I hear it often: “They grow up so fast!” Or, “You’ll never say, ‘I wish I didn’t spend all that time with my kids.’” I remember asking one friend as she shared her marriage woes when the last time she went on a date with her husband. She smiled and said, “we have 3 little boys at home. This isn’t the season for dates. This is the season to focus on them.” Sigh. Then there’s that little meme going around Facebook: “you only have 18 summers with your child!”
I think these phrases have their place, in various circumstances. To those who are workaholics, it pierces the heart. It helps them correct their course. Plus, I have teens now. It’s very true. It goes by so fast…like lightening.
But for me, I am done with feeling guilty for NOT spending time with my kids.
Don’t get me wrong. I like to take a whole month postpartum and just lay there and snuggle my babe and say “no” to all obligations. I still homeschool my brood, and we spend all day together. Babies sleep in our bed until sleeping becomes impossible that way. We eat 3 meals a day together. We read books together. We adventure together.
But there have been times when I felt like I was dying. I couldn’t come up for air. Everything was all day, every day, all about the kids. I breathed in kids, I breathed out kids.
I look back on those times and I think “I wish I had given myself a break. I wish I had asked for help. I wish I had said ‘no’ to time with my kids, and set healthier limits. I really made them my idol, and that season was bad.”
During those times, the last thing I need to do is hear that I’m not committed enough. I don’t need to be shamed at the playground, for being on my phone, talking with my family living on the other side of the country. I don’t need to hear that I need to keep my kids #1. I’m a big believer that healthy boundaries keep priorities straight. When I don’t make space for God, or for rest and renewal, and following the plan he has laid out for me, I’m believing in a gospel of me, and my works. It’s doomed.
When my soul got room to breathe, I could be the good mom. My kids didn’t always like it. Extended family didn’t always understand it. But I need regular time away from my kids to function.
I learned that God designed us for a sabbath rest. It’s not just for people who were rich enough to get it. He commanded even the servants and animals to rest. It is part of our design. Never stopping to rest and get a break actually goes against who we are as image-bearers of God. Pastor Colin Smith says that the commandment that addresses the sabbath is “the only commandment that requires a community. A failure to rest isn’t the sin of an individual, but the sin of a community.” Some people can’t just up and rest. They need to tag someone in so that they can rest.
Here are some mindset changes to gain some rest in motherhood:
1) Shift from a sprint mentality to a marathon mentality.
Sure, you may only have 18 summers with your child. Likely not, though. For me, if I look at how many summers I’ll have kids at home from my oldest to my youngest that’s 30 SUMMERS of kids going wild. That’s longer than many careers. I know that after my littlest one leaves the nest, and likely before, I’ll have grandkids coming out for “grandma camp” at my house. Having God’s precious children in my home every summer is just my lot in life…from now on, and has been for the last 14 years. I have to pace myself.
2) Learn to be present, whether it’s with your kids or with someone on the phone.
When you are spending time with your kids, be all there. But just because your kids are at home doesn’t mean you are spending time with them. Sometimes your kids are playing, and it’s not time for your attention. They can focus on their books or toys, or even the t.v. That’s ok. When you need to spend time with the Lord, and your kids interrupt, correct them. Over, and over, and over again. Or when they are little, bring them on your lap as you read Scriptures and maybe read aloud to them. If they don’t leave you alone while you pray, just pray louder until they get the point. They are not the center of the universe, and you don’t worship them. Some things we learn through explanations. Other things we learn by watching. Let them learn how to watch when they demand explanations all the time. Help them to develop skills of observation with their mouth shut.
If you are calling your mom that you haven’t seen in 6 months, be all there for the phone call, and have something else for your kids to do. I hear so many moms feel like “I don’t want them to see me on the phone all the time!” and I know another mom who only talks on the phone while she is not with her kids at all, so they won’t ever see her attention not on them. What? If you want to teach your kids how to do life alongside you, they have to learn to watch sometimes, and not have your constant attention.
3) Speak up when you are exhausted.
There is no shame. Face your frailty. It doesn’t bother God. He died for it, and you wear his goodness now. Ask for rest, AS IF you were fulfilling God’s command to do so…because you are.
Tell your husband you need a break. If you don’t have a husband, tell a friend at church. If you don’t have a church, ask your neighbor for a break. Pray about commitments before you jump in and chase the shiny things. PLAN TO REST. Ask for rest. Insist. Don’t wait until you are beyond your limits. You’ll eventually need to rest, so plan it in your day instead of assuming that you’re a robot that doesn’t need fuel and then acting surprised that it didn’t work. Try to leave at least one day on the calendar blank every week to just breathe out.
4) Look to the Lord, not what all the other moms are doing.
We look at the working moms, or the stay at home moms, or the moms doing all of the volunteering, and we combine them all in our head into some kind of franken-mom, and she doesn’t exist. Don’t think about what you should be doing. Ask God what he as for you that day. Keep your eyes fixed on him. That’s the only way to let the unnecessary things slide right off.
5) Grow in dependence, not independence.
There’s a sense of pride in being able to do all the things, or not having to ask for help. I have learned that spiritual maturity isn’t greater independence, but greater dependence on the Lord. When you’re overwhelmed, do you ask him for help? Do you take the practical problems of your day to him, or do you feel like you’re bothering him? Do you know you can pray about how to get to your child’s heart, or your attitude towards that teacher, or your sex life with your husband? Seek to do that more. Devote yourself to prayer. Prayer is a time not just to share what is on your heart with the Lord, but for the Lord to shape our hearts to his will. He WANTS us to abide. We aren’t cheating by depending on him, we are doing leaning on the only thing worthwhile.
Look for ways to hand as much off to Jesus when it comes to the emotional and even practical burdens. Will your toddler not sleep…ever? Pray. Pray every time she’s not sleeping but should be. Turn that into God time. Ask God for rest. Ask God for wisdom. Ask him to change you through that circumstance. Lean in. Lean hard. It will rock your world in the best of ways.
Then wait. Keep your eyes open. God will not abandon you.
It’s not about you. It’s not about being super mom. It’s not about being all the things your children need. If you were everything your kids needed, they wouldn’t need God. What is your role? Lean hard on the Scriptures and prayer for that, not some blogger, or your guilty conscience, or expectations from the world.
If you are chronically exhausted, it’s time to assess. What in mothering, (or your life in general) have you taken on that God has never asked you to do? Are you abiding in his strength, or are you showing off with yours? Do you want your kids to worship God…or do you want them to worship you, and your legacy?
Dear Jesus, give us wisdom. When life pulls us in all directions, and we we can’t sleep or think straight, when we feel like we are disappointing everyone, be our strength. When people look at us, may they see straight through to you. May everything we do point to you, not our capableness. Help us to love our children sacrificially, without crossing the line to worship them in our sacrifice. Help us not to seek the perfect parenting formula, but to seek you in faith, every day. Walk with us, don’t give us a good plan we can manage independently from you. I can’t handle 5 steps to being a perfect mom. I need you every step of the way, for every curve ball, and every painful and joyful moment. Help us to be aware of your presence in every part of our day. May we let go of the fear of having our children for so little a time, and be focused on eternity, pointing them to you so we will have endless eternity together in fellowship worshiping you.