Thursday, July 21, 2016

What I've learned as a stay-at-home mom


I wanted to write down some of things I've learned lately as a stay-at-home mom. Some of these have come slowly over time, and they are deep and meaningful to me. Others are simply decisions I've recently made, things I want to remember that I can choose to do to make my life easier. Whatever the case, I thought they were worth recording, to remember where I've been and how I've grown after being a mother for five years.

I've learned that "lifestyle" is not what motherhood is about. I wrote about this not too long ago, and the knowledge I've gained has given me a lot of peace of mind. Because of what's actually important, lifestyle things don't matter. Strictly shaping the environment for your kids by being in one "camp" or another does not have eternal consequences. It doesn't matter how many toys your kids have, what kind of things they're allowed to eat, how much screen time they have, or all those other things that fill up your Pinterest feed. The reason I, as a mom, have a certain affinity for certain habits and rules I want my kids to keep is an indication of my own personality and what feels "normal" to me because of how I was raised. I learned that it serves me best to realize that the way I've shaped the home environment for my kids is simply my personal preference and nothing more, and to not see it as "the right way do to things" and use it a stick with which to measure and judge other people in the way they parent. I can admit that the amount of screen time I give my children, or the snacks I do or don't allow my kids to eat is because it makes my life easier and makes me feel like I am doing a good job, and not because doing so makes me a better parent. Admitting such and recognizing that others make choices for similar reasons has made me a lot happier.

I've learned to own it. It's taken me four kids to finally decide I am okay with who I am. I used to go out in public and be embarrassed with the googly eyes I would get when people would see I had three tiny kids. I knew they were probably thinking something about me, and they probably thought I was crazy. But now I have this mess of kids and a baby, and in this town stay-at-home moms are unusual anyway, I went from ridiculous to extreme. But I've finally decided to own it. This is who I am, this is where I came from, I CHOSE motherhood and all that came with it, this brings me happiness. When you finally decide that, you can be happy, centered, and fulfilled.

I learned that complaining actually makes life harder. Feeling sorry for yourself, avoiding stuff, actually causes you more pain than just bucking up and doing it. Sometimes life can be hard and it can be tempting to treat others badly because you're having a hard time. But when you realize complaining, being rude to others, etc., actually makes you unhappy in a different way, you can decide to stop that behavior, and apologize and be better.

I learned that I should do that hard thing. Even when I'm tired, even if I don't want to, even if I'm scared of the "what ifs." Just do it. Do the dishes, take all the kids to the grocery store, pack the bags when you when you can't keep your eyes open, bathe the kids when they're screaming. When you're a stay-at-home mom, you are the only adult around. I started to realize that this is ALL ME, this is what I've got to do. When you see that nobody comes swooping in to save you over and over and over again, you've got to shove off your insecurities and weaknesses and say, "I've got to do this." This is what motherhood is. It's a lonely adult life in some ways, and a lot of physical work and emotional strain, more than I've ever had before. But when I reached that point and realized that I've got to pull my weight or I won't emotionally make it, it becomes just normal. Do that hard thing. Sign your daughter up for swim lessons when you have a 3-week-old. You can do it. Trust me. And the more times you do that hard thing, the easier it will become. No freaking out anymore, this is my life and I can do it.

I learned to clean the house. I don't know why it's taken me so long to realize this but... I need to clean the house. All of it. With practically no help. All the time. It makes me happier, it makes the kids happier, it makes my husband happier. I don't know why I didn't understand, but little kids can't clean without your help. You can involve your kids in the cleaning, certainly, but until they're a certain age (and we haven't reached it yet), you have to be right beside them, telling them where everything goes (even though they just pulled it all out...). Don't let them start another mess without cleaning up the first one first. And clean up the house before you let them watch anything. Clean the house. Ask the kids to help, it will still be mostly you doing it, but just do it. Let the baby scream while you load the dishwasher. You will be happier.

I learned to apologize to my kids, a lot. I used to think that I was the authority figure in the house and therefore any action I took was "justified." They needed to learn, and I needed to teach them. Their actions may lead to their mother getting agitated, frustrated, angry, and generally treating them bad-- and if they shaped up, they wouldn't get such bad treatment. No one deserves to be treated like that, and God does not approve of me justifying my actions in such a way. There is a difference between firmness and frustration. And because I still mix the two up, sometimes often, I need to apologize and repent, and try harder to react correctly the first time.

I learned that how I feel about my children affects their actions. Related to the one above, if I'm frustrated, grouchy, not liking motherhood or distracted, my kids are more likely to fight, whine, be belligerent, or cause problems. When I decide to feel positive about motherhood and act calmly, my children are way more likely to play nicely with each other and be happy. It's the easiest way to fix behavior problems, I've found, is to change my own attitude!

I learned I need to take breaks responsibly. 24/7 parenting is hard, hard work, and I used to try to "escape" a lot (be it through the internet, or whatever other rabbit hole I could find). I learned that it's ok to escape, and it's important to take breaks from time to time, but they need to be responsible breaks. Get your kids set up with a different activity, or plan it ahead with your husband at a certain time or something. I've also learned with my breaks, they need to be something I want to do-- writing, exercising, scripture reading, whatever it is, and not mindless internet browsing (at least all the time. Ha!). Being intentional about my breaks, I've found, makes me enjoy motherhood a lot more, and more likely that I make time for things that I love.

I learned I should give other people grace. It's taken me four kids, five years to learn some very basic things (like keeping the house clean, for example). When you see yourself change you just want to give compassion to others. You may think you see more selfishness in a someone else but, that used to be you, you know. You may think you see more pride in someone younger than you, but, you've been that person too. And you have plenty of faults that are glaringly obvious to people who've been in your shoes, too. The problem is: you don't know that you don't know. And simply telling someone what they are doing "wrong" or judging them doesn't fix the problem.  In my case, God has taught me a lot, but it's come slowly over time, and I need to trust that he is doing the same with someone else. I've started to accept that this is a journey, and we're all learning things at different rates and in different circumstances that will invariably lead us to be better people. I might see something that is troubling to me in someone else, but when I remember what I used to be, how I've grown, I can see that grace is the best answer. Chances are it's not that big of a deal and they will grow out it. Give other people grace and just love them. You're growing and so are they.

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