It’s been said that the days are long, but the years are short.
I try to focus on the fact that the years are short. My fourth little guy is wearing out the footies in the pajamas I thought my oldest would never be big enough to fit into. These years are passing so quickly, and I want to drink up every moment with my family.
But it’s also true that the days can be long.
Long and loud and messy.
We all have those days — or string of days — when we feel like we’re at the end of a very frayed and quickly unraveling rope. You spent half of the night awake, cleaning up vomit or holding a baby who decided it was time to party. Or maybe both. In your bleary-eyed state, you enjoy a breakfast of Nutella by the spoonful as you simultaneously listen to one child tell a compelling (and very detailed) story about how to defeat super-villains with ordinary household objects, soothe another whose path through the kitchen coincided perfectly with the refrigerator door you just opened, and watch your toddler set off a rapid chain reaction of destruction across the entire counter top that ends with dumping out the pitcher of milk. The entire pitcher.
Sometimes you feel as empty as that darn pitcher.
It’s hard to be your kids’ everything when you feel like you’re running on nothing. (Well, Nutella and nothing.)
Sometimes you feel like the only one with those days (or seasons). But I guarantee you aren’t.
As our family prepares to relocate, it’s meant a few months of my husband working in one state, and the kids and myself in another state, getting ready for all the pieces to finally come together.
Well aware of the fact that I’m a better parent with my husband than without him, I reached out to some of my friends who have plenty of experience parenting during those exhausting and arduous days and weeks we all find ourselves in now and then.
Knowing there are plenty of us who could use their advice, I thought I’d share some of their thoughts with you. I’m still working on putting it all into practice myself. Hopefully, I’ll get some of it figured out soon, and take some of those good habits with me as we finally reunite our family under one roof in the coming days. Because you don’t have to wait for a crisis to take care of yourself!
Reassess Your Habits
My friend Shawn basically described my (less than effective) approach to our challenges this summer with her post 20 Bad Habits that Contribute to Mom Burn Out. (Was she using me for a case study?) Number 16 on her list talks about forgetting to schedule fun. Realizing that alone has salvaged several days for me. A quick game of Uno with the boys before bed time, or a morning spent at the park can change the entire tone of the day.
Let it Go
(You started singing to yourself there, didn’t you?)
Several friends suggested letting go of some things. And it’s clear I’ve done a bit of that. The yellow ring around my bathroom sink will live to see another day, and well, you can see that with the extra stress (plus some really exciting projects!) the summer programming here on the blog has been a bit less frequent.
Each time I had a new baby I reminded myself during those newborn seasons to pick just ONE task to try to accomplish each day (in addition to keeping everyone alive, of course). A trip to the grocery store? Congratulations! Laundry done? Major accomplishment! Laundry only started? Good enough!
Sometimes the key to lowering stress is to reduce the demands or commitments from the outside, but often the biggest thing is simply lowering the expectations we issue from within ourselves. (This post on banishing the “should mama” is a must read from Creative with Kids.)
Loosen Up, But Keep a Rhythm
As you let go a bit, don’t go too far. As my friend Mel said, keep a “loose rhythm”. (You can also check out Mel’s podcast about this same topic: 12 Things to Do When You are Tired and Burnt Out and the Kids are About.)
Another blogger pal, Alissa might as well have been describing me rather than herself when she said that in high-stress parenting seasons she’s tempted to “throw routine out the window, but that always backfires.” Like Mel, she advocates keeping an adjusted routine and going easy, particularly when it comes to managing expectations. She also came up with some great tips for Connecting with Kids When You’re Exhausted.
Feed Your Soul
You know the analogy. Airlines remind us to put on our own oxygen masks before attending to others. We aren’t much help to others if we haven’t helped ourselves. Though it seems counter-intuitive when stress is high, we benefit greatly from doing something for ourselves first so we can better serve our little ones.
Whether that’s a devotional or worship service, meditation, exercise, reading, creating — whatever form it takes— try to eek out a moment now and then for something that feeds your soul. Even if it has to take on an abbreviated form. If you struggle with making the effort to nurture yourself, my friend Alissa gives some great motivation and perspective here.
Let People Help
This advice came from my big sister, who shares the same genetic flaw I have that causes chronic and obstinate independence. Like my own toddler, I have the tendency to stubbornly declare I will do it all myself. And, just as I do with my toddler, the people around me stand by, waiting for me to finally realize I need their help. Open yourself up to your village. Accept offers to help. Dare to ask for help. Hire help if you have to and can afford it.
Asking for help isn’t a weakness. It’s a strong cord that weaves us together with those around us in a sense of belonging and community. The advice I got from friends as I waded into this tricky period for our family was valuable, but even more valuable was the love and concern, hugs, texts, and phone calls that came from more people than I would ever have expected.
Open yourself up to your village.
And Then There’s Chocolate.
In my quest for advice from family and friends chocolate definitely got an honorable mention. Several honorable and fond mentions. I can certainly check that box, or rather that large jar…of Nutella.
What tips would you share for those times when you feel you’re parenting on empty?