I have my breakdowns in the spring. As surely as you can count on daffodils and the NCAA tournament, you can count on my very own Mommy March Madness.
My husband is a CPA, which means from mid-January to mid-April, he’s working late and on weekends.
You wouldn’t think this is breakdown-inducing, but it really is. It means this spring I had responsibility for the children from morning, when I was awoken from my groggy stupor by a crying toddler, to bedtime, when I had to get teeth brushed and people into bedrooms all by myself.
This year, I thought I was doing better. I’d been making myself go to the YMCA twice
a week for a break, and trying to focus just on the basics. All was going well. I made it through March, Praise the Lord!
Then I started thinking about roses. I had a friend over from church to help me
figure out what to do with our backyard. I’m not sure why I thought this was a
critical activity that week, but for some reason I did. I had this vision of my
backyard fence covered Nantucket-style in climbing roses. It was far, far from that. But something about spring and seeing buds and flowers, and the gorgeous roses I did have on the few struggling plants made me want to get things going in the backyard.
That was a bad idea.
Because when my friend came over what she did was gasp in alarm at the current soil, and weeds, and bushes growing out-of-control, and then recommend lots of amending the soil and digging, and replanting, or hiring someone to do all these things.
Although I’m sure she’s right, I cannot imagine trips to the nursery, and lugging home big bags of pine fines, whatever that is, and the kids “helping me” and getting covered in dirt, and then not only having landscape items on my to-do list, but adding floor-cleaning and many, many baths. It was starting to stress me out even thinking about it.
That same week I had to make calls to get tax receipts that I had somehow misplaced (or thrown away); try to make dinner, which always seemed to be a problem; stay caught up with school to finish out the year; try to be nice to my children who were fighting again; think about when I was going to go to the post office; and when was I going to return something to Macy’s; and when was I going to get shoes for the kids for Easter, because all we had was old tennis shoes and outgrown ones from last year, and you all know a five-minute errand without children takes about seven hours with children; and I had too many things on my list and no time in which to do them.
I got very, very impatient, because you know, I had ten thousand things to do. My
children seemed to be so incredibly sloooow with every task, and my son wanted to stop in the middle of math to tell me about R249768APq99 or whoever his favorite Star Wars droid was. And I tried to make myself care, while I tried to ignore my toddler throwing puffballs from his Busy Bag all over the carpet. I tried.
And then I tried to calmly explain for the two-hundredth time to my six-year-old that forty-two came before forty-three. Before.
“What do you mean, before?” she asked, as if I were speaking Latin. “You know,” I said,
trying to breathe deeply, “before.” That same “before” as it was yesterday, and the day before.
None of this was my children’s problem or fault; I fully realized this. It was all
totally mine. They were just being kids. But what happened after that
particularly long and painful math time is I start comparing myself to others.
I started thinking, “She’s six. She’s finishing kindergarten. She doesn’t know
that forty-two comes before forty-three? My oldest knew that at age 3. I’m sure all the other kindergarteners know that. Have I not taught her anything this year? Have I been totally overlooking her? I’m a terrible teacher. She would have learned much more in school.”
You know those thoughts. So those were brewing under the surface, and I was
feeling so tired and stressed, and probably just needed a good cry, but instead
I soldiered on, grumping at my kids to hurry, and sort of whining at them, “Why are you guys fighting again?” So of course they were whining back. It was a cranky, miserable houseful of people.
But here’s where the story changed. Usually I would keep going until we were all
miserable, and I yelled at them and they felt like I didn’t love them, just
like Julianne in the book in December. This doesn’t happen that often, but it
usually does happen around March/April at least a few times. I hate that it
does, but it does. So, Praise the Lord, this time, I actually listened to my
own advice. Here are the things that helped me that day:
1. I vacuumed. Okay, this is weird. But, it did a few things. One, it got me moving to get some of that adrenaline out. Two, it was loud, so I couldn’t talk for a while, which forced me to be quiet and try to pray. Three, it made at least that room look better, which helped me feel a bit better.
One of my friends and mentors said she used to go in the closet until she could calm down.
2. I gave the kids some chores. I left my toddler strapped in the
high-chair, and had the older two work on the mountain of clutter I had scooped
into the Clutter Basket, and put one thing away, then come back and say, “What’s
my next job, Mom?” and put another piece away, and so on. They were glad to
have something to do to help, because they knew I was stressed, and the room
ended up looking better, which again made me feel less overwhelmed.
3. Called a friend to babysit the kids.
I hate to do this. I hate to admit I can’t do everything, and I need help. It’s hard. But I know from experience that if I ignore these warning signs of snapping at my kids and being impatient that I’m going to yell or hurt someone’s feelings and we’ll all end up in tears. Sometimes Mommy just needs a little time away to get herself together.
My friend did watch the kids, and I paid her, but I know she would have done it even
if I hadn’t paid her. I’m so thankful to have friends like that. If I didn’t have a friend to watch the kids, I probably would have given up on school or taken the kids to the park, just to get away from the house and change the scene.
4. Cut things off my list. Once all my errands were done, I sat and ate lunch and prayed about what was going on and what I was feeling stressed about. I knew I needed to lower expectations of myself and cut some things off my list. Here are some things I decided I was not going to worry about:
- Backyard landscaping. I had to take roses and backyard off my list. I was feeling like a failure because I had placed these expectations on myself that I had to fix our disaster of a backyard right then. I decided it was not a priority right then and needed to wait. I gave myself permission to ignore it again.
- Fancy Dinners. My kids would be delighted if I’d serve them pasta and baby carrots every night, so why did I feel like I wasn’t doing my job if I didn’t prepare
inventive dishes nightly? My husband wasn’t home for dinner, I was fine eating soup every night, and for the rest of the month, I decided that was okay.
- School expectations for next year. I was already thinking about fall and how we could possibly do more. I was considering adding another co-op because it sounded so great. But too much of a good thing stops being a good thing. I decided I wanted to leave some margin in our days: time for playing, reading snuggled up on the couch, and exploring outside. I adjusted my expectations of all of us to be more realistic.
5. Pray! I should have done this earlier! I prayed during lunch about what verse I should repeat to myself when I start feeling all overwhelmed again. I decided on
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30.
Because that’s the real issue, isn’t it? God’s burden is light. It’s all my burdens of
pride I pile on top that become heavy: have a perfect backyard, have a spotless
house, cook an elaborate meal each night, have my children be above grade level
in every subject.
But my children don’t need that, do they? They need a mother who knows Who’s really in charge of all this anyway, who listens to their hearts, is patient with them when they need help with counting, and who will stop barking orders and sit down and give them a hug.
As I looked out on my backyard later that spring, I adjusted my focus.
I chose to ignore the weeds and focus on the blooms.
With my children, and backyard, and life, let me choose to focus on what is there, what is beautiful, and choose joy in that instead of focusing on what isn’t perfect.
I’m so thankful God is patient with me, gentle and humble in heart. He is so gracious to teach me about being a gentle mother, despite my failings, and help me adjust my focus.
Oh Lord, will you lead us mothers to walk humbly with you, not focused on what we
think we need to do to prove that we’re good enough, but accepting your grace,
rained down on us. And help us see it when we need to stop and be refilled, so
we can rain down your grace on our precious children. Help us model love, and patience, humility and grace, so our children can act that way with each other.
In our lives and with our children, help us ignore the weeds and focus on the blooms.
Question: What helps you when you are stressed out or overwhelmed? What things have you given yourself permission to not worry about for now?