Confession: I forgot what it was like to be a really busy mommy. I had four kids this week instead of three—the fourth a precious boy we got to parent for a week and a half. I’m probably not allowed to say more than that, and I can’t post any pictures of him here even though he was such a darling and I would love to show him off to you…
These days, with my kids aged 9, almost 7, and 4, mothering moves in comfortable cycles, through the summer birthday parties into the back to school sales, holiday celebrations, winter doldrums, and spring delights. And around again.
I don’t have to deal with body fluids very much anymore. Everyone is potty trained and reasonably tidy. They eat with their mouths closed and help clean up the kitchen. They’re still a whole lot of work, and joy, but mothering is one of the things I play in. I almost forgot what motherhood immersion felt like.
When you can’t wash a sinkfull of dishes without leaving two or three times (five times? six times?) to care for a child.
When you have one ear open, always, and both eyes as often as you can spare them.
When the laundry hampers fill faster than you can empty them.
When small chatty voices sound to you like fingernails on chalkboard because you’re so crazy tired and don’t think you could answer another question to save your life.
When the endless afternoon stretches out before you, and it’s raining, and you honestly think you might drown in work and boredom.
I LOVED this week. It was an answer to prayer, a sign that God has not forgotten us. But I had to learn a few things in order to stay sane and here they are, just for you, if you are in the crazy stage as well…
To some of you, four children would be a piece of cake and I thank you for your grace to me as I hold forth on busy motherhood. To you and all the rest, I say–
1. Drink coffee.
My favorite pastor’s wife swears by this. Except she doesn’t actually swear, because she is the pastor’s wife and I keep her on a very tight tether. I don’t even let her eat open-toed cupcakes. She reluctantly affirmed instead: Coffee alone is the secret to her success with five children. That and regular church attendance. I drink decaf and it still works wonders: something warm in the hand and strong in the stomach.
2. Use paper plates.
I hate to joke about it, but all I know is that when I use glass plates three times a day, the environment in our home goes downhill fast. Saving mother’s sanity, one tree at a time.
3. Say yes a lot.
This prevents many battles, and even more negotiating.
“Can I do A?”
“Well can I do B then?”
“When can I do A? Soon? Next year? In fifteen minutes?”
“Can I do A if I use the little brushes and clean up after myself?”
Much is simplified if you just say YES, the first time, unless it’s a moral issue or dangerous to the wellbeing of siblings, pets, and houseplants. Hey, they found something they want to do! Just say yes; and then deal with the fallout.
4. Do laundry often.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t deal with a Mt. Fuji of soiled socks and sweaty jeans. One day at a time, sweet Jesus…
5. Get out of your mind.
A quiet life of the mind, like time with your spouse, is divided roughly in half with the addition of each subsequent kid. I promise it’s true. So stop trying to think it all through, give up for a while on the memories and the quiet meditations and the inscrutable depths, and just get those hotdogs in the skillet. You won’t be allowed the luxury of silence; come out of your meditations and into what’s now. Laugh. Sing. Talk to your kids.
6. Ask for help.
You weren’t made to do it alone. After three or four or five, you can’t do it alone. Let your mom buy groceries for you. Let your husband ride herd while you take a ten-minute bathroom break. Swap services with another busy mom. Whatever it takes. There are a whole lot of people cheering you on, even though in the wee hours of the night you may wonder where they got to.
7. Make a tight schedule and follow it loosely.*
*This is not my phrase. I cannot remember the name of the lady who said it… one of the Funk sisters.
A schedule is your friend. If you know that snack is at 10:00 and lunch is at 12:00, it makes it so much easier to know when everyone’s blood sugar is at a low ebb and whether or not starvation is as imminent as they claim. Knowing that you’ll sweep that floor on Friday makes it okay to wink at the dirt on Wednesday and Thursday.
But then—take a chill pill. A schedule is just something to shoot for. If you marry yourself to it, you’ll go crazy.
8. Know when your next break is.
It may sound silly and selfish, but knowing you can run errands ALONE for one hour on Saturday, or sip a quiet cup of coffee after they’re tucked in bed tonight, makes all the difference. You can hang in there till then, right?
9. Stop listening to how everyone else does it.
The day you really bomb as a mother (drill sergeant/crackdown/getyourbuttsinhereNOW and lookatmewhenI’mtalkintoyou) will be the day that every blog and facebook post you read will be a mommy-mommy one about how sweet kids are and how fast they’ll grow up and how you should let everything else go and just love them. You’ll have only one thought: I blew it all.
You didn’t blow it all, honey. You’re a very human mother who had a terrible day.
You will make it through. You can learn from anyone, but the ones you need to listen to are Jesus and the people He placed close to you. Enough with facebook already.
10. Give grace to others. It opens your heart to receive it too.
Keep your eyes open for the mothers with babies climbing all over them. Every one of them could say these words to you: “Please notice me. Please give me grace. Please see beyond my wrinkled outfit, my fussy child, my frazzled face. I know my house is a mess; it’s only clean on Fridays. I know what my hair looks like; it’s only nice on Sundays. My waist disappeared in 2002 and I still can’t find it. I’m lost in here. Be nice to me.”
Let me tell you something about Jesus: following Him doesn’t make life easy. But He is always there. Wipe the tears and snot on His shoulder and let Him rock you a while. He’s soooo good with crying children.
I’m sorry this got long. It’s a good thing I wrote it before our fourth kiddo left because afterwards I didn’t feel like laughing anymore. I miss him too much.
What have you learned in mothering? I’d love to hear your tips, your pieces of the story.