Over the last few posts, I have been attempting to convey how and when the invisible cloud began to lift; how I went from one pretty dark year or so, to the light I increasingly sense now, with little more than a retreat in between. There are some big, obvious factors in this; namely, our intentions to stay in our current community, and the kids simply getting that little bit older. However, there are also some other, smaller, habits that we’ve attempted to forge over the last two years. Intentions that I believe have made a huge difference to our quality of life; not to mention our ability to keep treading water, gulping air and resurfacing, during those many times that we’ve found ourselves out of our depth!
So, I thought that those were probably worth writing about too.
1. Divide and Conquer
When a close friend had her second baby, everyone asked, “how are you enjoying having two?” To which she replied, “I’m not sure ‘enjoying’ is the right word!”
Which sounds bad, but… she’s right. As she went on to explain, “I enjoy playing with the toddler when the baby is asleep; and I enjoy cuddling the baby when the toddler is with someone else… but I wouldn’t say I ‘enjoy’ trying to look after them both together.”
And… I could have kissed her!
I’d never heard anyone else put that into words before, and it validated how I have felt at various times, having two and then three at home. Don’t get me wrong, there are many times that I praise God for giving me all of my children in quick succession! But. But, but, but. There is also all of the Mum guilt, at not being able to give each individual child the attention that they crave; frustration with myself and at them for the same; the sense of being utterly overwhelmed by their noise and their needs and the fact they just simply outnumber me. There have been many, many times that I’ve felt like I’m suffocating. That I can’t do this; I’m not cut out for it; I don’t have the skills, or the patience or the presence of mind. I get snappy and rough and short-tempered; I get irritable because one or all of them are just so…. annoying! At which point, I now know to say to Husband, “I need to spend time with [this one].” (Insert name of most irritating offspring.) Or, when I notice him getting irritable, “I think you need to go off with that one!”
And so we make time.
Whether that is a full day here, or just an hour or two there; whether it is simply putting one child to bed a little later with an extra story, or waving off the car and walking home together. Because we- I – recognise now that I need time. Not time to myself at this point- that is a different matter. But quality time with a lower quantity. Time not to be overwhelmed by them. Time to enjoy them. Time to pay them my undivided attention. Time to feel like that Mum again, with all the eyes and the patience and the smile. I need time to remember that I love them, and even like them, as individuals. And I need them to know that too!
2. Unite and Enjoy
On the other hand… time is something that always seems to be in short supply. While on retreat, I recognised that I was attempting to meet all of my own personal needs- mental, physical, spiritual, practical and creative – in whatever time I had left when the kids had gone to bed. Gone were the days of writing blogs or reading books during nap time; “Mary, Martha, Mother” with a little bit to spare. Instead, I was becoming miserable and frustrated when the evening fast disappeared and all I’d accomplished was a barely-tidy lounge. So, I made a list of needs that I had, and attempted to find some ways that I could satisfy those with the kids. It has to be said of course, that some of these things were more successful than others! But they did include joining in with the painting/ gluing/ drawing; playing through the Bible and finding creative ways to tell the story; spending way more time outdoors; walking more than driving; reading books I actually love, like Matilda, with the eldest at night; and even finding a cartoon that I enjoy watching – so we only ever watch it together! (Husband mocks me for this one, so we send him out to clean the kitchen.) As a family, we also preserve Saturday nights for film night. It’s a longstanding tradition but, after 4 tedious weeks of Shrek 2 on the trot, we introduced a choosing-rota – that includes both parents too! (I swear the sheer joy of the Mighty Ducks Trilogy has carried Husband through several early morning BCPs!)
Like precious 1:1 time, these intentional moments bring a great deal of joy- and I do find that the very memory of them carries far into the week.
3. The Date Night Challenge
I have written about this several times, (here, here, here and here!)- and owe you an S to Z! But we managed it; it took us 18 months, but we successfully dated our way through the alphabet and out of a slump- and we barely even left the house! I think some of those memories will keep us going for a while; as will the renewed desire to spend more time together. (Do you know, I still kinda like him?!) As with parenting- I do firmly believe that it is worth being intentional about marriage- even and especially when they start to annoy you!
4. Having a Home from Home- and visiting it, regularly.
I wrote recently about my friend Mrs. H, and her open home and family. I don’t know if these are the sort of relationships that you can seek out, but they’re worth their weight in gold if they can be found. People, perhaps a little older and wiser, who have been there and lived to tell the tale. People who can give advice, mixed with humility; honesty, mixed with grace. People who have your permission to say whatever the heck they like; yet still manage to say the right thing. When I think of that awful hole I found myself in little over a year ago; crying buckets in the car on New Years Eve, feeling dejected, judged and alone… I also immediately think of the H’s. The second family who (almost literally) scraped us up off the floor, dusted us off, fed and watered us, and sent us back home- still down– but feeling an awful lot more loved than we did before.
5. Maintaining Boundaries
As you may gather from another recent post, boundaries appear to be a new thing for me. I’ve never been so thankful for this blog as I was when I read the comments to that post, “Out of the Hole“. I honestly thought I was just a selfish person and a terrible Christian for needing to break away from a suffocating friendship; for needing, in my eyes, to emotionally abandon someone in great emotional need. I felt sick with guilt as I pressed the publish button. Until I read your comments. Until I saw the textbook terminology, the stories, the empathy… the fact that anyone could have seen this coming… apart from me. And it helped me to set and value boundaries, which I hope will help in the future. So really, truly; thank you! I am taking it on board.
6. Digital Detox
Linked to the above; I think I first started to realise that this friendship was a problem when we went camping with no phone signal. It was only 24 hours, but the difference that break in communication made to my heart, mind and soul was startling. As was the deep disappointment I felt when I turned it back on and saw all of the messages! I hadn’t realised up until this point how deeply and perhaps subconsciously it was effecting me. Still, it was a full year until I found the strength and courage to make those feeble little cones into proper boundaries. (Despite turning off our phones for the duration of any holiday, bizarrely enough!) I’ve now accepted that just because I don’t work a 9-5, doesn’t mean I have to be available any time of day. Just because my phone is in my pocket, doesn’t mean I have to answer it, read or respond to anything straight away. If I am with my kids- or anyone else for that matter- it can wait. And also… really… if the message or the tone or the habit is unhealthy… I don’t need to respond at all.
(I also can’t read the news at night anymore; which is linked to the next one:)
7. Taking Captive Every Thought…
I still battle with intensely anxious thoughts, I have to admit. It’s not a disorder; more an intense, mental fixation with worst case scenarios, I think. At the wrong time, my imagination goes down a dark path and repeats whatever it finds there, until I can’t sleep or rest or enjoy anything without the peace being hijacked. Violently.
I won’t go into detail about the most recent episode as I fear this post is already long enough. But I started a Bible plan, which I found so simple and effective that I completed it three times back to back! The main takeaways really were to monitor my indulgence in these moments; to stop feeding my brain the kind of information that triggers it off, and to stop running so willingly down that path when it beckons. Namely, to “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ“, by stocking up on those thoughts that are, “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy” and think instead about those things.
Thankfully, the other points on this list provide ample opportunity for those.