Alzheimer’s is a challenging disease to deal with. The brain isn’t consistent. So today, my mom can remember something, and tomorrow she has no clue. It is a temptation to repeat things, hoping the information will somehow stick. The dog has to be in the middle of the pad. This is a porta-potty. Don’t use the garbage can. Don’t fold up your used underwear. It goes here.
The other day my mom ate three bowls of cereal before lunch. This isn’t the first time it has happened. We buy her favorite cereal, raisin bran. It must have sweetened flakes because mom cannot monitor her use of sugar, and we leave it in the refrigerator so she can find it when she gets up in the morning if one of us isn’t in sight.
Mom thinks she is hungry because one of the effects of her dementia is that she no longer recognizes thirst. So, whenever she needs water, she feels hungry. I was out in the garden, and Don was resting. We weren’t there to get her a drink and help her manage how she was feeling. That is why she ate three bowls of cereal in four hours.
When I came in to fix lunch, I was put out. I need mom’s weight to stay reasonable to manage baths and things that will come up down the road. I need mom to eat nutritious food. I don’t want her to become ill and end up in the hospital. These were my thoughts as I explained again why she shouldn’t eat three bowls of cereal before lunch for the dozenth time. She won’t recall any of the conversations. What she will remember is that she was in trouble.
Was there a deeper truth?
Later, I was telling my daughter Jodie what I had done. I was confessing because I realized that my motive for the conversation wasn’t as noble as I had supposed. Then Jodie shared a life-changing question with me. She had learned that it was helpful to ask this question when she felt upset – ‘Is there a deeper truth?’
Let’s look again at the situation with my mom. I want her to have a manageable weight. Is there a deeper truth? I want her to eat nutritious food. Is there a deeper truth? I want her to remain healthy, so she doesn’t end up in the hospital. Is there a deeper truth? Her greatest fear is having to be in a nursing home. I want to make sure she can stay here with us. Is there a deeper truth?
I hated to admit it, but there was a deeper truth. I am a woman of order. I like things my way. Her eating three bowls of cereal was out of order. Not being hungry enough to eat lunch with us was not part of how I envision a family lunch. You get up, eat breakfast, drink water, then have lunch. This is the proper order.
All those other things are true. I care about them, but when I was honest with myself, it wasn’t any of those things that had me so worked up. It was that my plan had been messed with. But, of course, I’m sure you won’t judge me too harshly. You do this. We all do this.
This question can help you to parent better
I can think back to my parenting and the times I got upset with one of my kids. Of course, after the fact, I could come up with lots of good reasons for my distress. However, if I had asked myself this question, I can assure you that often the truth would have been attached to my plans, feelings, desires, and sense of how it should be.
I don’t think we can avoid being upset over things that happen in a family—a mud ring left in the tub; the center cut out of an entire piece of construction paper; clothes stuffed under the bed. Homework lost or left undone, a child not coming home on time, the left-over roast being eaten when you had planned a meal around it. The list is endless.
But we can respond better if we will ask ourselves the question – ‘Is there a deeper truth’ until we get to the bottom of why we are really upset or distressed. Then we will be able to manage whatever the situation is with greater calm. We will be better able to teach. We will feel better about ourselves. We will leave our children feeling better about themselves.
I have numerous opportunities to practice asking myself this question every day. I am getting a bit better, and hopefully, I will become a master eventually. If you decide to begin asking yourself this question, I’ll bet you will also have many opportunities to practice. I hope you choose to ask yourself this question more often. It will bless you and your family.
I needed this question. You probably need this question. Who else do you know who would benefit from knowing this question?
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.
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.
My sister flew to Philadelphia to see her son and his family. Michael picked her up at the airport, and they drove to New Jersey. He is in the military, and she was very anxious to see them all.
Here is the catch – my sister has terrible claustrophobia and can’t fly. She has never been on a plane and has anxiety just thinking about it. But she wanted to see Michael and his wife and kids. Watching her prepare for the flight and all the effort she had to make to even get on the plane, let alone stay on it, was a miracle.
She managed to get to Michael’s in one piece. Everyone had a wonderful time, lots of good food, fun activities, and hugs and kisses. She loved it. But in the back of her mind was that trip home. Again, lots of worries and getting control of self-talk, using natural nerve remedies, etc. On the flight to her sons, she used an entire bottle of Ashwagandha.
When Rozanne got home, she said that it was such a comfort. She said, “Home is a refuge. It is a safe place to be. The place where you can rest and feel peace.”
That is so right! We all want to go home to be safe and at peace. It’s what our kids want too. For parents, that is part of our job – creating a refuge where it is safe and there is peace. That is a significant part of the job.
There is a skill we can learn and then practice that will help our homes feel more like a refuge. It helps kids feel valued and heard.
When we actively listen, it is to connect with the speaker and to understand how they feel about what they’re saying. It’s active and engaged and seeks to hear the words and, more importantly, to hear the heart.
Because this type of listening doesn’t come naturally, I’ve had to develop steps to make it happen more often. They may be helpful to you also.
A. STOPwhat you’re doing. Turn away from any technology, book, or project. If you genuinely can’t stop, tell your child you can see this is important to them, and you want to hear what they have to say. Set a specific time when you’ll be free and keep it. Saying “we’ll talk about it later” is not specific and sends the message you’re not available to them, that whatever else you’re doing is more exciting or more important. If possible, stop and listen now!
B. Make eye contactwith your child. I remember reading that an infant can tell the difference between a face in order and one with jumbled features.
From my experience, I know babies are interested in their parent’s faces. They look at their parent’s faces constantly and reach out to touch them. Infants want us to look back at them. As we grow older, the desire for eye contact with the people in our lives that matter to us remains.
Eye contact is looking directly into your child’s eyes and not looking away at other things or looking down. When we look at our children as we listen to them, it sends a powerful message that we care, we hear them, and they matter.
C. Respond to what your child is feeling, not only what they’re saying. When you’re actively listening, you’ll respond to feelings more quickly and more accurately. This type of response helps your child feel heard. You can say things like, “Boy—how maddening!” or “You didn’t like that, did you?” or “How did you feel?” This helps your child know that you view their feelings as valid and important.
D. Listen with patience and interest. Whatever you’re feeling, your child will know! They’re like energy magnets. If your energy is inwardly impatient, they’ll know. If you’re dying to get back to your stuff, they’ll feel it. If you’re bored out of your mind, it’s coming across loud and clear. It may all be on a subconscious level, but they know. Hold thoughts in your mind that will help you maintain interest and patience.
For example, you can think, “I sure love this kid. They’re so interesting, funny, kind, thoughtful,” whatever. Hold thoughts that allow you to embrace fully the moment you’re sharing with your
Avoid interrupting. Ask only those questions that help clarify. Your job at this moment is not to teach, reprimand or fix. It’s to listen.
Listening to your child is an end in itself. It isn’t about a resolution, teaching, making progress, none of that. It’s about connection, pure and simple. You can always teach later. Right now, actively listen.
During a day, there are dozens of opportunities to stop and listen. We can’t actively listen in every situation. But if we can increase those times we do, it will significantly impact our relationships.
When you practice listening to really hear your child, even if they have made a mistake or you are angry at them for something, it creates a safe place. When kids feel safe, they will come to you more often, even when they know they are in hot water. And as our children grow older, this will be a gift to us.
Practice active listening as much as you can and make your home a refuge.
Are you ever faced with a situation that needs a resolution but the choices you see seem unfair or damaging? If you choose one despite not liking either option, that is called The Suckers Choice, and when made, it will inevitably leave someone feeling wronged. The Suckers Choice is almost always bad for relationships, including the one with ourselves.
Here is an example of what I am talking about:
When my daughter, Jodie, had her fourth baby, she suffered postpartum depression. To combat the effects, she decided to exercise by taking a walk with the kids in the morning. How do you think that went?
Let me share a walk I took with them just before the new baby was born. Jack and Mary took off running! This walk will be fast, I thought. Soon they reached our neighbors home with a ramp. It was up the ramp and down the ramp at a full run. Then it was up the ramp and down the ramp rolling over and over again. Good thing we were friends with this neighbor.
Next was the cement retaining wall. It had to be climbed on and then carefully followed by little feet. If anyone fell off, they felt they had to go back to the beginning and start again. Next was the yard with all the kids. Stop and chat. Let’s see what they are doing. Let’s join in!
And dogs! Every dog had to be spoken to and, if it was a happy dog, petted. EVERY dog! I never realized how many dogs we had in that neighborhood!
Then there were the treasures. Every walk is all about the treasures that have to be picked up, examined, and then stowed in the stroller, stones, sticks, leaves, torn paper cups, etc.
About halfway around the block, Mary’s little legs began to wear out. Remember, they have covered the first half at a full run (disregarding all the stops). So, it was into the stroller. The key to knowing when she wanted in the stroller was the phrase, WAIT, WAIT, WAIT!
Then we would press on for about 2 minutes (I do not exaggerate here), and then she would need to get out to see something or to run. The key phrase to know when she needed to get out was a clear STOP, STOP, STOP!
Did you get the timing on this little exercise that lasted for the second half of our walk? Into the stroller for 2 minutes or less. Out of the stroller for two minutes or less. Sigh! Can you see how frustrating this walk would have been for my daughter, who needed some sustained exercise?
Jodie had a couple of obvious choices –
• Don’t walk with the kids making taking a walk inconsistent
• Walk with the kids but be frustrated and angry
A Creative Problem-Solving Activity
How can we avoid making the Sucker’s choice and develop creative solutions to real and frustrating situations?
• Work on yourself first. You are likely to benefit by improving your approach, and you are the only person you can work on anyway.
• Make sure your heart is in the right place and stay focused on the matter at hand.
• Do NOT make the Sucker’s choice. Believe that there is always at least a third option.
• Determine what it is you want to happen. Ask, “What do I want here.”
• Ask the question, “What do I want for the other person?”
• Then ask this question “What do I want for the relationship?”
• Finally, ask a very telling question “How would I behave if I really wanted these results?”
• Search for the elusive AND. Present yourself with more challenging questions which turn the either/or choice into a search for the elusive AND. Clarify what you want and clarify what you don’t want. Present your brain with a more complex problem by asking the questions posed above.
“When we present our brain with a demanding question, our body sends precious blood to the parts of our brain that help us think, and away from the parts of our body that make us want to fight.” (from Crucial Conversations by Kerry Paterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler) The Sucker’s Choice presents our brain with problems that are easily solved with restricted blood flow. They don’t require creative thought. The Sucker’s Choice keeps us stuck in ineffective strategies.
Now back to the story
How did Jodie solve the situation she was facing? First, she looked at her motives. Jodie needed to exercise to return to good health and did not want to be frustrated. She realized that she did not want to jeopardize her relationship with her children by being angry with them for natural, childish behaviors.
She knew that if she really wanted health and not to be angry with her kids, she would need to find a way to help them understand her need for a walk while still allowing them space and time to walk the way a child would take a walk. (Her kids were aged two mo. to 6 years old)
Creative Problem-Solving List and Process
Jodie asked the pivotal questions posed above and set her brain to develop at least a third alternative. She made a list.
• Get a babysitter
• Trade exercise days with another mom who also wanted to exercise with a sustained walk
• Walk when her husband got home and could watch the children
• Get up before the children and walk. (They are up at 5:30 sometimes!)
None of these options were realistic for her family situation for many reasons. She kept thinking, and here is what she finally came up with – Mom’s Walk and Kid’s Walk.
If it was a Mom’s walk, everyone stayed in the stroller, and mom would walk fast. If it was a kid’s walk, then everyone could get in and out of the stroller, and they would go slow. This is how the walks played out. Every morning was Mom’s walk. And if they walked in the afternoon, which they did at least twice a week, it was kids walk. Her children were happy with the arrangement. She was not frustrated, and her health and outlook improved significantly. Family relationships grew. They experienced joy.
As you recognize the Sucker’s Choice and work at creative solutions to your parenting problems, don’t expect perfection:
1. Aim for progress.
2. When you come up with a solution that succeeds, celebrate your success.
3. Take pleasure in knowing that you and your family are improving.
Here is a short video that will give you more information on avoiding The Sucker’s Choice.
Share your experiences with solving your parenting situations creatively while avoiding the Suckers Choice. I would love to hear about them.
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.
My alma mater has a Facebook page. Recently someone asked this question: What life hacks are helping you kill it right now. For me, at this busy stage of life, as a full-time caretaker, I find that a morning and evening routine makes ALL the difference.
I use my morning routine to get myself on track for the day and my evening routine to slow myself down for sleep. Much of the content of these routines is about caring for myself. They are, for the most part, things that fill my soul.
What my morning routine looks like –
• I get up as close to the same time each day as possible. For me, that is between 5:30 and 6:30. The later I get up, the less likely I will be able to do my thing.
• I make the bed (at least my half of it. LOL)
• If there isn’t any activity in my room, I pray. If Don is still in bed or dressing, I head to the bathroom for prayer.
• I dress and get ready for the day in the bathroom. My clothes are already on a hook, ready to put on. No distractions here!
• I read my affirmations/truth statements. I begin every day by reminding myself what a spectacular person I am and what a wonderful life I have! Some days I know I’m really going to need the reminder. LOL
• I read from my spiritual cannon.
That’s it. I take about 30-40 minutes on a good day, and if the day is going south already, it gets fifteen. But it fills my heart and sets me on a positive path for the day.
Here is my night routine –
• I have a set time to STOP. Otherwise, I would work till I fall into bed. It’s my way of being. : ) I STOP at 8:30. 8 pm is better but, again, I do what I can.
• I plan the following day using a simple form I created after a few years of trial and error. It is working for now. : )
• I take a shower. I have been doing this since I was 16, and it isn’t about getting clean. It feels nurturing to me. While showering, I think, I sing, and I get warm enough to sleep.
• If we didn’t have family prayer after dinner, I make sure that happens.
• If I have stopped soon enough, I read. Reading is my favorite pastime.
• Then prayer and bed. My bedtime goal is 9:30 pm, but I don’t always make it. It is a work in progress.
Here is what these routines do for me on the crazy days, and I have plenty of those. When I go to bed, if I have done my morning and evening routine, no matter how many other things are still undone on my list, I feel satisfied that I have done my best.
And that feeling is worth a thousand bucks!!
Who do you know that needs to feel like a thousand bucks? Pass it on!
Mary Ann Johnson | Relationship Transformations for Busy Parents, 2017