Recently, I received a lovely email which read in part:
I have a 4 year old, a 2 year old and a newborn along with a husband working two jobs and attending Grad School at the Y. We are exhausted. I am exhausted. I know what I am doing is so important and I try to focus on my work with the end in mind while also enjoying the small moments. What I am struggling with is balance and finding my outlets. Money is tight, days are busy and often lonely. How do you make time for your outlets to rejuvenate yourself while fulfilling the needs of your family? I am so tired. How did you thrive and not just survive this part of life? I want to enjoy and celebrate each moment with my sweet babes but often my mind is cloudy and emotional. Have you felt this? Have you found a way to refocus?
My heart responded to every word. I so remember those sleep clouded days, shepherding my little flock, breaking up fights and just trying to survive. Here’s what I wish I’d known:
- BE KIND TO YOURSELF. You’ve heard it over and over– “You’re doing better than you think.” It’s true. Just keeping little people clean and fed and somewhat healthy requires monumental effort. If you’re teaching them the ABCs and how to put on their socks you deserve a gold medal. I really wish I’d cared less about what people thought of my parenting. If someone gives you a dirty look in the grocery store when your toddler throws a tantrum, just ignore them. It’s not their child, they don’t know the situation.
- MAKE TIME TO PRAY AND READ SCRIPTURES. Early in my mothering, one of my friends told me, “With a houseful of little kids, I realized I didn’t have much spare time, but I wanted to develop my mind. So I decided to put all my eggs in one basket– scripture study. If I only have time to read one thing a day, it’s the scriptures. The newspaper, magazines, novels can wait, but scriptures are essential.” This assertion might sound a bit overzealous, but if you’d met my friend, you’d want to be just like her. For years, I abandoned current events and magazines in favor of scripture study (but I’ve always read the newspaper comics and novels– priorities). Once a week my friend held a study group at her home where we discussed the standard works in great depth. When I moved I started a group of my own using the LDS Church Institute manuals— which are now available online (though I’d still recommend buying a set– they’re only $8 or so). I do realize this sounds like a lot, but scriptures bring power to mothering in a way nothing else can. I promise, the time scripture reading takes will be given back to you in other ways. You’ll be able to answer your children’s questions and you’ll receive divine guidance in your parenting. I’m not as good about scripture study these days (I’m trying to follow this plan), but all the eggs I put in that basket are still paying me back.
- WRITE IT DOWN. You don’t need to write beautifully or even use proper sentence structure– just write. Write down the cute things your kids say, write your frustrations, write about the kind of mother you want to be. Transforming your thoughts and feelings into words– be they ever so humble– forces you to examine your thoughts and feelings. I have scattered notebooks from those early years, but oh how I wish I’d just written MORE instead of trying to write well. I know mommy blogging is now considered passe, but maybe that makes it the best time to start a quiet family blog? You don’t need to worry about being popular; just think of it as a place to record memories, express gratitude and celebrate your children. Keeping this blog improves my mothering and forces me to practice what I preach.
- FIND SOMETHING CREATIVE. Ah, I’m finally answering your questions. Here’s what NOT to do. Don’t start a little business. Don’t make bracelets or knit scarves or paint note cards for other people. As Erik used to tease me, “You could become a hundredaire!” I know starting an Etsy shop is all the rage and every mommy thinks she should have something on the side, but please allow me to be politically uncorrect and assert that a mother of a 4, 2 and six-month old has enough to deal with. With the exception of digital art, nearly every little business requires shipping and grumpy people and unreasonable expectations. When your children are small, you need creative outlets without deadlines. Make bracelets and scarves and drawings for your own family. You might need to set aside a quilt or a story you’re writing for two weeks or two years when your children are really struggling, but pick something you CAN set aside. What to choose? Anything that makes your heart sing. I have a friend who illustrates his journal with pencil drawings and watercolors, others who buy scraps at JoAnn’s and create beautiful quilts. Beginning knitters should start with the chunky wool and big needles, but move on to challenging projects with multiple colors and small needles. I love photography– I love the way my camera trained my eyes and heart to search for beauty. But we all capture beauty in our own ways.
- GET OUTSIDE. Every day, in some little way, get outside with your little ones. Put the baby in a front pack, the toddlers in a stroller; find a park or a trail where they can wander safely. God designed nature as love letters to His children. Soak up the beauties of the world, the change of seasons; teach your children to admire mountains dusted with snow and to gasp a pink sunsets.
- CREATE THE FAMILY YOU WANT. Just because every else visits the zoo and plays soccer doesn’t mean you have to do the same(actually, I love both zoos and soccer). Dare to be different. Read them the books you love, get them interested in science or gardening or art museums. One of my kids teachers asked me our secret to raising great kids. I responded, “We didn’t worry about being like everyone else.” I take a lot of satisfaction in the fact that my kids adore C.S. Lewis, listen to classical music at full volume and despise haunted houses and scary movies as much as I do.
- LET YOUR HOUSE BE MESSY. Seriously. That old poem about ‘babies don’t keep’– nothing could be more true. Oh the time I wasted vacuuming when we could have been reading stories! Keep your house clean enough to avoid censure from the health department, but remember, you’re building a family and construction sites are messy. If anyone judges you, just give them a broom and a dust rag.
- MAKE SLEEP A PRIORITY. Even when our kids were little, we’d tuck them in, then go to bed ourselves. We don’t do projects at night, we don’t watch TV and I still don’t think I’ve ever felt caught up on sleep.
- LOVE YOUR CHILDREN; FILL YOUR HOME WITH JOY. Of course, you love your children. But take time to delight in their silliness, their innocence. Laugh at everyday mishaps, keep gratitude lists, sing out loud, kiss those baby toes and bellies, play ring-around-the-rosy and hide-n-go-seek. Set up train tracks with your kids, play dolls and Legos and dominoes. Search for playful picture books and movies and music. Fill your heart with love and laughter and your kids will always want to come home.
all art by Katie Daisy. I bought several prints so I could feel good about using her art. You should too.