Thursday, April 19, 2018

The mother's dilemma

If you ask any mother what is most important, she can quickly answer with her child’s happiness, health, and family togetherness. At the core, we know what's important. Yet, I've found myself struggling at times, balancing my role as a woman and mother with the daily tasks of running a household.

My identity as a mother and wife is built upon the foundation of love, but it's most visible in my daily giving. Chauffeuring to school and practice, a warm meal on the dinner table, clean laundry, homework help, bedtime conversations about life's big questions, are all acts of giving.

During overwhelming times, (which happens more frequently with three little ones), my sanity depends on eliminating the burden of any additional responsibilities. It shows up in the form of a declined invitation, a conversation cut short, or my general distraction, but at the expense of someone else (and often myself). I can't consider a friend's feelings in that moment because I have nothing left to give. And let me tell you, feeling guilty while you're constantly giving, drained of time and energy, is the worst feeling in the world.

But what can us mothers do? We are building children we hope will become kind, conscientious, responsible adults. We are building marriages we hope span lifetimes. We are building family relationships and making memories. These things take time!

I've discovered my problem lies within the way I've always thought about and structured time. If my children's happiness is the ultimate goal, I thought my time is best dedicated to that purpose first. I've slaved over the never-ending family to-do list and whatever time was left over, would be for myself/fun. And this worked for many years, until recently, when it didn’t. There just wasn't any remaining time to take myself on a walk, read or write, take a bath, or just think (letting your mind wander is the ultimate luxury sometimes, isn't it?).

After a particularly difficult summer (discussed here), I realized to serve others, I must serve myself first. This isn't a new concept. For the same reason you're told to put your own oxygen mask on first in an airplane emergency, you won't survive long without giving to yourself, but as a mother of young children, this is the most difficult task.

Your time is sporadic and can always be filled with more work. I have exhausted myself too many times trying to get through a to-do list thinking I could get ahead only to wake up the next day and realize I have to do it all over again. It's the quickest way to living a resentful life. And the hard answer is, my mom guilt, exhaustion, and resentment wasn't promoting happiness and emotional health for my children either.

I've found it's important to carve out me-time, and I mentioned this briefly here, but I want to expand on the use of boundaries. It has surprised me that there is not always clear "good" and "bad" tasks and circumstances when it comes to the balance of self, motherhood, and responsibility. So my approach begins with what I call the good/better/best theory; meaning uses of time can be classified as one of these. Take inventory of behaviors, people, and activities that leave you happy and fulfilled, and create boundaries to reduce time spent on those that don't. While it’s good to have a clean house, regular girls' nights, volunteer at school and in the community, help a friend, and involve my children in extracurriculars, I have to be mindful it’s not being done at the expense of the best things. I want to have enough energy to allow for self-care, and in doing so, also support my children’s growth and happiness. If I don’t say "no" in some situations, however good they may seem, I’m inadvertently saying “no” to things that actually deserve my best attention.

Good/better/best choices can (and will) change based on the current needs. Some weeks the best thing is choosing a date night with my husband over being home for bedtime, or lunch with a friend over another kindergarten soccer game, or turning down an invitation so I can spend time comforting my daughter after a hard day. The art of balance requires the continuous and delicate ability to pivot and adjust.

These days I’m loosening my grip on the to-do list and reminding myself there is no guilt in declining things that interfere with the time required to be my best self. In doing so, patience, love, and laughter flow from me more freely and my highest purpose is unmistakably visible in my children's smiles.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Leaning into winter

As I type this, I’m wrapped in a blanket as I watch snow flurries dance by my window. Not exactly where I thought I’d be mid-April. Trust me, I’m just as “over it” as the next person. But as is the case with other phenomena, I can’t control it. I can choose to fight it, be annoyed, or find the silver lining and lean into it, knowing it won’t always be so.

Here’s how to savor the last of the winter season:

Light a candle or a fire. This is the quickest way to bring a little hygge into your home (more on hygge here). There’s no need to shell out a lot of money on a candle; most of my favorites are from here.

Watch movies under a blanket. Our favorite thing as of late is to enjoy a cozy picnic dinner and a movie. The entire family loved this one and this one. And my husband and I just watched this one.

Drink tea. I have been living on tea all winter. I drink this when I'm trying to curb a sweet tooth, this when I’m looking for something warm and comforting, this when I’m feeling under the weather, and this before bed.

Spend more time in the kitchen. Roast a pan of vegetables. Make this soup. Bake cookies and eat them fresh out of the oven. Warm foods will nourish your body and soul.

Crack a window and breath in some fresh air. Perhaps not conventional advice when it’s 30 degrees outside, but that cold, crisp air will wake-up your system and feel so refreshing, even for a few minutes.

Treat yourself. Indulge in a hydrating face mask (I love this one) or take a long, warm bath. If you aren't hooked on the smell alone, this bath soak is also moisturizing, and you can feel good about supporting a local, woman-owned business.

Winter has long been recognized as a time of restoration, spent indoors surrounded by those we love. Before we know it, the first signs of spring will emerge, we’ll open all the windows and let in the spring breeze. The days will get longer, and quickly fill with playgrounds, and play dates, and friends, and swimming pools, and activities. So let’s enjoy these last few days of winter for what they were meant to be: slow and relaxing.
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