“Exasperated” is the word that best describes my demeanor when I’m with my children over the past few days… Ok, who am I kidding? The past few weeks. I find myself continually annoyed and issuing directives and reprimands to my children.
Sure, there are valid reasons for this. The number of kids in our house just increased by 50%, and when more than one is needy or crying at the same time, it’s a new and intense experience. The youngest is up twice each night so I’m operating in a tired and cranky mode. The older two have recently learned how to antagonize and wind each other up in full-scale sibling squabble mode in the past few months – and oh, do they like to practice. I pulled out my back the day after our baby’s birth and am contending with both back pain and fitting in hour-long physical therapy sessions twice each week (plus daily exercises at home). I had to completely rebuild my laptop last week after getting a virus and sit on hold with various technology experts for hours to get the input I needed to get back up and running. You get the point – not exactly an even-keel few weeks.
But so what? Does a taxing season excuse a continually exasperated mindset in a mom? I think not. Yes, I should have some grace for myself just now and maintain perspective. But no, I should not bark at my children and allow myself to become a harsh and command-oriented mom… which I’m in danger of becoming. Our eldest doesn’t adapt particularly well to change and – between his dad’s recent surgery, the new baby, grandmother’s recent visit, and preschool starting – has been displaying especially challenging behavior. “I hate being around myself,” I told my husband at the end of another long day yesterday. “I feel like all I do is order kids around and discipline them.”
Having an extra child to tend to and the need to catch a nap can together make me feel like all there’s time to do is the must-do stuff of parenting and household management… preparing, serving, and cleaning up food; laundry; keeping the house from becoming disastrously disorganized; attempt to maintain order among the kids. All grind (and reprimand) and no energy or mood for anything positive.
During some of my recent 3 – 4 AM third trimester awake time, I read most of a book called A Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family. Very worthwhile read. It’s written by a blogger I like a lot, the homeschooling mom of ten kids (four biological and six adopted) named Mary Ostyn of Owlhaven. Over the past few days as I’ve pondered and lamented my exasperated spirit, I remembered a section from her book called “fifteen minutes better”:
“Recently I was feeling drained by the demands of life… Each night I would go to bed thinking that although many things had gotten done, I hadn’t really focused enough on everyone. I decided to spend a month focusing on improving just fifteen minutes of each day. This small bit of improvement seemed much more manageable to me than the lofty goal of being a better mom all day every day, and as I took time at the end of each day to journal the good things I managed to squeeze in, I found that aiming at just fifteen minutes helped me maintain a better focus all day long.
The moments I wrote about were usually not huge. I had a tickle war with a couple of children. I played cards with a kid who was cranky. I pulled out a craft on a quiet afternoon… When you’re feeling exhausted it can be tempting to just coast along doing the bare minimum. But I discovered something interesting during that month-long experiment. Over and over again, I’d find myself at bedtime, not thinking about what I’d checked off my to-do list but smiling at the joy I’d found in those little ‘better’ moments. Those were the best moments of the day for me and my children. Making time for the good stuff rejuvenated me and made me feel like a better mom.”
Yesterday when my son asked me to play baseball with him in the backyard, I did it. It was great. His little sister grabbed a ball too and we tossed them around and he got some hits with his tiny plastic wiffle bat (“Mom, I got a touch down!” he’d call as he’d run around the imaginary bases. Can you tell we don’t watch or follow a lot of organized sports in our house?) It showed me how much we need those 15 minutes each day – and how doable it can be to take them.