Last year I wrote a post called The Days of Motherhood: Wanting to Feel Less Drained and More Joy in which I essentially complained :) about how draining my days were with my two young boys and how I longed to enjoy my time with them rather than count down the seconds to bedtime. At the end of that post I promised all of you that I was going to invest my time and energy into resolving this age-old conundrum and that I’d get back to you, oh, you know, in the next month’s post. Ha! Who knew that it would be a heck of a lot easier to complain about my struggles than to actually overcome them! Oh, you say that you knew? Well I wish you would have told me! :) Now here I am, over a year later, back to make good on my promise of sharing my “revelations” with you. And I bet you’re thinking, “Finally! Ami is going to tell us how not to feel drained by our very long days with our very young children!” Ummmm, sorry. No. That’s not why I’m here. Well, not exactly. The truth is that my days have become even more difficult in some ways just by the grace of my kids being a year older. The awesome thing about my boys being six and three is that now they play together, as in really take pleasure in playing together. And they have legitimate conversations that appear to fulfill them both. My heart melts when I watch them talking and playing, but of course I have to watch them secretly because the second they notice that they have my attention, well, their cooperative playing turns into full-on brawling. Oh yes, they fight. All. The. Time. At least it feels like all of the time, and I am constantly feeling the need to intervene/mediate/punish/what have you. And on top of that, my toddler is extremely headstrong, extremely prone to tantrums, and extremely disinterested in doing anything I need him to do. So in some ways daily life is less physically exhausting but more frustrating. Wait! I’m not here to complain again! Funny how easily that happens. :)
I don’t have all of the answers that I was seeking a year ago, BUT I have learned one very important thing that I would like to share with you. For me, and I believe for many moms, the way to enjoy the very precious and fleeting time we spend with our kids (especially the young ones) is to spend enough time with/for our ourselves. To love our time with them we have to love our time with ourselves, and to love our time with ourselves we have to have time to ourselves! Not the newsflash you were hoping for, huh? I bet you’re thinking, “Duh. Obviously if I had enough time to myself to do the things that fulfill me beyond cooking, cleaning, laundry, errands, etc., then of course I’d be able to be more patient and present for my children!” For a long time, I was trying desperately to carve out enough time for myself to do the things that fulfill me as a person, a woman, a human who is more than a mother. I figured that if I had enough time for myself than I would be able to be more patient and compassionate and loving with my children, regardless of how they were behaving. I scheduled massages and girls nights out and solo Starbucks trips, and I would feel great while I was indulging in my soul pleasures. You know, really great, as in connected to myself and ready to take on whatever my hoodlums, ahem, children wanted to throw at me. But then I’d return to the front lines, ahem, my home, and within an hour of being engulfed by the crazy that is life with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, I’d be screaming, “It wasn’t enough time! It’s never enough time!” And that lack of time to nourish myself, well, it left me feeling so frustrated so much of the time.
Until, that is, I was introduced to the extremely intuitive and insightful Shawn Fink, creator and facilitator of the Abundant Mama Project (along with other invaluable resources at her web site Abundant Mama), which is a really awesome online course for mothers who want to find more peace and joy in their lives and with their children. As part of an inspirational text she wrote, “My life is never going to be filled with endless amounts of time. I need to surrender to that harsh reality and save myself a ton of grief.” Shawn advises her readers and listeners to take whatever free time they can manage every day (even if it’s 10-15 min two or three times a day) and use it to develop a daily practice. See the thing, is, a fifty-minute massage may leave me feeling refreshed and ready for my kids’ developmentally-appropriate antics, BUT it won’t have a long-term effect on how I experience my time with them. After all, as we all know, just one fifty-minute run isn’t going to make any noticeable difference in our endurance or figures. :) Shawn Fink, along with many other self-help and parenting experts, advises us to try our darndest to get up before our kids and spend 15-30 minutes (an hour is even better) doing something to fulfill ourselves and start our days off on the right foot. This can be meditation, yoga, exercise, reading, writing…anything that feels good to you. Then we are more prepared, and ideally more at peace, before starting the morning rush with our kids. Rushing to get my kids ready and on to the next thing is my number one stressor (because I swear they’re descended from snails or sloths!) that sucks the joy out of my time with them. Getting myself ready and feeding my soul a little bit first allows me to be more patient and accepting of their wild and crazy selves while trying to get them ready and out the door. Certainly there’s less frustration and reprimanding and more laughter and conversation.
Shawn Fink also recommends finding a 15-30 min. (can be 5-10 min.) block during the midafternoon to recharge yourself, whether at home or work, and again this can be as simple as taking a walk, doing a quick meditation, enjoying a cup of tea or coffee…any simple pleasure that leaves you feeling refreshed. In truth I struggle with incorporating a midafternoon self-care practice into my day but I make it a point to commit to an evening practice, which for me is writing in my gratitude journal. I cannot tell you how many times I have read or listened to mental health experts rave about the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal. They all insist that keeping a daily log of things for which you are thankful goes a long way in changing the way you perceive and experience your own life (and certainly your own children). I urge all you mamas out there to begin a gratitude practice if you haven’t already and see if it makes any difference in how you approach and experience your children and your daily life. And I urge you to develop a daily routine of recharging yourself in short bursts however many times a day you can manage. Of course some of you, perhaps with babies or young toddlers, may actually have no time to yourself during the day, but there are many things you can do for yourself during naptimes or commutes or even with your children right there beside you. The other day I worked on a personal art project while my kids drew and colored. It didn’t last long but at least it gave me twenty minutes of self-fulfillment.
Another resource I love, the Zen Parenting Radio podcast, often reminds its listeners that qualities like patience and presence and compassion are like muscles – we have to condition them daily in order to strengthen them and benefit from them. And while I still sometimes struggle (“sometimes” being a bit of an euphemism :)) with patience and tolerance, I know that every day that I practice my self-care routine makes me that much more capable of accepting them for who and how they are and enjoying the precious little time I have with them before, well, before I don’t have it anymore! I would love to hear any of your ideas about self-care practices or building patience and tolerance; please share all your bits of wisdom with the rest of us!