I had two daughters who had babies last year – one in June and one in Dec. One daughter suffered from postpartum anxiety, not to be confused with the blues or even depression. It was excruciating. Just functioning was a challenge.Besides the new baby, she had one preschooler and one grade-schooler.
Despite her struggles with health and energy, I saw her remember what her kids needed to do to be ready for school. I watched her get them to their events and lessons. I saw her force herself to school with her new baby to participate in a classroom party with her daughter.
My other daughter has tweens, teens, and grade-schoolers. She was up multiple times a night. But one morning bright and early I witnessed this: she was in the kids’ rooms getting them up, reminding them of what they needed for the day, giving cautions about getting to work on time and bringing instruments home after orchestra so they could practice. It was all in her head, and despite her baby fatigue, she was letting it out at the right time, with the right tone. There is no getting around it,
MOTHERS ARE AMAZING EVEN WHEN THEY’RE STRUGGLING.
My sons-in-law also experienced the addition of new babies into their families. One is in the last stages of genetic blindness and was ill at the time of the birth. However, he donned a mask and was by his wife’s side, not just during the delivery but until his wife came home a day later, even though fluorescent light burns his eyes. Then he returned, mask in hand because the baby had a severe bilirubin issue. His eyes burned as he endured hours of blue light. I watched him get up at night to feed his son, diaper, and cuddle him.
The other dad had a two-plus hour compute every day into the city. He left work early so he could get home sooner. When he got back, the load shifted from his wife’s shoulders to his own. He made food, played Candyland, fed the dogs, tucked kids in bed, and comforted his wife. There is no getting around it,
FATHERS ARE AMAZING EVEN WHEN THE LOAD IS HEAVY.
Neither of these couples is doing it perfectly. There are down days, moments of resentment, and checking out. BUT they get up daily and do it again because they love each other and their families. There is no way around it,
PARENTS ARE AMAZING EVEN WHEN THEY AREN’T PERFECT!!
Know a parent struggling because they aren’t perfect. Share. : )
Some years ago, we had a dirt pile in the corner of our yard. Then my daughter decided to create something beautiful in that space.
She measured and cut the wood and figured out how to hold it all together. She built a fence to keep the dogs out. She planted herbs, tomatoes, peas, a watermelon, and a pumpkin. She built trellises for them. As a final touch, she added a metal baby robin, a fairy statue, and a brick walkway. It was beautiful!
My daughter said, “It took me two weeks to do a one-day project”. That was because she had three small children, one with cerebral palsy. The fact that she couldn’t focus and get the job done more quickly was a bit frustrating. Yet, despite the frustration, she said, “While I was building the garden, it was exhilarating. It was so exciting and rejuvenating.” Building that garden gave my daughter a wonderful sense of “This is the most fun thing I have ever done!”
My daughter was startled by the absolute joy she experienced as she figured it out and then built the garden. She thought a lot about that and remembered that she had felt this overwhelming joy before when she was four.
On our porch, she found two pieces of wood. She decided to make a plane. She asked for her snow pants because every builder needs overalls. She wanted a hammer and nails. Then she proceeded to make a plane. It didn’t look like a plane, just two sticks nailed into a T which she painted. She thought it was grand!
My daughter loves to build things. She also knows that she doesn’t build often enough. She works on ways to add that element into her life. When she makes time to build, no matter how stressful life is, she manages better.
Satisfaction and Joy Make Us Better People
There’s value in determining what brings us a sense of satisfaction and joy. As we create opportunities where we experience these feelings, we’re better mothers, fathers, grandparents, neighbors, friends, and people. These feelings enhance our ability to problem-solve instead of blowing up or becoming depressed. They ease the stress of modern life. They increase our patience and our ability to reach out to others, to forgive and to love.
The key is knowing what brings us these feelings and then finding ways to include them in our lives more often. We must make space for them. This isn’t always easy, but it is doable!
Do the work of figuring out simple things that feel exhilarating, satisfying and joyful to you. As you implement more of these activities into your life you fill your bucket. This enables you to give more to your family, friends, and community. Above all, it increases the quality of your life.
Let me leave you with an example from my own life. I love organizing things. Yup, work. I know it wouldn’t feel joyful and satisfying to everyone, but it is to me. So, I make plans on a regular basis to order something in my life, a drawer, a closet, a shelf in the garage, under my bed, etc. I organize something at least once or twice a month. I’m busy so I must plan it. I must get the support of my family to make space for it. But it’s worth it because it feels exhilarating, satisfying and brings me joy.
Someone once said that life is not a dress rehearsal. This is the real deal, so find ways to live a life of satisfaction, fulfillment, and joy no matter how busy life gets. Determine what generates these feelings for you and then find ways to incorporate them into your life.
In 2011 one of my daughter’s, with four children, remarried. Another daughter and I went to her home to care for her kids while she was gone on her honeymoon. We took three children with us. That makes 7 children, right? But not to worry, after all, we had two moms to handle the job of caring for seven children, ages 1 to 11. How hard could it be?
Well, I cooked….and cooked….and cooked…..does it ever stop? Only when it’s bedtime, that is, if no one wakes up in the night and needs a bottle, a drink of water or a small snack!
I washed and folded….washed and folded….washed and folded mountains of clothes, bedding….really mountains! We started with one very ill child and by the end of a week’s time, we were up to four. That’s a lot of throw up!
My daughter, Jodie, picked up….and picked up….and picked up….does it ever end. Only if it’s warm outside and everyone wants to go out. But it was winter, cold, and cloudy. Everyone was indoors dressing up, gluing, cutting, taping, and playing games with a million pieces, not to mention the puzzles.
Jodie played referee…and played referee…and played referee….stop already! But there were three girls
who all need the hairbrush at the same time and who wanted to wear the same princess dress. There were two three-year-old boys just learning to share, you get the picture.
Of course in all this cooking, washing and folding, picking up and refereeing we had to live our regular life of doing important stuff, right? We cleaned the house top to bottom, over and over again. We kept hoping it would stay clean for the bride’s homecoming.
We painted the brides living room and dining room; our wedding present for their open house later that week. Try doing that with one, one year old, two three-year-olds and one 4-year-old with cerebral palsy. We were either extraordinarily courageous or abysmally foolish. We felt we were both by the time we were done.
On the last day, after three of the girls had gone to school, one three-year-old had gone to relatives and we were left with just three children, we gazed tiredly at the strewn living room floor, the chaotic playroom and envisioned the six-hour drive home. Jodie looked at me and said, “Gee, mom, there are two of us and we couldn’t keep up.” I couldn’t help laughing tiredly because it was so true.
I’m sharing this experience with you because I want to make two very important points.
What feels like failure is the process…
First, if two moms struggled, what happens to one mom who does this kind of thing 24/7, 365 days a year? Well, she gets tired and discouraged. It comes with the territory; motherhood is the hardest job in the world. The best we can hope for are glimmers of occasional peace, a few quiet moments of self-care, sloppy kisses and an occasional “you’re the best mom.”
The house will be orderly and clean sometimes but not most of the time. Children will be gracious and kind to one another occasionally but sometimes they’ll forget. A meal will never satisfy until the next meal. Laundry is perpetual and so is folding. Nothing is perfect except for the fact that we have the best job in the world.
Yes, motherhood is the hardest, but the best job in the world. We’re raising people who will make a difference in the lives of others, just as soon as they grow up a bit more.
So take heart. What feels like failure is really just the process of raising a number of children in one house until they’re grown enough to start their own house and repeat the process.
Second, I was reminded of how much effort it takes to be Present. This one thing, which can change a family dramatically, is not always easy.
I’m thinking of the night that I tiredly put all seven children to bed. This was after about 30 minutes of trying to read Understood Betsy to the four oldest girls. The two three-year-olds were everywhere, buzzing their trucks, jumping on the bed, jumping off the bed. We had to stop reading repeatedly to remind them of the rules for quiet time reading, something that was new to them.
As a matter of fact, I had to keep reminding the four older girls also. Finally, I just shut the book and said, “lights out”. I couldn’t wait to hear quiet!
After another twenty minutes of child wrangling, I managed to have everyone in bed. It was quiet, at least for the moment. I stood in the hall with a slightly dissatisfied feeling. I had gone through the grandma motions of reading and tucking but I was focused on getting them all quiet. After all, it had been a loooong day!
As I stood there I remembered that being Present, even for short amounts of time, heals hearts, soothes feeling, opens gates to communication, deepens love and satisfies tired adults and children. So I tiptoed back into every room and kissed and hugged and spoke quietly to each child. It took under 20 minutes but it made all the difference in an otherwise very chaotic and busy day.
Being present is a gift you give to your children and yourself. It takes practice, practice, practice. But this one thing will secure you dividends in your family that you cannot imagine, even if you are only present for a moment at a time.
Would you like to have help practicingthe skill of being Present in your everyday activities, not adding anything new, time-consuming or costly, just utilizing what already happens in your every day? You can get the chapter onTouchpointsFREE. It will walk you through how to make your daily points of contention into points of connection.
Please share your experiences of being present with your children and how it makes you and them feel. Use the comment section. I want to hear from you!
My sister is a very over-worked school teacher! The other day she was lamenting how hard it was to find time to relax and rest. She is at school from 7:30 until four thirty and sometimes later. Then there are papers to grade and she still has a family to feed and a home to run. A few weeks ago she asked me how I find time for R&R. I may not be an overworked school teacher but I have a job, I write, run an online business, do personal mentoring, manage a household and live with grandchildren. I understand and live the difficulty she was asking me to address.
So I gave her my short R&R list: I take a shower every evening just before I go to bed and put lotion on my feet. I told you the list was short.
I began this little ritual when I was sixteen years old. I worked at my dad’s drive-in restaurant after school and on Saturdays, went to public school every weekday, had loads of homework, and was very busy in my church. Oh yes, did I mention I was the oldest of nine children at the time and trust me that comes with a large share of work and responsibility. Some days it was almost impossible to find time to rest and relax…if you could even find a private or quiet space in our home to rest and relax in.
So I began taking a bath and putting lotion on my feet each evening after the littler kids were in bed. It was wonderful and my parents, sensing my need, didn’t give me grief about water (a precious commodity in an 11 person household) or for tying up the bathroom.
Once I began I never stopped. It doesn’t matter how tired I am, how much is still left to do or how late it is. I always give myself this one thing even if I can’t give myself anything else.
I’m sharing this because my sister was surprised that I put taking a shower on my R&R list. I mean it’s a very plain, everyday, ordinary thing that most people do. Right? Here is the difference. I do it for the express purpose of caring for myself and so it doesn’t feel ordinary or everyday to me. It feels loving.
And therein lies part of the problem when we work to carve out some rest, relaxation or alone time for ourselves in a family. Many people look for something out of the ordinary – going to a movie, a few days away, a date, etc. They look for something that gets them away from home and responsibility, kids and noise.
But as I have said before, if we think of taking care of ourselves as being child-free, away from home, in quiet, then most of us are going to get precious little of it.
How can we care for ourselves right where we are, in the thick of parenting? We need to get creative and we need to manage our story about what is required to care for self.
One of my good friends had a unique solution. She had a treat box, up high, which no one knew about. When she needed a break or the feeling of being cared for she would go to her room, take down the box and have a handful of licorice bits, one of her favorite treats. It took only a few moments. She smiled when she told me about it. It gave her real pleasure to have this little secret, this small piece of R&R.
Here are a few other things that I do to care for myself:
1. I read in the bathroom. I don’t know about you but I know I am going to be in that room at least three times a day. And right next to the toilet is a large basket of books and magazines. I may only get to read one or two paragraphs before someone knocks on the door but I love those few moments of reading. It feels restful, rejuvenating and makes me smile.
2. I sit down and shell peanuts. It gives me a reason to stop what I am doing and sit for a few moments as well as have a treat. Most of the time, I have grandkids shelling right along with me. You might think that that would negate the feeling of self-care but it doesn’t because I know I am deliberately allowing myself to sit and rest and have a treat. It feels like self-care because I have decided it is – kids or no kids.
3. I also crochet. It’s calming to me. I can do it without thinking. Noisy kids and chaos don’t matter. It’s relaxing in the midst of family. When I engage in this activity, I know I am caring for myself because I am sitting down and doing something that I enjoy. I don’t usually get more than 10-15 minutes but it’s enough. Quiet and aloneness aren’t required.
Here is what I hope you are beginning to understand:
Being alone and in quiet are not always required to feel that you are caring for yourself
Self-care can be ordinary, nothing special
Self-care doesn’t have to cost anything and can happen right where you are, in the midst of family
The story we tell ourselves goes a long way to making an activity feel like self-care
I hope you get away now and then. But even more, I hope you will begin practicing self-care right where you are. Write down your own short list. Then be consistent in doing the few things you have written down. It doesn’t have to be every day, like a shower/ bath but they all need to be things that you can do at the drop of a hat, even with your family all around you.
As you practice you will find it easier to be patient, you will feel less resentment and you will have happier days.
Here’s to more joy,
??? What do you do when you want to care for yourself and you have huge responsibilities, loads of work or very little time? What do you do when you want to care for yourself and you have a house full of children? I would love to know and so would my readers. We could all use suggestions. Please leave a comment and share what has worked for you.
I WILL BE SPEAKINGat the Winter Homeschool Conference on January 27, 2018, in Layton, Utah. This conference is designed to support and rejuvenate home educating parents who want to thrive, not just survive the homeschooling experience. You don’t have to be currently homeschooling to attend! I will be speaking on Process vs Outcome. Knowing the Difference Can Change Your Family. If the topic resonates with you I would love to have you join me.
We often think of taking care of ourselves as being child-free, away from home, in quiet. But if that’s the definition of self-care, most moms and dads are going to get precious little of it.
When we’re looking for alone time, we need to get creative. How can it be managed right where we are, without expending too much money or time? How can it be made doable even with small children? There’s always a way to care for yourself right where you are.
Here are three examples of how parents got creative in order to take better care of themselves. They’re about moms but this applies equally well to dads.
Deon was feeling burnt out and needed a way to have space away from her family when she felt over the top. In one of our conversations, she told me about her bedroom. It had a lovely window seat that looked out onto a green field. The problem was it was the messiest room in her home. So together we came up with a list of things that she could easily do to make it an inviting space.
She cleared all the stuff off of the window seat and got a basket for her husband to put his stuff in—so it would stay cleaned off. She made changes in how they managed the laundry, so it wasn’t always piled on her bed. She painted a wall. She added her favorite books to the window seat.
Deon talked with her family. She told them that when it became difficult to react the way she wanted, she was going to her room to regroup for 5 minutes. She would take a personal time out. She asked for their support in allowing her to do this when she needed to. They all agreed to help her out. (Yes, she does have a couple of small children.)
When Deon is on the verge of exploding or ceasing to be the adult, she retreats to her bedroom. She sits in the window seat and looks out on the field. She breathes deeply; she may read one or two paragraphs in her book. Then she heads back out into the fray. She’s managing better, her kids are happier, and her husband is relieved. This experiment has had a positive impact on all of them.
Amy has multiple health issues that tax her strength and resources for parenting. She expressed her desire for alone time each week so she could paint and write, feel better, and get a handle on her health.
Finding time wasn’t her only issue. She also has a child with serious health problems. Amy worried that if she took time away from her family, something might come up with her ill child and her husband wouldn’t be able to handle it
Nevertheless, she was willing to try an experiment. She asked her husband if he would take over for two hours a week, in the evening, so she could write or paint. He was open to the idea.
Amy chose a room at the other end of the house, away from the family room where her husband and children would spend their time. That way she could have her quiet time and be close at hand in case of an emergency.
The first week was a grand success. Amy was frankly impressed with her husband and was surprised that he managed so well without her. She was equally surprised that her kids managed without her. She’s been doing this for a while now. It’s given her husband an opportunity to be with the kids, and she’s been able to fulfill her need to write, paint, and have time to herself. The whole family is happier.
Melanie has a large family, and her husband is often gone. She wants time to be by herself and read. She asked me how I find time to read because I raised a large family and now I live in the same home as my grandkids.
I mentioned to her that my bathroom was my retreat. I shared the simple things I’ve done to make it a sanctuary. A beautiful picture hangs on the wall. My favorite colors are in the shower curtain and rugs. A vase of flowers sits on the floor. Most importantly, there’s a basket of fabulous books and magazines next to the toilet.
When I go into the bathroom, which is at least three times a day, I read one to three paragraphs. Occasionally I’m lucky and get a whole page. You’d be amazed at how much you can read in a year, one to three paragraphs at a time.
Melanie decided to give it a try. One of her worries was that her bathroom was always so messy because of the kids. When she began putting it to rights, she discovered that almost all of the clutter was hers. She devised simple systems to keep her stuff corralled. She added flowers, a new rug, and a basket of books. At last report, she was enjoying her mini-moments of peace and reading. It has made her feel more taken care of, and she’s happier with her children.
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 simple and plain 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.
What are the creative ways that you use to find some time to care for yourself? I would LOVE to hear about them.
Here’s to more joy,
GREAT NEWS!!!!!! Just in time for the holiday season. On December 21st I will be giving away 5 copies of Becoming a Present Parent via a Goodreads Give Away. There are no strings attached. You won’t be added to any lists. So head on over and enter. You just may be a WINNER!
Taking care of ourselves when we’re parenting is NOT selfish; it is an investment in our family. When parents care for and nurture themselves they parent better. They are able to remain calm when life is tough, have extended patience and be Present more often.
Last week I mentioned that I do seven simple things that help me care for myself no matter how busy or frustrating the day. This week let’s talk about the NUMBER ONE way to nurture and care for yourself as you parent your family and maintain relationships.
TALK NICELY TO YOURSELF
Think and talk nicely to and about yourself. We would rarely speak to others, even those who are messing up, the way we talk to ourselves. Pay attention to what you say and how you say it. I cannot express the importance of this one step. It will change everything!
It’s magic when it comes to helping you parent well and be Present. As Carol M. Colvin, life coach, stated, “When we say things like ‘I’m such a loser,’ ‘I’m an awful mother or father,’ ‘I’m so fat,’ or ‘I’m just not good enough,’ we do devastating damage to our souls. If we continue to think and speak negatively about ourselves over time, we’ll find that we’ve eroded our self-esteem and extinguished our inner light.”
You need to be your own best friend, no matter how you’re doing presently. Best friends speak kindly to each other and 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.
I make it a habit to rephrase any negative words or thoughts immediately. For example—if I say, “I’m so impatient,” I immediately rephrase and say out loud, “I work to be patient and I’m making progress.” It won’t always feel true. Rephrase anyway. The most powerful voice in the world is your own, so rephrase out loud.
I made myself a “Who I Am” poster. I copied a drawing of a woman from the Internet. I picked a drawing that looked like the kind of woman I felt I wasn’t but wanted to be—perky and cute.
Next, I did some free writing. I wrote all the things I wished I was inside the body of the woman. I wrote exactly what came to my mind without judging the thoughts.
Each day I would stand in front of my poster, strike that perky pose and repeat all of those amazing qualities. It felt so weird at first! After all, it was clear I didn’t currently exhibit many of these qualities, but I was also fully willing to accept that these were my actual strengths in embryo.
I did this little exercise for well over a year. It felt better and better. Those qualities felt truer and truer. But here’s when this little exercise in self-care was the most powerful: When I messed up, I would march myself to my poster and recite all those qualities that were mine, even those in embryo. With tears streaming down my face or anger in my heart or dislike of self coursing through me, I would repeat them loudly and with conviction.
As I repeated the attributes, I accepted that this is who I am despite my weaknesses and my errors in judgment or my occasional poor choices and behavior. By the time I was done reciting, I would feel better. I would be able to do whatever I needed to do to make the situation right. Apologize. Forgive. Pray for a better solution, whatever the need.
I still have that poster in my office where I see it daily. Whether I’m doing well or poorly, I’m reminded of who I am! These are the thoughts that I want to hang on to each day as I work toward becoming the best person I can be. Those attributes are what I replace my negative thoughts with.
There are few things that you can do that will help you care for yourself as powerfully as speaking kindly and with respect to yourself and about yourself, even when, in your mind, you least deserve it.
What strategies do you use to speak more kindly to yourself? What do you do to feel better about yourself when you know you have messed up? Please leave a comment and I will respond. : )
If you are interested in parenting with a deeper intent why not check out the Home and Family Culture Podcast. I will be sharing information on intentional parenting and you can download a PDF to walk you through the process.
Mary Ann Johnson | Relationship Transformations for Busy Parents, 2017