I also know how I could have helped those younger two, so they felt seen and heard.
I have been tempted to allow myself to feel like a bad mom, a failure. The truth is that for a long time, I did allow that. Then I gained more knowledge, light, and I STOPPED!
Thursday, this whole issue of focus and light was brought home to me even more. I wasn’t weeding a section of a vast field. Nothing was overwhelming in what I was weeding. I was working the strip between the sidewalk and the road. It is about 3 feet wide and 12 feet long and gravel-covered. Those weeds stick out like sore thumbs. You can quickly scan from one side to the other with each step. When I got to the end, I was feeling good. I was sure I had gotten every weed. But on the way back, right where I began, I found two weeds that I had missed.
Then I weeded a strip down the side of our driveway. It is only 1 foot wide. Easy peasy, right? And besides that, I was weeding on my hands and knees. But you know what, as I reviewed my work, I still found a couple of weeds I had missed.
Our focus and knowledge aren’t ever going to be perfect. Despite our best efforts, we can and will miss things that matter. If we could see them, we would do something about them but we don’t see them. What can we do when this happens, and our children are wounded because we are human and imperfect? It isn’t helpful to berate ourselves. Guilt is not an emotion. It is a state of internal condemnation. It damages and does not enlighten. Some call this state shame.
When we find ourselves lacking in our parenting skills there are better ways to respond. Here is what I have learned after many decades.
• Speak kindly to yourself despite your failure. Forgive yourself for not being perfect, for lacking the knowledge you needed, for not seeing every need.
• Be honest and take responsibility for what you missed. You did miss it. Avoid blaming anyone or anything else. Your honesty will help you see clearly so that you can move forward.
• Increase your knowledge so you can make whatever repairs you can.
• Remember that your kids came with an empty bag. You have added something to it even though you didn’t want to or plan to. Know that the cleaning out of their bag will help them become the people they are meant to be.
As for my two youngest, they have some work to do. It is their work. But I am here to support them. I pray so that I can know how to do that in the best way. Often, I am counseled by the Spirit to step back and leave them to their work. At other times I am guided to reach out.
They will do what my five oldest have done and are still doing. These older ones are emptying out their bags, and they are growing into amazing men and women. I’ve seen it. You will see it. If you never give up on your family, if you don’t berate yourself for being imperfect, if you keep growing and learning, increasing your light and knowledge, then you will see what I have seen. You are a good person and parent. You are doing your best, and as you improve your best, it will be enough!
Let parents you care about know that they can do this despite being imperfect!
I usually go to bed between nine-thirty and ten. That is because I have experienced the value of going to bed early and rising early. I have learned that your body works better if you go to bed around the same time each night and wake around the same time each day.
I haven’t always known what I know now about good sleep. I used to be a night owl, and I was very resistant to believing that making these two changes in my life would really matter. But eventually, in desperation, I made the change. It was HARD! It was a whole year of HARD. There were times when I didn’t think I could make myself keep doing it, but I did, and it changed my life.
But things happen, and on this night, I chose to remain up. The next day, doing a simple, close-to-home errand, I had difficulty staying awake at the wheel. Although I had stayed up late, I had gotten up at my usual time, between 5:30 and 6:30. I was TIRED!
I am not a napper! Seriously, I have to be sick or very under the weather to take a nap, but I fell asleep in the chair on this day. When I woke up that morning, I felt worn out, stressed, and frankly, as the day wore on, a bit depressed. Not like me!! My tone of voice, from the get-go, was sharp. It didn’t take much to set me off. It wasn’t easy to get a handle on my responses, even as I worked on my stories and endeavored to think positively.
Now I want you to picture something in your mind.
What if I wasn’t seventy-one but was thirty-five. What if I had three or four little kids to care for. I can tell you what would happen because although I am seventy-one, I was thirty-five, and I did have lots of little kids. I have lived this!
On a day like this, I would yell more often. I might spank. I, for sure, would use time out and lectures in a loud voice. I would have difficulty being present, stopping what I was doing, and looking my children in the eye. Listening would be challenging. I would have many grouchy, angry moments. I would see my kids as naughty rather than as children who need me to pay attention.
Recently, I ran across a site which listed some myths about sleep. Because I have learned the truth the hard way, I knew that they were myths. However, maybe you are still feeling some resistance to the idea that staying up late to get some alone time is counterproductive. If so, I feel your pain. I was in that place for well over thirty years before I finally decided to put it to the test.
Here are some myths. You can get more in-depth information on them HERE.
It matters more when you sleep than how long you sleep, as long as you sleep enough hours.
When we sleep matters! There is no comparison to the efficacy of sleeping in the dark of night compared to early morning or afternoon sleep. Here again, I have put this to the test. All I can say is that in my experience, there is a vast difference in how you feel upon waking, and a considerable difference in how you manage your day.
Your body gets used to getting less sleep.
NOPE, not true. You can train your body to go to bed late and get up early. I did that. However, it made a difference in my ability to respond well, to feel well, to care about the needs of others, noisy, busy kids, for example.
Many adults need five or fewer hours of sleep.
Generally, this is NOT true! One of my oldest friends, Janice Johnson Stauffer, has a unique situation. In her family, some of the members have the ‘short sleep gene.’ They can’t sleep longer than five hours. She tried to force herself to sleep the seven to eight hours that most of us need for years. Then through some testing, the family discovered this gene. It has made it possible for her and others in her family to do what works for their bodies. However, there are members in her family who need seven to eight hours. You can read more about their family HERE.It is a CNN documentary. Advance sleep-phase syndrome is found most often in middle-aged to older adults, with an estimated prevalence of about 1 percent. I wish I had this gene. But it affects only about 1% of us. The truth is most of us, to manage well, need seven to eight hours of nighttime sleep. I, and you, most likely, will just have to suck it up! : )
How long you sleep is all that matters.
Sleep duration matters but there are other, just as important, aspects to sleep. Quality of sleep matters. How do we get that – no blue light a few hours before bed, no food about three hours before bed, sleeping at night rather than in the day, fewer disruptions. I have to laugh at that last one. If you are my age, you may get up often to go to the bathroom. If you are in that twenty to forty-year-old range, it will be babies and kids waking you up. But hey, we can only do what we can do.:)
The ability to fall asleep anywhere and at any time means you’re a ‘Good sleeper.”
NOPE! It is an indication of sleep problems. It could be that you are not getting good quality sleep, and you are just plain tired. It could also indicate sleep issues such as:
-Circadian rhythm disorders
-Narcolepsy and others.
Napping makes up for a lack of sleep at night.
Remember that sleeping in the dark thing? It matters! When we have not gotten enough quality sleep, we sometimes try to make up for it with a nap. Unfortunately, the few times I have tried this, it throws my sleep schedule off, and I wake up sluggish and disoriented. Naps are not bad, but they won’t serve you well if you are trying to recover from late nights.
Here is the hard truth
Most people need seven to eight hours of nighttime sleep with as few interruptions as possible. You will always struggle to parent well if you are perpetually tired. I’ve been living this new way for well over a decade now, and it’s been amazing. I enjoy going to bed earlier and getting up earlier. I can’t even believe it myself! My thinking is clearer. I have time to do things that make my day more productive—prayer, personal study, meditation. My whole day runs better. I remain calm more often. I have more patience, and I feel less stress.
It’s doable even if your kids get up at 5:30. You may not get the quiet morning routine that I have finally achieved. Your day will begin earlier. These are the hard facts. What will make this trade-off worthwhile is how you’ll feel during the day. You may have less alone time, but you’ll find it easier to be Present. You’ll find yourself feeling happier and responding like an adult more often. You’ll like yourself and your children better.
How to Begin
I recommend you begin going to bed at least 30 minutes earlier than you do now, an hour if you can commit to it. Don’t get on the computer or scroll your phone after 9 p.m. This will absolutely help you get to bed earlier!
Going to bed earlier will change your days! Nevertheless, some of you will resist. If you do resist, it will come up repeatedly until you finally get desperate for a way to feel better as a parent, to feel calmer, more in control, more patient, happier, and healthier. When that time comes, you’ll remember this counsel, and hopefully, you’ll take it. It won’t be easy, but if you remember that simple things, done consistently, over time, make big differences, you’ll be able to persevere as long as it takes to make this your new habit.
You CAN get more and better sleep. Just decide and then be consistent!
The other day when I went out to water the garden,
I had an interesting thing happen that reminded me that sometimes, we can be blind to what is right in front of us.
The backyard hose is attached to a faucet that uses groundwater. Then the hose snakes across the lawn, over a small fence, and into the garden where it connects to another faucet that waters the garden. When I water the garden, I do the same thing almost every day. First, I walk out to the back faucet and turn on the water. Then I go through the garden gate and turn on the second faucet which lets water into the garden.
On this day, Doug had unhooked the groundwater hose the day before to fill the swimming pool. He had connected it to the house faucet so that city water would be in the pool. I knew he was doing this. I saw the hose hanging over the side of the pool. Yet, I went over to the faucet, turned it on, and got a face full of water. What! I could see the hose wasn’t connected, but my brain did not switch gears from what I do almost every day to what was happening this day.
How can that even happen?
But this kind of thing does happen in everyone’s life. There are times when we don’t see what is right in front of us. We may behave in unhealthy or damaging ways to our family or ourselves and not even know it. We do what we have always done.
When we moved with Jodie’s family this last time, we had to build a kitchen for my family, where a storage room had been. Everyone tried to talk me out of the light I choose to go over the kitchen sink. After all, it was a bathroom fixture. I didn’t care, I loved how it looked, and it was so illuminating. Every time I use that light, I am amazed at how much better I can see. The odd thing is that I don’t always use this extra light. Sometimes I will be washing potatoes or doing dishes and think, “I have enough light.” And I do, sort of. Then I will have a change of heart and flip the switch that is right in front of me, and voila! I can see so much better. There are other times when I know that I need more light, and I hurriedly flip the switch. I am always shocked at how much better I can see and how much more efficiently I can do whatever job I am doing because the details are more apparent.
This happens in life, in parenting. Wouldn’t it be nice to have all the information and knowledge we need no matter what came up? But we don’t.Often it takes time for us to determine that we lack the knowledge we need to do a better job of whatever it is. It can take a great deal of time before we realize that something we are doing may be harmful or counterproductive. For example, it took me almost ten years to understand that raging wasn’t a great way to manage problems and another ten to find the resources and support I needed, the light, to make a permanent change.
Often, when we realize that we have a lack of knowledge or skill, we beat ourselves up. When we find that our behavior is harmful, we feel tremendous guilt and shame. That is as foolish as me berating myself because I didn’t turn on my sink light right away or because I didn’t ‘see’ that the hose had been disconnected. Beating ourselves up and wallowing in shame and guilt for not having needed knowledge and resources is counterproductive. Instead, we should search for whatever resource will help turn on the light and make the details for change clearer.
‘Seeing’ Clearly Can Make ALL the Difference!
In my life, there have been times when I have said, “I can see fine.” I would keep moving forward and struggling because the truth was, the hose was unhooked, but I didn’t see it. Sometimes we cannot see what is right there in plain sight. We need help. It isn’t that we are inadequate, or stupid, or uncaring. We lack the information we need. Eventually, I would reach out for help via a friend, a book, or other resources. Sometimes it would be a class. Then the details became more evident, I made changes, and life got better in that one thing.
When I finally understood that I should stop yelling I didn’t know how. I couldn’t just stop. I needed to ‘see’ what was causing me to rage and how I could make a change. The first resource came in the form of a neighbor who offered me a pamphlet on anger management. That was very embarrassing but was the first step in changing my life and the lives of my children and husband.
Now, when I realize that I have a weakness or am erring somehow, I rejoice. I do not allow guilt to crowd in. I do not wallow in shame. I do not beat myself up! After all, I can’t change what I cannot see. When I do finally ‘see,’ I reach out. I look for the switch I need so I will have more light. I begin with prayer. I ask for help, and resources always come.
When you find yourself in the dark or semi-dark, STOP feeling like a failure. Instead, look for the switch, which is never too far away, and flip on the light. If you find yourself with a face full of water, so to speak, look for the hose and get it connected.
We do not need to be sprayed in the face over and over again. We do not need to work in darkness where we cannot see the details. Light can be ours, and it will lead us to change and growth. Really!!
Today, August 6, 2021, I finished readingThe Great Divorceby C.S. Lewis for the second time. The first was when I was a young woman in my forties. Now I have read it as a much older woman. I have to admit that my life’s experiences have made it much more meaningful than when I first read it. After all, you can’t know till you get there. : )
I certainly haven’t passed away and entered Heaven or Hell, but I have had far more experience with what the people in the story experienced while on earth.
On the back of the book, it says, “… comes to some significant realizations about the nature of good and evil.” However, I was more moved by the knowledge that, yes, in this life, we often choose to suffer. Here are a few phrases from the book that confirmed that.
“There is always something they insist on keeping, even at the price of misery.”
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell choose it.”
“That’s what we all find when we reach this country. We’ve all been wrong! That’s the great joke. There’s no need to go on pretending one was right! After that, we begin living.”
Back in 2015, I wrote an article about this very topic. This book so moved me in that regard that I looked it up. I am re-sharing it here, updated, because understanding that I was free to choose to suffer or not has been life-changing for me. It will be so for you too. I will put 2021 in front of what I add to the original article. After all, it has been six years, and I will have learned more. : )
Choose to Let Go of Suffering
I have a friend who is very dissatisfied with parts of her life. She is filled with disappointment, dissatisfaction, resentment, and frustration. Some of her struggles are the same as mine, so I have shared how I have learned to be happy, even though life and people can be disappointing. Recently she said, “Well, you are just settling.” I have given this much thought, and here is what is true – I am choosing to let go of suffering. I am choosing to be happy by choosing how I will respond to my circumstances.
2021 – I know that I am 100% in control of how I respond. Knowing this has changed my life because it has moved me from being a victim to having personal power in how I look at things and react to situations.
I love the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr. It hung in my childhood home for many years, and I read it often. I didn’t understand it then, but I do now.
The philosopher W.W. Bartley juxtaposes Niebuhr’s prayer with a Mother Goose rhyme (1695) expressing a similar sentiment:
For every ailment under the sun
There is a remedy, or there is none;
If there be one, try to find it;
If there be none, never mind it.
Serenity is the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled. How often have you longed for that state of mind? Did you know it is a choice and not the result of your circumstances?
Making the Choice to Let Go of Suffering!
My marriage has been a good one. I love my husband, and he loves me. But some things caused me to feel resentment, frustration, dissatisfaction, and disappointment. Too many things! Sometimes I suffered. I would hold on to those moments of suffering and bring them out whenever I needed to remind myself why I wasn’t as happy as I wanted to be.
As I got older and wiser, I wanted to ‘see differently’ what was happening or had happened. I began praying about the issue. Then, one day while driving to an appointment, I had this thought come into my mind – “You have suffered by choice.” I was stunned. What in the heck did that mean?
So, I asked out loud. “Heavenly Father, I don’t get that at all. Show me what that looks like,” and He did. I had a memory come clearly into my mind. I could see my husband’s actions and mine, and I saw that I chose to suffer. Yikes. I began from that moment to go back into my memory bank, to all the places where I had felt hurt, disappointed, etc., and examine them through this new lens. It became clear to me that I had chosen to suffer when I could have chosen peace instead. My response to what was happening made all the difference.
Not long ago, I read a fantastic book,This Is Not the Story You Think It Is…: A Season of Unlikely Happiness by Laura Munson. She went on a journey in letting go of resentment, frustration, and disappointment. Laura chose a path of happiness in the most challenging time of her life. It confirmed what I had learned for myself, that we can choose happiness even when we are sure we are being wronged. (WARNING: This book does use the F word a lot but was an excellent read.)
What Does Letting Go of Suffering Look Like?
Let me share some mundane examples of choosing to let go of suffering.
All my life I have wanted a bed with beautiful bed pillows. It wasn’t possible for me to have this in my family of origin for many reasons. When I was newly married, it wasn’t a real option either. However, I did come to a place where I could finally have them. But my husband doesn’t want to move a big pillow to take a nap, rest after work, or when he goes to bed. He can’t see the point. Mostly, he isn’t aware whether they are on the bed or not. He doesn’t see them. They aren’t even part of his thinking.
It has been a huge irritation to me for quite a few years. I always get up earlier than Don. He will make the bed but never puts the bed pillows on. When I come into the room, I put them on, and when I come in next, his pillow has been removed so that he can rest or nap. As I look at the gap where the bed pillow should be, I feel resentment and frustration build up. It is disappointing!!! If he loved me, he would put those pillows on the bed, right! Grrrr. You all know exactly how this feels!
So here is what I decided to do. I decided to stop suffering. When I get up in the morning, while Don is still sleeping, I make my side of the bed, putting my wonderfully beautiful bed pillow in place. When Don gets up, he makes his side of the bed, and his bed pillow stays propped against the wall. Every time I walk into the bedroom now, I feel happy. There is the bed pillow I always wanted right where I want it, on my side of the bed. I know that some of you are saying to yourselves, “How tacky is that. She is settling!” I get it, but I have decided not to suffer. I am in control of my response. I am happy with my bed pillow, and it feels great!
2021 – This year, I gave these beautiful pillows away to my daughter, who loves them. I didn’t need them anymore. I have moved to a new place. I am grateful that I haven’t spent the last six years angry and frustrated at Don over a pillow. That would have been a terrible waste of energy, and it would have been hard on our relationship. Having a kinder, more profound connection with Don has always been more important to me than bed pillows, no matter how lovely. I am grateful that six years ago, I made a choice to put my relationship above them. It has made ALL the difference.
I have also always wanted beautiful towels in the bathroom that never get used. They just hang there and look beautiful. Raising seven children and growing up the oldest of nine, you know that there were NEVER unused towels in the bathroom.
So, when all our children left home, I thought, “Now is the time.” Wrong! My husband just can’t understand the idea of unused towels in the bathroom or taking the extra steps to use the hook on the bathroom door. So here is how our bathroom towel rack looks – one used towel, unfolded, drying. Very convenient and very “not decorative”!
I have to say this caused no small amount of disappointment and frustration in me for a long time. First, I resented that I couldn’t have what I wanted because my husband stood in my way! Then, when I went into the bathroom, I would see that towel rack with its unfolded towel and remember that I never got nice decorative towels, and then I would feel disappointment and frustration. I wasn’t happy!
When I decided to stop suffering, this is what I did. I acquired a small shelf which I put in my bathroom. I got it from my mom. I trifold the towels and keep them color-coordinated, and it looks terrific. When I am in the bathroom doing whatever, I look at the towel rack, and it feels so lovely. It is perfect. I don’t mind Don’s unfolded towel or the fact that my color-coordinated towels aren’t hanging up. When I go into the bathroom, I see that I have this orderly, beautiful rack of towels. It feels satisfying to me.
2021 – Since writing this, we have moved again. In our tiny bathroom, there is NO towel rack. None. We have two hooks on the wall. My beautiful green towels are hanging there, drying or awaiting the next shower. I am so glad I didn’t live with frustration over having towels hang a certain way to feel content. If I had, I might not feel as good now when I have no towel rack at all. I still have this small antique shelf which looks very near the same today as it did in 2015. And looking at it still brings me a feeling of contentment.
2021 –I had another experience with letting go of suffering in 2016. It was such a clear example of how we burden our most important relationships when we choose to suffer over things we think matter but which, in reality, are not truly important.
Don is a gadget-man. He bought a new stovetop grill at the county fair and was excited to use it. The
following day was Sunday, and we needed to get to an important reception right after church. I said, “Honey, there isn’t time to grill chicken today and make it to the reception. You’ll have to do it tomorrow.”
After church, Don was nowhere to be seen. I knew he had left early to go home and grill chicken! Sure enough, when I got home, the grill was on, and he was cooking. When we got to the reception, they were cleaning up. The bride and groom had left. We ate at a table alone while others cleaned up around us. I was so angry!
I chose to feel angry because I decided that his grilling was either because he didn’t listen to what I had said or he didn’t care. I held onto this upset feeling as we drove to the reception and ate in silence. I held on to my ill feelings as we went home and for a chunk of the evening.
Finally, I grew tired of my self-inflicted unhappiness. I asked Don, “Remember when I said there wasn’t time to grill chicken today. I can think of two reasons why you went ahead and did it. Either you didn’t hear what I said this morning, or you didn’t care what I wanted. But I know you, and you
love me. You’re not insensitive. So, there must be a reason I haven’t thought of.”
He looked at me with a stricken face and replied, “Gosh Mary, I thought I could do it in time. I thought the whole thing would take thirty minutes. I didn’t know it would take so long.”
I had to laugh because I could tell from his poor face, he had believed it would only take thirty minutes and was shocked to find out it took longer.
At that moment, I wished I had chosen to let go of suffering earlier. We could have felt better as we drove to and from the reception. We could have had more genuine enjoyment talking to the bride and groom’s family and sending our love to the newlyweds through their families. We could have enjoyed that cake as we spoke with those of our friends clearing up. So, you see, it could have turned out better despite our lateness if I had chosen to let go of suffering.
Will You Let The Thieves of Joy Into Your Home?
Bed pillows, bath towels, and receptions are not very important. But this principle of choosing happiness, of choosing to let go of suffering, of changing what you can and accepting with grace what you can’t, works in things that do matter. It comes up over and over in my mentoring; the need to be correct, to prove that we have been inconvenienced, the need to let others know we have been wronged, wanting to make sure others know how we have sacrificed for them, to name a few. Disappointment, resentment, dissatisfaction, and frustration are the thieves of joy! You can let these thieves into your home or not. It is your choice.
I have given you some examples of the mundane. But I have used this knowledge in the vitally important. I have healed my feelings about old wrongs, embarrassing moments, out and out rudeness and unkindness, out of sorts relationships, and even abuse.
One of my favorite books, as a 16-year-old, was by Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning. It has multiple lessons on its pages, but one of the biggest is that you have a choice in every circumstance. It all comes down to your response. There are two quotes that I can still remember now, almost 50 years later.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Taking responsibility for our happiness is wonderfully empowering. When we know that we control our satisfaction, we can choose our response more consistently. We can act and not be acted upon!
I can fight with my husband over bed pillows and towels or not. I can feel resentment and disappointment every time I go into the bedroom/bathroom or not. It is up to me. And frankly, I choose to take responsibility for my response; I choose to let go of suffering. I choose peace!
I had few boundaries! There were good reasons that I found myself in this place as a mother; sexual abuse, controlling adults, fear brought on by the cold war, and the upheaval of civil unrest, a belief that I shouldn’t have been born. Life and the future felt uncertain. I had no way to make sense of what was happening in my world and the larger world, no one to talk to about it, and it added to the fear I had held inside since I was a toddler.
Although I was a good driver, I was too afraid to drive myself to college in Utah and home again to Colorado. I hired friends to drive. I worried about getting a ticket because I was afraid of getting in trouble. My experience had taught me that getting in trouble on any scale brought painful consequences.
Because of fear and boundary issues, it was challenging to advocate for my children in school and elsewhere. In addition, it was hard to discipline correctly. I believe this was one reason I raged. Anger helped mask the fear so that I could stand up for myself and my rules.
I had never felt like an adult. I couldn’t call any adult by their first name, even if I was older than they were. I had no confidence in myself, which was a tragedy of sorts because I was quite an extraordinary person.
That was a boatload of stuff to carry
How does a person parent when they are carrying so much baggage? Well, you do your best, and you run away a lot. I did that by becoming an excellent cake decorator, I taught community classes, I was president of the Band Parents and other groups, I served on boards, and I traveled the state teaching for the Girl Scouts. These activities masked my sense of worthlessness, but my emotionally running away wasn’t healthy for my family. As my children entered their teens, they were also wounded. We all suffered.
Recently, Don and I were having a conversation about my college years and the challenges of being so afraid and lacking any belief in my ability to make good choices. He said, “Well, you are more than over that now.” Truer words were never spoken.
How did I heal? How did I begin to understand boundaries and put them into my life? How did I stop raging? How did I cast off victimhood and begin to believe in myself?
I prayed a lot!I sought resources, and help came. I read books, lots of them, and attended classes. I looked for friends who were healthier than I, who had healed. I practiced what I learned.I was consistent in my efforts. I began speaking to and about myself with charity. I made a list of all those who had ever hurt me, and I forgave them, even my abuser. I asked them to forgive me for holding on to the pain for so long. I stopped being a victim in my mind.I began to believe that I was 100% in control of my responses. I’ll never forget the day that this truth finally sank into my heart. It made ALL the difference. The day I knew this was true, I had my power back.
While Reading Isaiah, the Light Came On
One day, early in my healing, I was studying Isaiah in the Christian Holy Bible. At the time, I was very new to the idea that I could heal, that I wasn’t a victim, that I had worth, that I was the mother of my children by design and not by accident, and as imperfect as I was, it would be enough. I read these verses – “And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in. Isaiah 58: 11-12
These words burned into my heart and soul – this was my mission in life – to heal myself and help others heal. I was a pathmaker. This knowledge was life-changing for me, and I stopped feeling bitter; I stopped feeling angry. I stopped being a victim, and I began my search for healing in earnest.
Some years later, when things got tough in our family, and I felt as if we would fly apart at the seams, I had a dream. I was flying over a beautiful valley. I was dressed in white, and my skirt was flowing in the breeze. My hair was blowing back, and I felt free and happy. Eventually, I noticed that boxes, bags, satchels, and trunks were falling to the earth from my body. Then I awoke.
I immediately knew the interpretation of this dream.I was being reminded that I was a pathmaker. I was healing myself with the help of Christ, and it would heal my family going forward and backward. I knew this with every fiber of my soul. It didn’t make the journey easier, but it kept me on the journey. I had my license plates changed to say Pathmaker.
Each day I recite these words – The Savior is healing me as I release old wounds and baggage. He softens my heart. As I heal, I am healing generations. I feel blessed to be helping free my family, myself, and others.
A year ago, I met a relative I didn’t know existed. She is a painter, and I told her about my dream. She painted it for me, and it hangs on my office wall. Every day I repeat the above words out loud, and I look at my painting.
I have made enormous progress. I am no longer afraid; I am brave; I can stand up for myself and others. I have boundaries, and I keep them. I know when to sacrifice and when to walk away. I know who I am and my value in the world. I trust myself to make good choices and to help others do the same.
We can change anything!
I am living proof of this.
Pray for guidance to healing. Let go of victimhood. Seek good resources, and they will come. Practice what you learn. Speak kindly to yourself, and about yourself. Forgive others. Believe that you are 100% in control of how you respond. There is no timeline for healing. It will take what it takes. For me, this healing and change took decades. Change didn’t come easily or quickly, but it came just the same.
I am now 71. Am I done? No. Healing and helping others is like an onion. There is always a new layer. Find joy in this journey. You can do it. You can be whole!
What about your family, those who suffer because you have baggage
Well, as I see in real-time, they will do the same. Your children will follow your example, and they will heal faster than you.
One day, one of my sweet daughters, who was also sexually abused, talked about the healing process she was going through. She was barely in her 30’s. I was in my 50’s and all my children were gone from home. I wailed, “How did you do it. Why did it take me so long? Why couldn’t I get better faster, so you were safer?” I felt such grief. Then she said, “Mom, I am healing faster because you were healing first. It has made my way easier.”
So let go of your worry. Do the best you can. Trust yourself and God that you can be whole. Trust your children that they will also do the work we all have to do. Then keep changing and growing.Healing and growing are each of our ultimate missions.
Choose one thing to start with, just one. •Pray for direction •Seek useful resources, whether a person, a book, a class, etc. Then practice what you learn. Be consistent in your efforts. •Practice speaking to and about yourself with charity. •Forgive one person who has harmed you, and then ask them to forgive you for holding on to the hurt. (This process is not done in person with others. If this is the step you choose, reach out to me, and I will send you a free PDF giving you directions.) •Accept 100% responsibility for your responses to whatever is happening. When you feel like a victim or lose control, and you will, forgive yourself and begin again.
It doesn’t matter which thing you begin with. Just choose one and begin.Then stay the course no matter how long it takes. When you feel more confident, not perfect but more confident, in that one thing, choose another. If I can heal, you can heal. If you can heal, your children and family can heal. Healing and growth are lifelong processes that we all have,no matter the extent of our wounds.
When I mentor moms, I hear about all the things that aren’t working. That is what they come to me for – for perspective, to see with new eyes. I enjoy this process of sorting it out. We often begin with family systems, so things start to work better.
I have had this type of conversation hundreds of times:
Mom – I can’t stand dinner time. It is always rushed, and then everyone goes and does their thing, and I am stuck in the kitchen with a big mess.
Me – Well, tell me about your system for getting dinner done.
Mom – We don’t have a system.
Me – Yes, you do. You figure out what to fix at the last minute. You cook the meal. You set the table; you serve dinner. You clean up. You are filled with resentment. It isn’t an intentional system, but it is your system. There is usually shocked silence on the other end of the phone.
Here is another example.
I worked with a mom who hated her bedroom. Her bed was always covered by unfolded laundry. What she wanted was a retreat but what she had was resentment.
When I asked her what her system was for the clean laundry, she told me she didn’t have one. But of course, she did. Here is what it looked like. She would do the laundry, and then the clean laundry would be piled on her bed. She would coax the kids to fold their stuff and put it away. It often didn’t get done before the end of a busy day, and then mom would move the laundry to the window seat. It might stay there a few days while she felt cheated because she couldn’t sit in her room, in the window seat.
When she explained what happened on laundry day, I pointed out that she did have a system. It wasn’t a system that got her what she wanted, it made her feel resentful, but it was her system. We talked about how she could better manage her laundry to stay out of her room and be taken care of by all the family. It worked. She got her private space back, and her children became more responsible. Everyone was happier.
The women I talk to are always astonished to realize that they have a system by default, and it stinks. Then we talk through what she would like to have happen, what could reasonably happen, and then come up with an experiment designed to intentionally set up a system that accomplishes what she wants. We talk about getting the family to buy in because when people buy in, they take ownership, and things work better.
Here is an example of a default system in my life that whacked me out for months!
I am a very orderly person. I am also very self-directed. However, for many reasons, I found myself in a mess. I wasn’t getting up on time; I wasn’t getting my studying done; I forgot to pray; I was distracted. After nine months of suffering, I did what I should have done far sooner. I prayed and then thought through what was not working. What did my current system for managing these things look like?
I realized that the system I had used in the past had fallen apart. I didn’t have a morning routine. I sat down, thought through what I needed, then wrote it down and taped the paper to the bathroom wall. This experiment was better, but I was still distracted and not getting these important things done daily. I know that consistency is essential, so I went back to the drawing board and prayed again. I was missing something.
I have kept my morning routine quite simple for a long time because I am a full-time caregiver. I get up at 6:15 on many days, dress, feed, and groom my 15-year-old special needs granddaughter. Then I get the other three off to school. In the summer, I am on deck with these kids for a few hours most days. By nine Don and possibly my mom are up and want breakfast. Mom needs her hair done, and twice a week, she needs to bathe before I can move on to anything else. Noon would come and I wouldn’t have gotten what set me on a solid path for the day completed. The time would rush on from there and frequently late evening would come, and I never got to my ‘stuff.’ The question was how I do the things that matter to me and still take care of all these people.
When the answer came, it was so simple as answers from God often are.
I had the thought to put my scriptures and affirmations in the bathroom, in my reading basket, and hang my clothes for the next day on a hook the evening before. Then each morning, I would get up, go into the bathroom, dress, and prepare for the day. I would sit on the toilet and read my scriptures and say my affirmations. Then I knelt and prayed. I know God forgives me for praying at the side of the toilet. : ) The whole thing takes 20 minutes, then I am out in the fray, but the things that matter to me and my well-being are complete. The system for my mornings that I have intentionally designed is working well!
Systems matter. If there is a place in your life that feels out of order or things aren’t happening, look closely at your system. What is it? What does it lack that would feel better or help you manage better? If you don’t think you have a system, and that is why it isn’t working, think again. You do; it just stinks. Come up with an experiment. Try something new with intention. You will be surprised at what a difference it can make.
Once there was a woman. She was strong.She moved to a new home that she loved. It was on a large parcel of property, and it was beautiful. When she moved to the property, she knew it would take work to get it into shape. She was happy to do the work because she had dreamed of living in a home like this one, on a piece of land like this. She had planned on it all her life. It was her dream and her great desire.
There was an empty field. She didn’t pay much attention to it for a few years because she was so busy planting flowers, mowing her lawn, tending the chickens, playing with the children, and serving those around her. It was a happy life, but eventually, the field began to bother her.
It wasn’t a massive place but large enough. It had a forest of thistles that grew over six feet high, and there were large patches of grass, waist-high. The number of nameless weeds that flourished was in the dozens. The ground was littered with the carcasses of all these weeds from a decade at least. Just looking at that field could make one blanch at the thought of entering in and, Heaven forbid, cleaning it up. It was simply overwhelming.
However, one morning as she gazed at the field, she felt in her heart a knowing that she needed to deal with it. She didn’t want it taking over all the work that she had done in her yard. She didn’t want the flowers replaced by thistle trees; the lawn replaced by that waist-high grass. That field produced millions of seeds!
That day she decided to wade in and clean out the mess. At first, she thought she could weed eat it down. She soon discovered that made the lot worse. Weeds and grass littered the ground, hiding the decades of dried debris. The thistle stems just laughed at her puny attempts to slice them down. The woman realized with some trepidation that this was going to be more work than she planned, and she wasn’t sure if it could be done at all.
The next day found her in the field with her gloves on, on her knees. She began pulling the weeds and grass one plant at a time and piling them up behind her as she went. She took a long-handled pruning shear and cut the thistle plants at their base, one by one. At the end of a couple of hours, she had cleared a 4 ft by 4 ft section. “Oh, my goodness,” she thought. “This is going to take all summer.”
She was right. She spent 2-3 hours in that field six days a week for eight months. She took a lot of flak from her neighbors and friends. They said it couldn’t be done. It was a waste of time. It would only grow back. That what she needed was a tractor, but she didn’t have one, and she knew if she did, it would only knock the weeds down and clutter the ground more. In her heart, she knew that she wanted the weeds gone. She wanted the debris gone. She wanted bare ground.
One day a man from church came by with some friends to help her out. Word had gotten out about this crazy project she had going, and although they thought her foolish, they were good men and came to help. They cut down sapling trees; there were groves of them. They cut down the thistles. As they prepared to leave, one said, “I think you’re crazy.” Realizing his words, he stammered, “I don’t mean crazy; it’s just a big job.” The woman replied, “Yes, you meant it. It’s Ok. I know how it looks, but I have to try.” It was like this all summer, the doubts of others, the disbelief, her doubts.
Some days, as she knelt in the field, she wept because it seemed so useless. Even if she did accomplish this monstrous task, how could she keep it cleared the following year? Wouldn’t it just grow back, and the mess would begin again. Weeds do not disappear; they produce thousands of seeds. They are tough, and they return, sometimes with a vengeance.
As she wept, she prayed, and in her mind, she would hear these words, “Take heart, daughter. I am here. I am helping you. You can do this. You were made for this.” So, she kept on. Sometimes it felt as if someone else was helping her pull a stubborn lump of grass or a well-rooted weed. She knew help had come.
Another day she had the thought to use a hoe different than she was used to. She had seen it in her sons-in-law’s shed. It was shaped like a horseshoe, cut the tops off the plants, and dug the roots with a back-and-forth motion. This hoe was so much easier than hacking with a blade.
One morning as she was pulling the grass, she thought, “There has to be a better way. This work is slow going and so hard.” In her mind, she saw a tool. She had seen this tool before, but she hadn’t ever used one. She didn’t know its name. “Hmmm, how interesting.” For the next few weeks, this little scenario would repeat itself. She would ask if there wasn’t a better way, and then she would see that tool in her mind.
Finally, she opened her computer and looked for that tool. She found it, a thatching rake. She bought one that day. The following day, to her astonishment, she could rip weeds and grass out of the ground with far less effort than on her hands and knees. She breathed a sigh of gratitude and relief. She also gave herself a swift kick that she had let so much time go by before investigating and buying the tool.
From then on, things went faster and took less effort. The woman was happy and grateful. Then one day, as she surveyed the field, she realized that she had accumulated over 40 piles of dead weeds and sapling branches. The piles doted the space and were four to five feet high, and some were five feet across. How in the world was she going to clear out all that debris? She realized that she would have to ask the very people who had scoffed all summer, her friends and neighbors. However, being friends and neighbors, they came and helped. Her family helped. They gave up their time and loaded the truck and made many trips to the dump.
The weather began to change. Spring had passed, and summer had gone. The fall was almost over. The woman worried that she wouldn’t finish in time, that the snow would come and cover the remaining piles. But in the end, it all worked out. As the woman stood, her back to the sun and hands on her hips, she surveyed the cleared land. Not a weed in sight. Not a blade of grass. Not a locust sapling. She felt a deep sense of gratitude for the help she had received, both seen and unseen.
During the winter, in the early mornings or late evenings, she would think about the field. She worried, “How can I keep it clear. I cannot do again what I have done. And weeds, well, they grow even under the melting snow.” She worried because she couldn’t let it go back to the way it was. She couldn’t. She had paid a dear price to clear the field. She had fallen backward off a truck, and she would never be quite the same. The eight months of work had taken a toll on her physically. Someone had told her she had aged ten years, and when she looked in the mirror, she knew she had.
As the snow began to melt, her concern grew. She prayed about what to do. There had to be a way. This great work had to matter. It couldn’t just be foolishness on her part, as so many had told her. There had to be a way.
She pondered this often and prayed even more. One day, she had a thought that she knew wasn’t hers because she had been feeling overwhelmed and hopeless in the face of the task before her. “Fifteen minutes. Six days a week, for fifteen minutes.”
Would that really be enough? Could such a great work be maintained in only fifteen minutes a day? But she had been able to do the great work of clearing the field the first time by listening to this kind and gentle voice and so she began that day.
Snow still lay in parts of the field, but where it had melted, the weeds were growing. Somedays, she couldn’t believe it would work because the tiny seedling looked like a carpet in spots. But she was consistent. She spent 15-20 minutes every day beginning in late February.
One day, in mid-May, after she had spent her 15 minutes, she looked around and realized that there wasn’t a weed anywhere. No saplings were growing, and the field was clear. Her work was holding. Neighbors and friends had commented on how great it was not to have a field full of weeds, how nice it all looked. Gratitude filled her heart, and she realized that she had learned valuable lessons from her field.
• Have faith in yourself; you can figure out hard things • Don’t listen to those who do not share your vision • Listen to God. He has a vested interest in your success • Be willing to do the work even when it is overwhelming and hard • Ask for resources and then use them • Remain grateful • Above all, be consistent
This story is true. The woman is me. Today, May 21, 2021, as I spent my 15 minutes in the field, I had a conversation with God. He let me see that the field was a representation of my life. And so it is. I want to share this conversation with you because it may also be a metaphor for what you are facing.
I always wanted to get married and have a large family. I thought I would like twelve boys. I know, I know, what was I thinking. LOL I married the perfect man. Oh, he wasn’t perfect, but what he brought to the relationship was perfect for me, and I learned a great many lessons as I lived with him.
I enjoyed being a mom, and I liked keeping my home. I did other things outside of my house because I am talented and a leader. I couldn’t help myself. It was a happy life, a good life. But one day, I began to see the weeds. They had been growing for some time, and I just hadn’t paid attention. There were many of them, and they were taking over my family. As I thought about clearing them out, I realized I didn’t know how. I didn’t have tools. It felt so overwhelming. So, I just began metaphorically, on my hands and knees, after some false starts with the weed eater. It was grueling. The weeds just kept growing and getting worse.
I am talking about all the trials my family experienced. From the introduction to my book, Becoming a Present Parent: Connecting with your children in five minutes or less –
“As a young woman growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, I didn’t contemplate any other occupation than motherhood. It was so much a part of what I expected to do that I didn’t give it much thought. It was what everyone did. I looked forward to it. I expected to sail along, doing what was required in the best way possible because I was made for it. It never occurred to me I wouldn’t know what to do and how to manage.
Raising my family was “the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
These words from the Charles Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities describe my parenting experience rather perfectly. In fact, in 1996, at the height of our family problems, that is what I wrote under our family photo.
I remember the fun we had: breakfast on the tailgate of our old pickup truck at the park, a block from our home one early Saturday morning; quiet conversations with whichever child’s turn it was to help me weed in the early dawn hours; canning while lots of kids snapped beans and peeled carrots; reading to our children; dinners together, a daily occurrence; bath time; night time cuddles; sitting together at church, filling a whole pew, while tickling backs and squeezing shoulders. These were memorable and satisfyingly ordinary days. These were the best of times.
I also have seared on my mind the struggles we shared as a family of nine—a husband who traveled for a living, drug abuse, premarital sex and a child born out of wedlock, thoughts of suicide, failure in school, smoking, alcoholism, lack of belief in one’s value as a person, quitting school, abandoning church, a mother who raged and yelled, managing feelings of despair, and coming to terms with same-sex attraction. These were the worst of times.”
Yes, we had weeds, a field of them.Don and I brought a lot of baggage into our family. It was a bit like that debris of dead weeds in my field. It cumbered the ground and made everything more complicated. We all have baggage. It is inevitable.
But resources did come. Sometimes I wouldn’t pay attention for a time, but then in desperation, I would accept help, good counsel, the right book, etc., and it would make a difference. I would be able to work another thing out.
And we did have to deal with the naysayers. I’ll never forget the day a man, a friend, a spiritual leader for my sons, stood in my kitchen as I shared my hopes for my boys. He laughed and said, “That will never happen!” And the day I sat on the front steps with my ecclesiastical leader. He looked at me with sorrow and said, “I just don’t know what to say.” Or the day that I walked into a room of friends, and the conversation stopped. I knew they had been talking about our family and not kindly.
How do I feel about all these friends and neighbors who thought our field was too messy to conquer? Well, I love them. They were where they were. They had their lessons to learn just as I had mine.
I aged visibly, as did my husband. Those were long, hard years. Our children also paid a price to learn the important lessons. But learn, we all did, and, in the end, it was a price worth paying.
Here is what made the difference.
I NEVER stopped believing that I was made for mothering and that I could do it. I NEVER doubted that I could do hard things. I NEVER gave in to what others believed because of what they could see. I HELD ON to hope because I believed in what I couldn’t see. I LISTENED to my heart and other wise souls. I ALWAYS knew that there was a God and a Christ, and they wanted our success. I KNEW they would never desert us no matter how tall or choking the weeds. I KNEW this with my whole soul. I NEVER stopped trying, even when it appeared that our family couldn’t be fixed. I was WILLING to keep going even when it was hard. I LOOKED for information, help, resources. And finally, I was as CONSISTENT in my efforts as I knew how to be. I got up every day and began again doing the best I could until I had something better. I wanted to heal my family, to pull out the weeds. I wanted us to grow and thrive.
One day, as I sat at the top of the stairs writing in my journal, a habit that saved me many times, I wrote, “What have I done to deserve to be in Hell?” That is how it felt some days. Not because of what was happening, as much as what I feared would happen. But even then, I wrote about how grateful I was, that I wasn’t alone, that I had help. I have learned a great deal more about gratitude since then. Now I would write, “Despite being in Hell, I am grateful because I will learn more than if I spent all of my time in Heaven.”
That has proven to be true. Again, from my book –
“When it’s all shaken together and poured out, how did we fare? Well, far better than we expected or than you might expect. Don and I had done just enough right, and with a full measure of the grace of God thrown in, we all survived and, strangely enough, thrived. We are connected and bonded in amazing ways. We look out for one another. The kids support and lean on each other. We’re still a family!
Life isn’t perfect and trouble-free for any of us, but we’re all growing, contributing, and learning. The last four and a half decades have been the age of wisdom, the age of foolishness, the epoch of belief, the epoch of incredulity, a season of Light, a season of Darkness, a spring of hope, and a winter of despair. Family has been all of this for us.”
In my life, I have cleared two fields. One mattered a great deal because lives depended on it. The other matters only because it confirmed all the lessons from the first.
If you are struggling in any way, take this story to heart. Please pay attention to the lessons I have learned and implement them into your situation. If you do, although it may not be perfect, you cannot fail.
I have a friend who was also my daughter’s friend in high school. We have known each other for a long time! We talk about stuff – family, running our homes better, being kind, writing, you know, stuff.
Bethany said that she couldn’t understand how you wouldn’t have time for yourself when she was a teen. She couldn’t see the problem. I mean, she had lots of time to do what she wanted to do – take a bath, sit in the sun, read, etc. Even with school and a job, there was time.
Now she has two small children, and she gets it. It makes me laugh because I always say, “You can’t know till you get there!”
One of the tricks I learned decades ago was to turn the bathroom into a refuge. I wasn’t going to get a day or even an hour, but I could read a paragraph or two. Bethany told me that when she read that in my book, she laughed because as a teen, she thought having books and magazines in the bathroom and reading in there was gross! Guess what? The last time we talked, Bethany said that reading in the bathroom is like a resort. You can’t know till you get there. LOL
Another thing I do and have done since I was 15 is lotion my feet every night. It felt good back then, in a home with eight other kids, to sit on my bed, in the quiet darkness and lotion my feet. I suggested it to Bethany, and she reported that it is lovely. She likes how nurturing it feels, and she likes the few moments of quiet aloneness.
A lot has been written about self-care. Recently I saw a headline – Self Care is More than Reading in the Bathroom. I laughed. Reading in the bathroom has been part of my self-care for fifty years. It works. I hope you get away occasionally. I hope you go out to lunch with friends. I hope you take a day off now and then. But I also hope you learn to care for yourself right where you are – in the middle of your busy family.
Four Reasons to care for yourself in the thick of things
There are some stellar reasons to find ways to care for yourself right where you stand, amid family: • You can remain calmer for more extended periods. • It facilitates patience and helps us not take our frustration out on our kids. • It allows us to stay free of resentment, exhaustion or feeling depleted. • It keeps us healthier.
Self-care benefits not only us but also our whole family. It’s an investment in our family relationships rather than a selfish indulgence.
Here are four ways to care for yourself during your busy, child-filled days and nights. They aren’t new. You have probably heard them said many times. But they work. As you implement them, you will feel better and less stressed. I consider them the best kind of ongoing self-care:
1—TALK NICELY TO YOURSELF
You need to be your own best friend, no matter how you’re doing presently. Best friends speak kindly to each other, are honest, and support one another, even if one of them is floundering. It’s self-care when you treat yourself like your own best friend.
Sleep is one of my favorite subjects. I’ve had tons of experience with this one thing! Periodically, over 30 years, I would go in prayer and ask how I could better handle my life. I would always have the same thought, “Go to bed earlier and get up earlier.” And just as regularly, I would dismiss the whole idea. I didn’t want to follow that counsel. I wanted my house in order, and I wanted alone time. I was convinced the only way to get either one was to stay up late. So, I resisted. Years passed, and I got desperate. I asked a final time, but the impression was the same. “Go to bed earlier and get up earlier.” But this time, I didn’t resist.
Going to bed earlier and getting up earlier is doable! It’s possible even if your kids get up at 5:30. You get up when they do and it is early! You probably won’t have a quiet morning routine alone. These are the hard facts. What will make this trade-off worthwhile is how you’ll feel during the day. You may not get much more alone time, but you’ll find it easier to be with your kids. You’ll find yourself feeling happy more often. You will have more energy and lose your temper less. You’ll like yourself and your children better.
I recommend you begin going to bed at least 30 minutes earlier than you do now, an hour if you can commit to it. Don’t get on the computer or phone after 10 pm. Staying tech-free an hour before bed will absolutely help you get to bed earlier! Some days it just won’t work out but do it as often as you can. Going to bed earlier will change your days! It won’t be easy to make this shift, but if you remember that simple things, consistently done over time, make significant differences, you’ll be able to persevere as long as it takes to make this your new habit.
Can I say, stop eating over the sink! Stop calling the crusts of your children’s sandwiches lunch. Stop. Make a better choice. Fix your food and sit down with your kids and eat. Have a mini conversation. Laugh a bit. Savor that sandwich. It takes five minutes! Value yourself enough to sit down with a plate and eat even if it is with kids and only for five minutes.
If you work away from home, take a lunch. This was a hard lesson for me to learn, but if I can learn it, you can learn it. It’s a decision, and I’ve made it, to care for myself by eating well.
Don’t eat at your computer, either at home or at the office. I know you’re busy, but if you want to feel cared for, leave your desk. Turn on music as you eat. Sit outside if the day is warm. Even the break room and a coworker trump your desk.
Eating well should be at the top of your self-care list. It’s something you can do while in the thick of parenting. Taking time to eat is one way you maintain the energy to do the job you’ve taken on—the job of raising a family.
Oh man, I don’t like to exercise. I can’t think of any exercise I like except swimming. But that requires a drive in the car and wet hair. Ick! Frankly, I also believed I didn’t have the time. But as I’ve said, when we take full responsibility for our lives, we stop using the time excuse.
I know half a dozen women who walk their kids to school daily. They’re in a big group talking, laughing, and making it work. I can think of another three women who get up early and walk together. They’ve made deals with their husbands to get kids fed so they can have this half-hour before they need to send them out the door to school. They walk five days a week. I recall one mom who did her exercising in front of the TV with a child on her back. You do whatever it takes. : )
None of this is easy. You just need to decide to do it. It’s a choice that, when made, feels nurturing. Talk to your spouse. What can you do? How can you make it work? Now do it.
You’re going to spend far more time with your children than you’re going to spend without them, so it’s imperative to learn how to self-care while you’re in the thick of parenting. It’s simple, it’s doable, and it takes small amounts of time and virtually no money; but it can and will pay huge dividends.
Self-care can be as plain and straightforward as having a cup of herbal tea while you read to your children. It might be taking a few deep breaths while soothing a screaming child. You could turn on your favorite music and dance in the living room with your kids. Add laughter!
Self-care can be taking a walk with your children to take the edge off the day. Sitting in the swing and watching your children play can give you fresh air and a breather from all that you’re feeling pressed to do. Go to the bathroom more often if that’s what will buy you a few moments alone. When you’re on the edge of losing your temper, getting irritable, or feeling resentful, ask yourself what you need to stay in control. Pay attention to yourself.
One of my oldest friends had licorice drops hidden in a drawer. When she needed a break, she would sneak to her room, grab a licorice drop, and then head back into the fray with a smile on her face. Hey, you do whatever it takes. : )
Do something that will feel nurturing to you. Give yourself space to get it together. When you pay attention to how you’re feeling, to what’s happening in your body, that’s self-care. You can do this while you’re in the thick of parenting.
When you care for yourself, you care for your family. Share the truth with someone you care about.
Mary Ann Johnson | Relationship Transformations for Busy Parents, 2017