Last night was horrible. I never get used to the constant waking of my now one-year old. I crash and bang, stumbling down the hallway in a half-asleep stupor. Upon reaching his door I snatch him out of his cot and feel my way for the rocking chair. Back and forth. Back and forth.
Come to think of it my life contains a lot of back and forth rocking right now. Whether it’s holding babies in the rocking chair, the back and forth hallway jaunt through the midnight hour, or my moods swinging like a pendulum throughout the day. Back and forth we go.
I have three kids, my oldest is four, and the swaying is almost soothing now- I’ve welcomed it as part of my life instead of fighting it. This morning, I sat at the dining room table, expecting to snuggle up to a scripture for comfort before the day began, I was surprised to hear celebrating and cheers coming from within.
You’re doing it!
I munched on my muesli and agreed with the truth. I might be in the trenches of raising wide-eyed wild ones but by golly I’m still alive. It’s worth it to give ourselves credit instead of being our biggest critic.
I replayed the last four years, the back and forth, the rhythmic routines I’ve sloppily danced to that have kept me sane and even smiling when I thought surely, I wouldn’t survive another day. Here they are, in random order.
- Dream. Or in other words, to cultivate my identity without kids. Dreaming has been fuel for me in these early years. Some of my most creative ideas have come forth from being pressed down, personal time cut in half and in half again. I have made it a habit to dream, to let myself imagine life without littles hanging on me every second of the day, to remember who I am beyond a mother of three. I always keep paper and pen within reach to capture my dreams, tuck them away in God’s heart, waiting and watching for them to unfold even now.
- Write down what I’m learning. Motherhood is like to school to me- I love learning. I’m constantly taking notes and aware of what my kids say and do and how they see the world. Viewing these early years as the training ground for my own heart, helps me to remain thankful. If I’m awake to the mundane moments, I fall asleep each night with handfuls of important lessons that I’ve received- all from the little hands of my children. They are our teachers in disguise.
- Get out + explore. People often ask me how I manage to muster the courage to take three kids under four to the grocery store or to run errands. I have always enjoyed including my kids in the basic tasks throughout the week whether it’s too the post office, the grocery store, or to an antique shop so mommy can check for new vintage arrivals. How do I do it? How do I not? Even if they misbehave, I consider getting out of the house a necessity to our well-being. My kids love being in new places (and me too!), maybe it’s because they are quiet observers. But the change of scenery, riding in the big cart or pushing their own miniature one, or looking at treasures in an antique shop (or Target!) is fun for us all. Once we’re out of the house, it’s easier to explore, try out a new park or share a donut together at a local café.
- Morning runs. Running is my coffee, it peels back my eyelids and pours energy into my veins. Since having kids, I’ve quickly realized that if I don’t exercise in the morning it won’t happen at all. I confess, 6am is painful some days. There are many a mornings where I feel the temptation to snuggle under the duvet until a screaming child wakes me. How do I get up? Again, how do I not? Every morning I remind myself how good it will feel to see the sky, to be alone with my thoughts, to use my muscles, and sweat out my frustrations. I trick myself many times. I never put away my running attire- it hangs annoyingly in plain sight at all times. It’s weird how cutting out the step to dig for it in a drawer or closet keeps my feet moving out the door. And if I’m tired, I tell myself I’ll just go for a 20 minutes. It always ends up more because once I get going I remember how good it feels to move and breathe…and then I’m happy to be home again and do another kind of work out…wrangling toddlers.
- Receiving God’s grace. Every morning, before I run I eat cereal and talk with Jesus. I always want to come with the intention of bringing Him something, my words, my worship, my praise, my best. But every time He gives and gives and gives. As a mother, I’ve realized there’s no performing for God, He isn’t looking for my poetic prayers, but my honest heart, my open hands. I admit, these times with the Lord, aren’t always romantic or full of revelation- they are simple yet so profound. I am more aware than ever that His presence is with me, in the quiet of my morning and in the chaos of my Mondays. Surrendering to his grace keeps me smiling in this season, even when I know I’ve screwed up or shouted or scolded when I swore I wouldn’t do it again.
- Have friends of all types. I’ve made it a point to keep friends of all types in my life. The moms in the trenches with me give me a safe place to vent and compare war wounds. The young married couples remind me to kiss my husband on the lips and sit close and snuggle with him still. The older, wiser folk who’ve been there and done that and have stories to tell. Their experiences are an oxygen mask for my weary soul, suddenly I can breathe again, it’s going to be okay, we’re going to make it. The single friends are my wake-up call, life isn’t just about raising kids or doing dishes and changing diapers, it’s about laughing, watching movies, and planning our next adventure. I want to do the dirty work of maintaining friendships, keeping my front door open, and my heart swung wide, because when I do, a colorful concoction of beauty paints our lives with joy.
- Find the pockets. The pockets of time are my secret weapon. When I didn’t have kids, I failed to see how much time I really had available to change the world! Now, whether I get two hours or twenty minutes I know how to make the most of it. I’ve learned how to cut out distractions in a second and do only what refills and refreshes me. Instead of despising that my time is made up of little pockets, I stick my hands in and find the treasures!
- Read and feed. I know some people will say that when you’re breastfeeding you need to bond with your child. But what I noticed early on, is that my baby was usually looking around at other things besides gazing longingly into my eyes. They were slapping my upper chest or sticking their fingers in my mouth instead. My first baby nursed until he was 22 months, the day he stopped, my second baby popped out two days later. The baton was passed and my boobs didn’t get a break! Thankfully my daughter weaned herself at one-year. My third is currently one and still going strong. All that too say, a fair amount of my life over the past four years includes sitting and breastfeeding. I’ve given myself permission to read and feed. To indulge in good books that feed my soul, encourage me to dream, or make me think, while my littlest indulges in his milk shake.
- Date my husband. Nothing revolutionary here. We all know it’s key. But we forget. We don’t take the effort to make a plan, find a sitter, and layer on some lip gloss. But I’ll go with Nike and say “Just Do It.” Even if you fight the entire date because you haven’t had a chance to talk in a month. (I’m raising my hand here!) You’ll be better in the long run. Teamwork as a husband and wife is crucial to coming out alive and victorious and more in love. As I learned from my counseling courses, kids don’t want to know that we love them, they actually want to see us loving each other as a husband and wife. Date nights- put them on the calendar. And sex too. Everyone wins!
- Ask for help. The other day I sheepishly asked a mom friend of mine to watch two of my three kids. I was in a pinch and didn’t have someone to take them while I met an older wiser woman at Starbuck’s. I nearly cancelled and then called myself silly. I need help. Why do I think I can do this on my own all the time? When left to our instincts we deviate to being independent and run to our mom cave. The moments I hear myself saying, “oh I can do this, I’m strong” are the moments I know I need to do the exact opposite. I call a friend and ask her (unapologetically!) to watch my kids for a couple hours and I bring her back a cupcake.
We all have our own things, dare I say coping mechanisms when we are trying hard to make sense out of the constant changing seasons of life. Some coping mechanisms are healthy and life-giving and God-glorifying, others are not. You know which are which.
There are many more rhythms I’ve kept alive in these early years that help us sway back and forth to ease the growing pains for us all. These are just a sampling.
You have your own too. Find them. Do them. Over and over again. One foot in front of the other. Back and forth, back and forth.
Your turn! I’d love to hear what were some of your healthy coping mechanisms in the early years!