Fueled in all Seasons
A few weeks ago I told my eleven year old that I wanted to write to moms who are needing to homeschool for the first time because of the virus shut downs. I asked her what she thought moms should know. She was quiet for a bit and then said, “Tell them that if they (moms) have a good attitude, their kids will have a good attitude.” And that was it. Smart kid. This insight of hers caused me to consider the ways a mom can have a good attitude through the midst of unrest, social deprivation, and frustration. Actually, it caused me to consider how a mom can have a good attitude even in “normal” circumstances, cuz let's be honest, normal with kids is not exactly serenity.
There are of course many dimensions to this, and I'll touch on a number of them. Our thought life is front and foremost. I always tell my kids that they can choose their attitude. You know, the cliché “if you think you can, or if you think you can't, either way your right” kind of stuff. And I am pretty on top of the pity party spirals we big people can fall into: “I never get a break, no one calls me, this is too much, I'm a lonely loner, ...” A friend commented to a group in a class we were taking together, that when a husband comes home and his wife says “I feel fat” he knows it's been one of those downward spiral days. I laughed because I found it so true. You start with a difficulty (say a kid throws a tantrum), followed by a disappointment (your amazon order got lost in shipping), and from there your moral starts to crash a little at a time. This isn't working; that is crashing; he's not listening... Then the external junk shifts to internal feelings of isolation, frustration, inadequacy, and finally the most basic (and ridiculous) notion that we are ugly and fat. It can happen to us all.
There are a number of ways to avoid the final stages of that spiral. Becoming aware of our thoughts is important. And, like I tell my kids, choosing our attitude is equally important. But before anything goes wrong, I believe we need to make extra effort to pro-actively ensure we are not nearing that edge of lost sanity.
What does that mean? It means we need to figure out how to feed our spirit, our soul, our body, and our mind. We've all heard that we cannot give what we don't have, or we can only give out of our overflow. We know this, yet there are seasons where what we know and what we live do not easily match up.
I could give you ideas that many blogs share, like how important it is to get up before your kids so that you can have time to have devotions, exercise, and quiet. But this is real life. A friend mentioned to me the other day that she sets her alarm to get up before her kids, but they keep getting up earlier and earlier! So what is she to do? Set her alarm increasingly earlier, and become even more sleep deprived? Lament the lost quiet time? No, I think it's fine to simply admit that that box of time is just not possible for this season of her life, and it's okay to find an alternative.
I am over a decade into this stay-at-home 24/7 child care and homeschool life. Through the different seasons I have gone through with my children, I have had to find new ways to replenish myself. It has not always come easily, and it often has not followed the common pinterest blog answers. I am 4 weeks away from giving birth to my 5th child. Pregnancy and nursing are both stages of life where even simple bodily autonomy is not possible. I belong to this little human as much as she belongs to me. There is no “get away” option. Does that mean my desire for space goes away? No, but it does mean I need to recognize that “alone time” will mean something different for the next while. Not forever. Just for this season.
Looking at life as seasons is healthy. Remember Solomon's wisdom in Ecclesiastes? “There is a time for every purpose under heaven...” This is such a gem for mothers to embrace. This season may be hard, but it will not last forever. And even in this season there is purpose. Focus on that.
This leads into the question: what about "me time"?! In many ways I think our western culture is obsessed with this term, and it can have so many meanings. We can easily feel entitled to many things from a quiet bathroom break, a day of pampering, to the entire gamut of the life we had before kids. We can feel we need and/or deserve a break. And the more we think about it, the more desperate we become for whatever it is we are seeking. We can find ourselves saying toxic things like "I NEED TO GET AWAY FROM THESE KIDS!" (think for a moment what message that sends to those little ears beside you). Before we obsess too much over things we do not actually need, it's important to take the time to stop and assess what we are seeking, and whether that thing fits into our role and season, whether it will actually bring us life (ie replenish us), or whether we are seeking something to merely numb us for a while, only to leave us no better off tomorrow.
As I mentioned earlier, we cannot give what we don't have. Parenting is a demanding, draining, and constant job. There are incredible joys, but if we are burned out, those joys become choked and irrelevant to us. Galatians 6:9 is often thought of in reference to faith and ministry, but I firmly believe it also applies to the ministry of our families: "And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart." Galatians 6:9 NKJV. There are many things I hope to reap with with my children. I cannot afford to loose it (heart). And neither can you.
I believe, if we desire to be our healthiest selves, we need to do far more than entertain and numb ourselves through difficult seasons. We need to keep ourselves fed in spirit, soul, and body. And yes, it is possible to fit all of these in, even with all of our children at home with us.
The following are some of the ways I have fit in my needs during the craziest seasons with my kids:
Getting in devotions and worship time is important, whether or not it happens before the kids are up. If you have a baby keeping you awake, or you slept in, don't let that ruin your day. In my house we do a small devotion or read one bible chapter every morning during breakfast. That way, even if I missed that alone devotion time, I am still able to get the word in. We do not follow a Bible curriculum. We do it really simple. We sometimes listen to a short commentary on the chapter, or we'll just read it and discuss it. Can devotions actually be meaningful if we do them with our children? Of course they can. God is faithful, and He is not oblivious to the season you are in. If you expect Him to meet you where you are at, He will.
One word of insight here is don't skip or rush the devotions. It is tempting some days to skimp on the devotional time or skip it all together because of other work or plans that are lined up for the day. The result of this, I have found, is that when I sit down at night and wonder why a day was endlessly difficult, I almost always realize we skipped that morning Bible time. It makes a world of difference for shaping not just my outlook for the day, but also the attitude of my children.
Mind and Soul:
If you skipped reading time in the early morning, take time later in the afternoon. I find that if I want to stay a happy mommy, I need a little breather around 4:00pm. The way I do this is that I have my older kids take charge of entertaining the little ones. If you have only little ones, encourage nap/quiet time for them.
I believe finding a good balance of feel good stuff and challenging stuff to do during this time is the best approach. It allows room for creativity, growth, or simply a little time to disengage. For example I love learning about nutrition, so I will find detailed nutrition sites to learn from during this time. I also enjoy artsy stuff, so I will find a project to do like alcohol ink, or painting a piece of furniture. Another thing I enjoy is searching out new curriculum and school ideas, so I will sometimes do that for a while. Other days I will read a novel, listen to a podcast, write, or even take a nap. Whatever I feel I need that day is what I will do.
Another thing I normally do during this time is exercise. I know many people like to exercise first thing in the day. If that works for you, great! It has just never worked for me. I like to drink coffee and ease into my day. That does not include burpees or mountain climbers. But I have found that some quick 10-20 min strength exercises in the later afternoon when I am mentally and physically lagging is incredibly beneficial. I know that exercise can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be. Find something simple that you enjoy, and build from there. I also find that if I exercise right before making dinner, my choices for cooking are healthier. Some days I will grab a few 5lb or 10lb weights and exercise right in the kitchen while I start dinner. My kids call it “exer-cooking”. If you are not into weights, then just go for a little walk, or run the stairs 5-10 times. It doesn't have to be glamorous, or extensive. It is simply a way to bring you more health and energy. And I believe it is incredibly important for kids to see their parents engaging in exercise. It imprints that habit into their brains.
Added to the exercise I mentioned above, is nutrition. If we are feeding ourselves junk, guess how we'll feel? I know it is common to have a stash of hidden treats that we moms go to to make us feel good. My recommendation is to find healthier go-to pick me ups. I love dates and cacao nibs if I want something sweet and chocolaty.
As in most things, I like a simple answer. I have used extreme diets to heal my body at times, but in general, I like to look at a simple approach to eating. For example, I always start our dinner with salad. We could be having a hot dog roast in the backyard, and I will still start with that salad. And I love adding "super foods" to meals we already enjoy. An example of this is adding hemp seeds and berries to our morning oatmeal. Another is adding a large amount of spinach and some more hemp to our smoothies. I have found that adding on more good stuff first makes it so that there is not as much room for the not so good stuff later. Of course we try to limit the white sugar and flour, and replace it with spelt flour and healthier sweets like honey, maple syrup, molasses, and palm sugar. Did you know you can make banana bread with no sweetener if you use an extra 2 bananas? There are lots of options if you get a little creative. And get your kids on board. My kids are constantly reading labels and asking, "is this healthy?". This has helped keep me on top of what I am bringing into our house!
Know your edge
Now after following all these ideas: carving in a little time to be creative, feeding your body good stuff, getting in God time, etc, are we still going to have days that overwhelm us? Of course. There is no shame in admitting to yourself and your spouse when you are teetering on that edge of loosing it. Talk to your spouse about giving you a little breather some evenings. They can take over dinner clean up, or if they are home, they could even make dinner! They can put the kids to bed while you take a walk or a bath. This does not have to be every day. But if you feel like you are teetering on that edge of sanity, please reach out to your spouse to take over for a few hours. This does not make you weak, it makes you human. So don't feel guilty if you need a breather!
Many homeschool moms are introverts. I am not. I feel fueled when I have spent time with people, whether in a large group, or one on one. Carving out time to get together with friends helps me stay away from my edge. This season of social distancing has made this a lot harder. I do not like web cam conversations, so that doesn't work for me. I have had to be okay with simple messages sent back and forth. That and keeping in mind that this is a season, and not a normal way of life. That knowledge has helped me to keep perspective and a good outlook, even while not living my ideal life. I have also treasured the occasional distanced talks I have had with friends while dropping something off or picking something up from their houses. Knowing who you are and what you need is important to keeping yourself fueled.
How have you kept positive through these last couple months? I'd love to hear from you!
From my lock-down home to yours,
be blessed, choose joy, and stay sane!