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.
Beautiful post! Thank you for sharing your light with everyone.
Oh Michelle…where were you when I was “that mom”?
“nearly every little business requires shipping and grumpy people and unreasonable expectations.”
This post is so beautiful, it really needs no comments, but I just wanted to be a second witness to this. I tried my hand at starting a business when my kids were little, and after making my kids tag along all over town while I bought stuff and got a business license and all of that, I realized one day that if I actually launched the thing, my customers would get my attention before my kids did. I stopped it all right then and there.
I was restless in those early days. It was a hard transition for me to go from single professional to full-time momma (I was 27 when I married and 28 when I had my first child, and two more came in less than two years). If I could go back, I would just seek to BE more. Just BE there. BE on the floor playing. BE there to just watch, rather than trying to … whatever I was trying to do.
But I did try to get out of the house once in a while. For example, I took a night religion class. I sang in a choir that practiced weekly in the evenings. Interestingly, now that my kids are older, I’m not comfortable leaving for hobbyish things at night; they need me here as much as possible. But those early years were a great time to ask hubby to take en evening so I could have an evening to develop something in me.
I wish I’d had a friend like Michelle, too, during those years. Mommas need and deserve all the support in the world. It really is the most important work in the world. God bless you.
That is a wonderful post. I love the art. I love the sentiment. I agree with every point! Thank you for writing it all down in such a lovely way. I tried to do all that myself, back in the day. I did not have a business though I have seen moms who try it. I did work after the divorce, but I had a job with summers off! Best wishes to all the moms out there! It is a wonderful job! Keep doing it with love and joy.
This is such marvelous advice. Thank you! And I loved your letter to Hansie. Miss you all. Hopefully we can walk soon! xoxo
Hi! Although we’re like worlds apart, I consider you as a mentor. THANK YOU. I had just started a little business but from time to time, I’m thinking if this is all worth it. Do I really need the money for the kids? Or is it just an excuse for a creative outlet (hoping to make money)? The previous General Conference did stress focusing on the things that matter most – and I certainly know which between business and children. You made me think that my children is REAL business. They are our lifetime investment, with eternal returns. Thank you for becoming a living proof of that. Hope to meet you someday!
All the best!
I’m the Michelle who commented earlier. Your comment made me reflect on how so much of my antsyness early on was around money. Things were TIGHT. But my antsyness didn’t make any difference. If anything, I burned money trying to make it. 🙂 The only way I really made a difference to our bottom line was for a few months when I did some consulting in my professional space with my prior employer (worked while the kiddos napped and after they were in bed). All of my hobby efforts to make money just ended up costing money, and I didn’t enjoy the creative process as much as I could have had I not been thinking I needed to make money being creative. 🙂 I also found a lot of satisfaction in teaching myself new skills and tackling ways to cook, shop, etc. that could save money and fold important principles like emergency prep into our family life.
Of course, sometimes hobbies and income collide, but I guess I just wanted to share the thought that maybe the two things (financial needs and personal needs) are often best analyzed separated. Both are valid in this critical stage of life you are in. And don’t worry — part of the legacy of Eve is learning by experience. Your heart is in the right place and things do unfold. We often learn what we want to do by learning what doesn’t work. So be kind to yourself in the process. It’s easy for many of us to look back and say “I wish I had…” but would I have learned what I learned had I not done what I’d done? Probably not.
I DO wish I’d been more patient with myself. Like Elder Holland said, we are doing better than we think as mommas.
Yes! A thousand times, yes! Especially #4. Satan has lied to us that if we are simply mothers, we are not enough. When I finally stopped looking for validation outside of myself and my home, I was so much happier. I just wish I had known it sooner!
Wow. This came at just the right time for me. I’ve got 5 crazy monkeys from my freshman on swim team (plus early morning seminary) to my nearly-4 who’s forgotten how to play independently with his siblings at school. (The others are 12, 9 & 7.) Hubby works full time & is currently a full-time student, as well.
I. Am. Exhausted.
The most I could muster in coherent thought as I prayed before bed (I know, laptop in bed is bad…just checking a couple of things off my list before tomorrow) was “I’m really overwhelmed. Please help me be able to do the things that are important.” On a whim I checked in on your blog, as I’m wont to do occasionally & whaddya’ know? A great answer to my prayer!
So thank you. Thank you for all you are and thank you for all you do. Now off I go to salvage as much sleep as I can get for tonight!
As a silent readers for a few years, I just have to give a huge THANK YOU! THIS is the kind of practical advice and guidance I am constantly seeking at this stage of my life. I have a 5, 3, and 1 year old and often feel exactly like the mother who sent you that email. I read a handful of blogs like yours where the mother is 10-15 years ahead of me in the mothering game. I look at how beautifully it seems to be turning out for their family of teenagers and think, “Yes! That is what I want, but HOW? I see what you’re doing NOW, but what did you do THEN? When you were too tired to type a coherent sentence and arrange beautiful photos on a blog?” And this post is exactly that. The scripture study piece especially pricked my heart as I have felt for a while now that that is where I need to spend my precious little brain energy. Thank you for the final nudge to really get me going on it.
A few thoughts from a mother of older children for the mom who emailed you: The work you are doing right now is the hardest work there is, by far. It is more demanding than training to be a neurosurgeon or olympic decathlete. So treat yourself as you would a friend who was struggling. How would you help a friend who has 3 children 4 and under? You probably wouldn’t expect her to make perfect birthday parties, magazine-ready holiday cookies, gourmet dinners, etc. Find a few easy crock-pot recipes for your friend and remind her that sandwiches or cereal for dinner are just fine. So is pizza. If money is tight, buy a ball of pizza dough, grate some cheese, and make it yourself. Accept the fact that for a while your house will have piles of laundry everywhere. Lower your expectations of yourself. Ask for help from your husband, family, friends. Leave dirty dishes in the sink and take a nap. This is as hard as it gets. Treasure this stage when you are able to give your children everything they want and need from your own heart and hands. As they grow older, that will change. But for now, all they want and need is you.
Oh Karen, I love every word you wrote.
Absolutely amazing advice!! You are sharing such important wisdom with moms. This post will definitely inspire many moments of connection and compassion.
I adored the pictures from General Conference. So much love
This post hasn’t left my thoughts since I read it. I so appreciate the part about how I am building a family and construction zones are messy. Music to my ears, thank you. And at the end where you said fill your home with love and laughter and your children will always want to come home. Again, thank you for that. I have goals to be more happy when at home, to laugh more with my children, and to accept the fact that 4 boys running around a house (ages 12, 10, 6 and 4) will make it messy. And that’s okay. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Amen! Amen! And AMEN!! I’m so thankful I’ve had you as my friend through this very time in my life :)….My “firehose” of joy. Thank you for reminding me of the these truths often and with love. ❤️