I often wondered if I would actually survive the season, and if I did survive I wondered who I was going to be on the other end of it all. Being a stay at home parent can make you feel like you are losing yourself (and your mind) one slow day at a time-- your ability to think clearly, your broader worldview and perspective, your desire to embrace life and adventure, and maybe even your ability to discern whether or not the jeans you are wearing are still "cool" or have fallen into the not so desirable "mom jean" category all become...questionable.
As beautiful as I had imagined it all to be prior to becoming a stay at home mom I was so exhausted and walking around in such a fog that, for quite some time, I lost perspective and the joy I had hoped to experience during that season. Which is why, when one of my mentors recently suggested I write about how to thrive while being home with the kids I thought...I'm not so sure I'm the one that should write that.
The conversation started innocently enough. She asked how we were doing and I responded with a, "Oh, we're fine. You know, managing like everyone else. Honestly, I think the years I spent at home with the kids helped me to develop coping skills that I'm falling back on now."
"You should write about that," she said.
Um. Ok. Maybe?
Honestly, I wasn't so sure.
Even though it's completely true: I do feel like we're doing ok right now and I do attribute some of that to the fact that I have learned how to live in the chaos that ensues when a family is cooped up in the house for long periods of time, I wasn't convinced the coping mechanisms that I developed over years of being at home would translate into anything helpful for others.
There were days during those ten years that I wanted to pull my hair out. Hide under my blankets. Run away (the girls joke that I do actually "run away" sometimes. As a runner, when I'm having a particular grumpy day, I run from the house to find my sanity, always to return!). There were more days than I'd like to count where I felt discouraged, exhausted, overwhelmed and frustrated. There were days when I thought I was not at all, not in the least, not even a little, cut out for this job of being home with my kids all day long, and that maybe the hiring manager was completely off her rocker when she hired me.
And then I'd get up and do the next right thing. I'd muster the strength to make the next meal, read a book with a toddler, or clean out one drawer in the kitchen because it helped me to feel like I had just a little bit of control over something.
I'd tell myself that mom crying in the bathroom wasn't the image that I wanted my girls to grow up with in their heads, at least not all the time. Even though I believe it's good for them to see me cry and be discouraged at times, it must eventually be followed with showing them how to "pull up their bootstraps" and get on with life. They might be moms someday too, I often thought, and I need to teach them grit.
And grit is what I gained in those 10 years. Maybe some wisdom too, and a lot of grace. I also learned how to turn my tears about my day into prayers to God, which is really what always turns things around.
I learned patience, and flexibility, and the 27 layers of learning to "let it go". Letting ALL OF IT GO-- the hard days, the tears, the fights, the mess, (Oh, the messes!), the discouragement, the perceived failures, and most importantly the lie that I believed for a long time that I needed to get it all "right" to be a good mom.
So, taking my friend's advice I took some time to think about the things that have helped me the most, and what I've learned along the way. I'll use my next few posts to share those things with you.
You should know there are still days I feel like I'm simply surviving, especially now. Yesterday was one of those yucky days. The quarantine, the weather here, the kids being all stir crazy...But I'm back up and at it this morning, with hope for a new day. His mercies ARE new EVERY morning.
If you're struggling right now I'd love to pray for you. Please shoot me a private message on Facebook, or a text, or an email. I don't say that to be trite, I say it because I mean it. There have been many, many, many days when I wished I could email someone my honest feelings so they could offer up an honest prayer on my behalf.
And for those of you feeling like you're hanging in there...by a thread...and you're not so sure...I'm praying for you too!
(If you're wondering when my posts go up because you don't want to miss a word, I try to shoot for Monday mornings. I was off track this week, but after today I'll be posting next Monday, and every Monday afterwards).
3 Tips to Move From Surviving to Thriving While Quarantined with Kids:
# 1 Surrender. Surrender. Surrender.
Alright, this isn't like raising the white flag and giving up, BUT if I had to pinpoint one key characteristic that I learned in my ten years at home it was to surrender my expectations.
I can't tell you how often I woke up thinking I'm going to do A, B, C, and G today and we'd end up doing F, Q, R, Z, P, L and M...in no particular order of course.
I'd get to the end of my days feel EXAUSTED and questioning what we had actually done all day. I'd look around and see that the house was a mess, my to-do list stood unchecked, and we had eaten bagged lettuce and string cheese for dinner (even though grilled chicken, roasted broccoli and rice pilaf is what I had written on my meal plan).
For a long time I felt like a massively disorganized failure because I couldn't follow through on my own instructions for the day, and then I eventually realized that the only way to survive this time well was to surrender my "instructions" for the day. I started to realize that I could certainly write down A, B, C and G on a given day, but I couldn't be mad at myself or the kids when that's not what happened. I had to surrender my expectations of how I thought things should go that day and yield to the reality of what was.
Often what was wasn't bad, it just was. The house was messy because the kids had creativity played in it all day. Dinner was less than superb because, well who knows on any given day-- we went for a walk, an entire box of rice spilled all over the kitchen floor, my sensitive child had a massive meltdown of epic proportions and I needed to be intentional about responding to it- the list goes on and on, but you get the point.
#2 Get Up Before the Kids
I know, I know-- this is SOOO hard sometimes, especially when the kids aren't sleeping. There were many, MANY mornings that our own kids weren't sleeping and I did not get up before them. Sometimes sleeping as long as possible, or handing a kid an I-pad in your bed IS the best choice. But, if you can get up even 15 minutes before your kids it makes a big difference in the morning. I try to get up at least 15-30 minutes before my girls. I use this time to drink hot coffee quietly, think thoughts without interruption, pray, read my Bible, and journal. It sounds so simple, but it makes a huge difference.
I would also add that right now, during this unique season, that you should use this time for good things that fill you for the day. Try to resist the urge to get up and start checking work emails, or going straight to the news or social media. Make your coffee or tea, grab your Bible, a book, a journal, a pen...and sit down and fill your soul.
The news, your emails, social media- they'll all be there later (and will likely be just as soul sucking then!). There have been too many days where I've grabbed my phone to check the news, ended up on Facebook, and then Aubrey wakes up and I've lost the precious time I had to fill my soul with good things. Don't do it!
#3 Write a "Did-Do" List
I haven't done this in a while, but when I do it really helps to shape my perspective. A "Did-Do" List is kind of like a gratitude list (kind of) except that even on days when you're feeling a little grumpy you can still write down what you did do that day, even if you're struggling to be grateful. I encourage you to try this for a week-- put a notebook and pen next to your bed and commit to jotting 5-10 things down that you DID do that day.
How often have you gotten to the end of your day feeling flustered and wondering what you actually accomplished? The "Did-Do" list is an antitidote to that discouraged feeling. I promise you, even though you feel like you didn't do anything all day, you most certainly did do something (most moms I know aren't sitting on their butts eating bon bons all day, despite popular opinion of stay at home moms!).
Your "Did-Do" list might look like this (names will be different- obviously!):
1. Did a 48 piece puzzle with Aubrey
2. Baked chocolate chip cookies
3. Sent out an email for the business/freelance project I am working on
4. Made it to the grocery store and got all of the groceries put away
5. Watched Sugar Rush with my 12 year old
6. Called the insurance company to take care of that claim that needed to be fixed
7. Pulled a sliver out of Ella's toe
8. Ordered that book for Ella and multi-vitamins for the kids.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea...it's a collection of what you did accomplish during the day. I promise you, that even if you didn't mean for it to be a gratitude list, it has a sneaky way of making you feel a little bit more grateful for your day anyways.
That's it for today. I'm off to figure out which X, P, Q, Z, R, L and N's we're going to do here, and I'm praying for some warmer weather as well!
Love you all and please know this...You are a good mom and you are blessed, even when everything feels a little crazy and unexpected.