Cooking, eating, washing dishes and then doing it all over again--an endless cycle, but the place life is shaped!
(One of my wonderful commenters suggested the change in title--great idea!)
This weekend, I have been with some of my family enjoying great times with friends at the Hutchmoot--a wonderful weekend retreat sponsored by The Rabbit Room, so am throwing some thoughts for pondering after talking to lots of women this weekend.
Perhaps some of you remember the story I have shared at conferences, This comes to my mind when I think about the emotions we often carry as moms when we get depressed or overwhelmed. Many years ago, after returning from our series of mom's conferences we have hosted for 18 years, our home was a wreck--piles of mail, stacks of dirty clothes, messes, dirty dishes and coffee cups, and the kind of tasks that makes me want to run away. Gathering everyone on the couch, tears spilling over eyes I mumbled pitifilly, "I really need all of your help to get us all back in order!" Joel, a tall teen at the time, wrapped his long arm around me and patted me a gently.
"Mama, we will help you get it together little by little. And then everything will explode again and then we will have to do it again. But when you are unhappy and frustrated, it makes us all feel insecure and unhappy, so Mama, chill, don't worry. When you are happy, then we can be happy, too."
No matter what the season, all children long for, hope for a happy mama. What I have learned is that I don't even have to feel happy, I just need to practice behaving in a contented way, and my kids pick up on my practiced behavior. Mamas should not feel that they are somehow inadequate or carry guilt if they do not always feel like a happy camper. Sometimes I did not even especially like my children, as we all have ups and downs--but I chose to act in a loving way, and they all remember me as a loving person. Carrying guilt as a mama for not always feeling positive is a waste of time.
Now, low these thousand years later, I am still under the same pressure, just a different season.
A valued, special friend of our family is coming to see us for a few days and will be speaking at a seminar in town, so our whole family has had to jump into lots of work, cleaning, straightening, cooking the past couple of days, because we have gotten behind on life. With almost a constant travel schedule and sending adult and married kids literally all over the world and packing, unpacking, making messes, piles gathering, eating, cleaning AGAIN, while writing a book, a blog, speaking and doing ministry every week, we have all gotten behind. And yet, every season of my life, at times, I have gotten behind and been overwhelmed with the work load of just keeping a home, raising a family and feeding them.
But now, after so many such times, I can harness my attitude and choose to practice self-control, and eventually my feelings follow. As we cleaned house today and cooked and then washed sheets and cleaned the dirty dishes, it took 4 adults all day, working constantly, to get our home back together.
All of us wanted to be doing something else.
All of us would have loved to take a nap or read or have alone time. But, oddly enough, all of us feel better now at the end of the day because our home is a great place to be again!
I was thinking about how important it is to just accept that being a mom and a wife has an endless, eternal amount of work forever and ever, Amen. It is a marathon, not a sprint. To learn to accept this and to seek to find happiness through all the years, is a sure foundation for building a happy home. It is a habit, a practice.
Seems I have so many in my life who rail against the season they are in, as I often did. Some are in the baby years, some the demanding elementary years, some with hormonal preteens and others deep into the teen years, or overwhelmed by homeschooling or working and coming home exhausted. The final stage of stress in the home children is the time when they leave, move out or struggle leaving--moving in, out, in, out. Every season of my children has had deep and difficult stresses. Each season has had beautiful blessings, deep joy. But no matter what your season of life, some principles still apply to all.
It is your attitude in your heart that will determine how peaceful you will be at each season. If you learn to expect limitations, difficulties, stress and life and children pushing back against your best efforts, you will have a more realistic view of what it means to be a mom. Depression often comes from disappointed expectations. If you are surprised or angry every time something goes wrong or a child has a new developmental challenge or they keep eating, wearing clothes and making messes, you will spend a lot of your motherhood years being angry and disappointed.
You will never change the stress level by being angry or bitter.
Often, when we fight against the very nature of motherhood, we find ourselves fighting against God.
Funny that we want our children to change their attitudes, but somehow we feel we have a right to our own bad attitudes. But they end up draining our energy and stealing from the potential joy of life. Live into this season, accepting the limitations and learn to see each season as something God designed for a purpose. Don't try to rush life or push your children to develop or be independent too early.
This season is from God to slow you down, to train you to be more humble, more in the moment, more patient--to build the very character of Christ into the deep places of your heart. Learn and don't resist what He has built into this season and even though you will always feel exhausted, your heart will be more at peace, happier, if you know it has a purpose.
My Own Journey
Having 3 children in less than 5 years was a shock to my whole being. Not only had I not been trained for motherhood, I had not been developed to live a selfless life. No one told me about how much I would have to give, how much I would have to sacrifice--forever! Having grown up with 2 older brothers, the only girl, my mama, at times just wanted to spoil her little dolly. I was spoiled much of the time, left alone to fend for myself other times, but definitely not prepared to have multiple children, nurse my babes, have them naturally, and then of all absurd things, homeschool them eventually.
Idealist should be my middle name. I wanted all of this, and to be the best mom in the world, but had no realistic idea of how to accomplish it. Today, I thought I would address some of the desperate times and a few ways I have learned to cope with them.
Always a new phase, always needs
The baby-toddler-never sleep years when you lose your body shape, have someone grabbing you all the time and are constantly in and out of different sizes of clothes (that is, if you have time to shop for clothes!) were daily, moment by moment a challenge to my centeredness in life. Losing total control all the time, every day, day after day, was a shock to my system.
Is anyone really prepared for exhaustion that lasts for years on end? I wasn't. Besides having children in quick succession, which meant I always had immature little beings making messes, fussing, sleeping, potty training or making messy diapers and getting me up at night. I fell in love with my children--just had this overwhelming, deep affection for them, but still would blow my stack, be impatient when they pushed all my buttons and I felt vague desperate feelings.
I look back now and just wish I had understood baby years. And the pre-school years, and the teen years, and and and. Because I have lived through it all, I know I had God given capacity to complete the tasks, and I am a richer, stronger person for my journey. God made each season for His own purposes. God made babies to be dependent so that we could touch them, sing to them, bond with them, teach their little brains to believe in His love because of the way we tenderly cared for them and enjoy their sweet fat baby hand pats and smiles reserved for us. This is a time to try to just breathe, to try to notice the moments, to kiss often, smile into their precious eyes, and simplify. If you are feeling stressed because your babies push against your own schedule and expectations of life, know that you are normal. Feeling guilty for having these normal feelings is a waste of time. Just learn to grow stronger and more resilient one day at a time.
But seeking to bring gentle order, little by little, in each season of life is an essential part of having a more ordered, peaceful home.. Have eating times, play times, feeding times, bed times at the same time every day. When a little one or big one knows what to expect by the rhythms he lives in, he will be more secure and more calm. These are the anchors that bring order to the day. Babes who are held more during the day are quieter and more at peace. Teenagers who have lots of private "talk to me", "understand me" time are less likely to rebel against the mom and dad's ideals.
It requires so much of you every day, all the time--so to understand this is how to be an effective mom, learning to be a servant leader over and over again in every season, all the time, will help you to understand your long term call. I practically carried Joy everywhere we went, all the time, when I read to the kids, when I did things around the house, just kept her close and she was sooo much more calm and slept so much better. And during her young and elementary years, I sought to read to her, play with her and blow bubbles and rock her to sleep at night, just as my teens were wanting me to stay up, talk to them, understand them, be their friend. And, when I fell into bed exhausted, then before I knew it, Joy would be up again wanting my attention, early in the morning. But now, I am sooo grateful that God led me through these years, because my children's hearts are tied closely to mine and we have grown into each other's best friends.
To live inside yourself thinking that at some particular time, you will have more time to yourself, or have more control, is an expectation that will probably be disappointed. Life does become easier when children are old enough to help, to do things for themselves, to learn a little more independently. Yet, each seasons requires a different kind of energy for us as moms.
Learning to see God's design in all the stages, gives meaning to the journey. But to have the wrong expectations about life becoming suddenly easier brings disappointment. Disappointed expectations can lead to depression. Anger can result. So learning to accept the limitations of a realistic life and learning to see each day as a gift, a place to worship God by choosing the accept the limitations is the beginning of growth.
Make Yourself Happier! Learning to manage your life so that you can refill your heart, mind and body on a regular basis is essential to good health. Invest in your own soul's need for pleasure, it is a God-given desire--make room for pleasure in your days, so that in spite of the seasons, you take care of yourself. Sometimes it is more important for a mama to take a nap than to wash dishes. (Isn't that what paper plates are for?)
Sometimes it is better to go to dinner or lunch or brunch with a friend, or go to a movie that is romantic, to buy yourself a new dress, earrings, get a message, than to stay home and gaze at all of your problems and worry or focus on being depressed. Whatever you water is going to grow. If you cultivate fears, stress, worries, anger, then you will grow more anxious and darker every day. But if you learn how to release these issues into the file drawer of heaven, into God's hands, and then lighten your load, you will walk with more realistic joy and contentment. Learning to cultivate hope and joy, to water the faith and happiness of your life, is an essential commitment to becoming a wise woman.
These are my pleasures that keep me happier and stronger:
I make time with old, friends--who get me and still love me, those who are fun, know my limitations, heart-breaks, weariness, desires and dreams and don't criticize or want something from me. These friendships have been built over many years. Adventures or just sitting on the couches in front of the fireplace, chatting as the flames crackle and the night gets late.
A Hot Bath with candles late at night when NO ONE can disturb me. My clan doesn't go to bed usually until midnight, so I have to hide myself away when I just need a moment.
Sitting on the front porch watching the sun go down with something wonderful to drink and music playing out of my little Bose Speaker that goes everywhere I go. Peace, calm, beauty, quiet--so rare and so soul filling for me.
A one-woman 15 minute tea or coffee time in the middle of the day.
Ten minutes reading the psalms and then quick prayer, refocuses my mind on who God is and how much He loves me and desires to help me.
Going for long walks early in the morning or early evening--(the adrenalin builds up in me and I walk hundreds of miles a year to equalize my blood sugar and heart attitudes.) It is a great way to build friendship with your children, too.
Travel--I love adventure and change, (I was ADD before my children were born!) so I have taken myself and the kids to new places if I could figure out how to save money to afford it or speak to pay for my travel--or stay with friends along the way.
Developing a few covenant friends who I can be myself with and who mutually pour into each other's lives who invest love together over many years--making time to be with them when the stress gets me down.
I have learned the wonderful value of massages in the past couple of years. I save, save to make this happen on occasion.
Watching a beautiful movie or reading a long great inspiring novel gives me hope.
Dark chocolate salted almonds
Reading my little daily Bible time book, reading even a half chapter in an inspiring spiritual book--even a little progress helps-- and writing one thing I have thought or learned in my journal. Spiritual strength keeps my attitude stronger--longer.
Spending time, with one or both of my girls, shopping and doing girl things-- just hanging out on our beds talking.
Lighting candles all times of day (when I need atmosphere--not wo much when the kids were little--but when I needed to pretend that the mundane day would be special. It was a sort of visual reminder of what I needed to live int.) Having my music playing or buying myself flowers. Beauty lifts my spirit.
And actually in the making of beauty for yourself, it will be the way that others around you will learn to love and celebrate life, And they will learn to take care of themselves, too. Even those little babies that seem to need you all the time, will eventually mimic the habits your practice!
What is therapy to your soul? What 2 things will you do this week? Share your ideas--I may need a new one!