After 20 years of marriage and motherhood, as I was blessed to marry a man who already had a daughter, I feel somewhat prepared to offer advice to my colleagues in our mutual endeavor of raising children. I will also add to my resume’ the fact that I have been mother to a preschooler for 18 of the last 20 years– not the same one mind you, but at least one preschooler. This is impressive as the preschooler is a most fascinating creature almost always on the move with an insatiable thirst for knowledge. It is one of my favorite stages of child development, but it also the most physically and emotionally demanding roles of parenting and can take its toll on even the strongest and most experienced caretaker. It is for this reason that I offer the following advice.
Oh, you have probably heard some of it before: take care of yourself, go on dates with your husband, get up before the children so you have time alone or in prayer, blah, blah, blah. I am not going to give you the same advice, although some of it is great advice and works really well for some people. No, I am going to tell you how to take care of yourself. Please don’t take my advice for granted. It came at a great cost to me. I had to learn it the hard way by trial and error and ultimately, falling flat on my butt before learning what they meant when they said, “You can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself first.” “ Yeah, yeah. I know,” I thought to my prideful self, “but I want to be a saint and saints aren’t selfish. I’ve read Horton Hatches an Egg, and I’m no Mazy the lazy bird who leaves her hatching to someone else. No, I’m Horton.” And then God in his goodness gave me the gift of humility and my body won’t do what my mind wills it to do and wants it to do. Every time I push myself my body screams at me a day or two later. It throws a temper tantrum worse than any toddler and refuses to do much more than eat and sleep, and so I’ve learned that for my body and I to get along, I have to treat her gently. I’ve learned that there is a middle ground between old, faithful Horton and Mazy the lazy bird; and I’ve learned that saints didn’t become saints overnight, but that there is a proper order in becoming saints. We don’t get to just skip over steps because, well, we are in a hurry to achieve said perfection and declare ourselves martyrs. So, here it goes.
1. No Fair Comparing. Just like you didn’t or shouldn’t have looked at your friend’s test to compare answers before turning it in, you cannot and should not compare your life to anyone else’s. Ever. Oh, this is ever so difficult for me. It feels so good to think I’m doing better than Sally who doesn’t even do a, b or c for her family. It also feels so horribly despairing that I could never do x, y or z for mine even though Suzy does it with a smile on her face, six kids under foot and two hands tied behind her back. It produces no good fruits and serves no purpose. Also, it is impossible for us to compare. We cannot see all the factors going into another’s life and we are each unique individuals with a separate God-given purpose.
Case in point: my seven children still at home are all assigned tasks to help get the evening meal on the table. If everyone does his or her task the table is set, the meal is prepared and served, and we are all able to eat a hot meal in joy and peace. But, normally, at least one child is distracted and the helpful siblings are quick to point out this slack in duty.
Angela: Mom, Sam is watching t.v. and not setting the plates.
Samuel: I’m only watching t.v. because Josh won’t get the plates for me.
Josh: I told him I’d get the plates after Angela unloads the dishwasher.
Angela: I’m waiting for Sam to turn off the t.v. because it’s time to set the table.
And so it goes until I get frustrated and exclaim, “If everyone would just do their job things could go really smoothly around here! What kind of a home do we want: a peaceful one or one where we all get upset with each other for not doing our jobs?” And the reality of it hits me hard. If we would just live our life the way God asks us to, we could have a peaceful world as well. If we concerned ourselves with doing His will everything would go smoothly. So, don’t compare and don’t concern yourself with other’s lives unless God has sent you on a specific mission to do so.
2. Listen to Your Inner Voice. Know yourself. This journey of self trust began with Natural Family Planning for me. I learned how to pay attention to my body’s natural rhythm and cycles. I became empowered by knowing that I knew my body better than anyone else ever could. It came full circle for me on the day I left the hospital in labor with my seventh child. The doctor had violated me and in a peace-filled, empowered state of mind I was able to stand up for myself. I had no fear in going home and having my baby in a loving environment where her dignity and mine would be respected (I had arranged for my midwife to meet us before leaving the hospital). It’s a story to be told at another time, but I mention here to demonstrate that there is power within each of us. God fills us with the grace and wisdom we need to live out His will. We have to work on our relationship with Christ through prayer and discernment and as that relationship grows stronger, our inner voice becomes louder and more clear. With my body’s failure to comply with all of my demands and wishes, I have really learned to rely on God’s will. It seems that I have to discern the smallest of tasks before carrying them out. Each day goes much smoother by doing so, but the cross is still just as heavy.
3. Be Humble. Don’t be too proud to ask for help. This ties in closely with listening to that inner voice and not comparing. Often, I was in a state of exhaustion where I knew I couldn’t care for myself much less my children. It was difficult to pick up the phone and call friends for help. I would worry that they would see my weakness, or think that I really didn’t need help and was just being selfish in asking for it. After all, Suzy never asks . . .Oh, yeah, I’m not supposed to compare. So, if you need help, ask for it. The worst is that everyone says “no” and then you turn to God and cry your heart out, pray and wait for the grace. Everything works out. Maybe not how you thought it would or should, but it works out in the end. You survive. You grow. I survived. I grew.
I will also add that we are called to live in unity. Women need to support women. Reach out and build those friendships. Be the kind of friend you want and wish for. Don’t be afraid to accept the help in carrying your cross. Even Jesus had Simon of Cyrene.
4. Sleep. Whenever you are able, sleep. If you are an early riser and enjoy that time before the kids wake up and the earth is still dormant then by all means, get up and enjoy it. Go to bed early if you need to. Find your rhythm and go with it. But, if you are not a morning person and the kids are safe watching television while you get some much needed rest, then do it. Now, you have to be prayerful in discerning this advice. I am not saying to stay up until the wee hours of the morning playing computer games and then sleep until 11am while the kids veg out on PBS or Netflix. I am saying that if you are exhausted and need sleep, don’t feel a bit guilty about making changes to ensure that you are getting some rest. As a homeschooling mom this is my favorite perk. I struggle with severe adrenal fatigue and it is imperative that my body gets sleep. Some days that means going to bed at 9pm and some mornings it means I stay in bed until 9am. It has taken years for me to figure this out and make the changes to our schedule to make it work. Only you know what you need in this area. You have to work with your husband and make the necessary changes for your health. Don’t be fooled. Sleep or lack thereof is almost always the main culprit in a lack of patience and charity. It serves our family when we get the rest we need and can serve them with love and patience.
5. Eat well. If you are surviving each day by coffee, cold drinks, alcohol and/or junk food you owe it to yourself to look more deeply into demands of your daily life and make some serious changes. I know of which I speak. It all ties together. If you are not getting sleep then a cup of coffee or a Dr. Pepper are a quick fix to getting that extra boost of energy to survive until bedtime. I did this for years. Dr. Pepper was this Texan’s vice of choice. It gave me the energy boost to make it through dinner and then I was wired when bedtime rolled around. It would take me hours to fall asleep and then I had to get up with the baby and the next day demanded another D.P. for survival. This coupled with the need to eat and the lack of energy to prepare anything nutritious. Fast Food is a demon. It satisfies that urge to be fed, but has no nutrition and even robs us of what little nutrition we have in store. I still struggle with this one.
6. Do What You Enjoy. Make sure in all the busyness of life and kids that you continue to take some time each day or week to do something that you enjoy. It is your time to recharge your batteries and connect with who you were made to be. What are your unique gifts and talents and how can you use them in your station of life? Boy, is this advice I wish I had adhered to over the past ten years. As the babies came one after the other (six in seven years) my “hobbies” were the first thing to go. My husband is just as guilty in this department and it is really hard for us to reclaim our individual moments of joy. I enjoy sewing, but have decided that the energy to set up the machine and carve out time for a project is more than I can muster right now. Reading is also a huge source of entertainment and nourishment for me. So, I am fine tuning my Feedly app and finding great resources on the internet in the form of blogs and Catholic websites to give me small and easy-to-digest bits of brain fuel. Thirdly, I have rediscovered my love for writing. I wrote all the time as a teen and my husband was actually surprised by my writing after about six years into our marriage. He has been so supportive and encouraging of me. Writing actually serves a dual purpose. I love to talk and share my thoughts, but am at home with the kids and have little time to visit with friends these days. Writing allows me to get my thoughts out of my heart and mind and share them with others. It has also been amazingly therapeutic for me and I don’t feel so ‘”trapped” inside of myself.
Well, that is it. This is all the advice I have to offer. Of course, this is assuming that you are taking time for prayer each day. Whatever advice I have to give is entirely fruitless if you don’t have a relationship with Christ. You cannot possibly know what God’s will is for you if you don’t ever talk to Him! May God continue to bless you on your journey. Thank you for taking the time to share in mine. And if you have any advice for me, I’m ready to listen.