I mean, I got married. No missing that. I had a kid. Again, I was there; I know how that happened.
Another kid. Again and again and again.
In the midst of all of that, I was working and playing and going along, keeping up with all sorts of things.
And, at the advice of an inner voice, I decided to actually attend that Moms’ Group one morning. I went against my initial disinclination (“they might bite!”) and thought that, at the very least, I’d be toddler free during a time that wasn’t nap time.
Maybe it was worth playing hooky from work responsibilities.
The surprises aren’t really surprising, when I stop to think rationally. And yet…and yet, the experience of that day made me realize something shocking to me:
I’m a “veteran” mom.
I transitioned into one without meaning to.
This year, my oldest, who was “Toddlertron” and a whopping 18 months old (the age of the current toddler!) when I started blogging nearly ten years ago, is in 6th grade. She’s ELEVEN YEARS OLD.
Suddenly, I am the experienced mom in most groups of moms, especially in a group where there’s babysitting offered for younger kids.
As someone who’s spent a large portion of her life as the kid in the room, this is an altogether new and rather weird experience.
I’m not an expert on motherhood.
I’m still learning. I’m still stumbling. I’m still wading through the same as everyone else in the room.
So how can *I* be an expert?
(Hint: I’m NOT.)
And yet…and yet, I’m proof that you can and will survive those infant years…and the toddler years…and the preschool years…and the kindergarten years…and the elementary years…
Just as I look to those moms ahead of me, those friends whose kids are in high school and college now, I now have moms looking to me.
It’s hard not to want to apologize right up front: “Sorry you’re stuck turning to me, ladies. Maybe if you look deeper or better, you’ll find a better example and mentor…”
And yet, just as Elizabeth Scalia reminds me in her latest book, it’s all too easy to turn that apology into a narrative I cling to, something that’s not altogether true.
What I want, if I’m honest, is to be the kind of mentor and friend as those ladies who I’ve turned to for years, women like Ali and Lisa and Maria and Jennifer and Katherine and Elizabeth and Danielle and Ann and Barb, and many, many others.
I want to encourage and smile and be a source of sunshine.
And I want to be real.
Because this motherhood gig is the hardest important work I never thought I’d do.
So, because I love you, and because my not-so-little cherubs are driving me more than a little crazy today, here’s a list inspired by a book from my young adulthood (blame Danielle and Dwija for reminding me of it), The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
I remember listening to the tapes (yes, CASSETTE tapes, kids!) in my car during long commutes home. At one point, I was in tears. (Maybe at more than one point.)
But, you know, tongue firmly OUT of my cheek, the reminder about this book was pretty timely.
I’m in a place where it’s not bad to revisit this advice. I’ve found myself checking out some parenting books from the library and reading them. And rolling my eyes, in case you wondered.
Stephen Covey gives good advice. If you’re interested, here’s the great summary I found for his seven habits because, though I still have the book SOMEWHERE around here, it was easier to just Google.
And here they are, applied through the lens of motherhood and a decade of forging ahead through the trenches of parenting.
It’s easier to be up before the kids, though it’s sometimes not possible (or even probable). It’s easier to have meals planned, to have a list going into the store, to be prepared.
But whether you can be or are prepared, you can be proactive. I’ve been accused of being proactive since Covey coined the term lo those many years ago.
How can you be ahead of the game? In what little ways?
Maybe it means you buy diapers before you need them, or you fill the gas tank at 1/4 instead of when the red light comes on, or you plan your date night in the morning instead of 10 minutes before the movie starts.
Motherhood and proactivity go hand-in-hand.
Begin with the end in mind.
You don’t crack your eggs without knowing what you’re making, right?
Oh wait, you have to know what you’re making?
For me, it started on Sunday nights, when I would crack open my calendar and look at the week ahead.
I used to try to look at a month at a time, but it was too much.
One week. Seven days.
And sometimes, I just look at Monday and Tuesday.
I’ve always been guilty of looking too big. I hate details. I WANT THE BIG PICTURE.
And yet, the details are what make the end possible, right?
Sometimes the “end” is just surviving. Sometimes it’s crossing something off my list. Sometimes it’s making sure all those people are still alive and fed and the laundry’s folded.
I waffle between setting goals and making lists. Sometimes the big picture is too much…and sometimes the details are overwhelming.
But knowing there’s a destination, having assurance that there IS a light at the end of the tunnel: that can make all the difference.
Put first things first.
Sometimes, it’s NOT family first. Sometimes, you have to put the oxygen mask over your OWN face FIRST and THEN deal with the other humans in your life.
The demands will still be there, I promise.
What’s your prayer life like? How’s your relationship with God?
(Ducking, because someone just threw something at me.)
In the midst of whatever crazy you face, YOU HAVE TO KEEP FIRST THINGS FIRST.
God is first.
What is it that keeps you busy? Is it the baby and the laundry and the demands of work? Is it chauffeuring the kids to activities and keeping yourself awake when they want to talk after your bedtime and keeping the books balanced? Is it longing to connect with them and waiting for them to call?
Whatever it is that keeps you busy, invite God in. Make him part of it.
And carve out time, wherever and whenever you can. That’s first.
Next: the sacraments.
And then, THEN: the busy.
You will face times and seasons when the order feels upside down, when you feel pulled in other directions. The fact that you realize that, that you see it, is a grace and an invitation.
It will never be easy. Not. Ever.
(Or maybe I just haven’t reached that point myself.)
Confession: I have a martyr complex…except I lack the bravery and fortitude to actually be a martyr. I’m just a whiner.
Thinking win-win doesn’t mean THEY always win. But it also doesn’t mean YOU always win.
And it surely doesn’t mean someone is LOSING.
Too often, we have a black-and-white view of the world, when, in fact, the world is made up of many shades of gray.
And yet, winning is clearly a black-or-white proposition.
Stop a minute. How are you defining winning?
Is it a win to have the laundry folded and put away? Is it a win to have kids in bed by 8:00? Is it a win to sleep at night? Is it a win to have dinner on the table?
What is a win?
Now…assuming there are other people in your life (and if you’ve read this far, I don’t think I’m a donkey by assuming that), what’s a win for them?
Is it having a mom who’s able to sit and chat? Is it having a mom who is able to smile and be relaxed? Is it something else altogether?
So how do you accomplish those things that make it a win for you AND for them?
The bottom line: you have to THINK.
Which is hard if you’re not (a) getting sleep, (b) feeling like you have any brain cells left, and (c) surrounded by so much busy and chaos that you can’t engage.
It won’t happen overnight…but it can be done. Over and over and over…
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Dwija reminded me of this when she was talking to Danielle on episode 34 of the Girlfriends podcast (that conversation was part of the inspiration for this post, in fact).
It’s so easy to forget this little nugget.
The FIRST THING is to UNDERSTAND.
So often, we do it backward.
I live with a few humans who get under my skin in ways I can’t fully articulate. (Well, I could articulate it, but it’s not fair to call them out in public, right? RIGHT?) It’s all too easy for me to want to push MY VIEW on them.
I AM THE MOM. DO WHAT I SAY.
Things are so much smoother, though, when I stop and really seek to understand them.
This isn’t just a one sentence interaction. This is really slowing myself down, maybe even stopping. This is an ongoing process and something that stems from the fact that I am invested in them.
These are my family members. I love them.
And love is a commitment, not a feeling. It’s a choice I make daily, hourly, by the minute.
It’s in everyone’s best interest for us to understand each other, right? And if I’m working to understand them, they will, at some point, learn the lesson and try to understand me.
Or a mom can dream.
(Do not be fooled: I do NOT have a perfect family life. Far from it.)
Of all the habits, this is the one that still has a tendency to make me roll my eyes.
I love Stephen Covey, God rest his soul, but…synergize? REALLY?
But there are times when I see my family clicking and laughing and really getting it…and that must be the best example of synergize that I can have as a mom.
So what the heck does it mean to synergize?
Synergy allows us to create new alternatives, open new possibilities. It allows us as a group to collectively agree to ditch the old scripts and write new ones. [source]
I had this moment a little over a year ago when my husband and I were talking. Suddenly, I realized that his big picture dream, what he saw happening with life, was way better than anything I ever thought he envisioned.
It opened up a world for me that I didn’t even know I was shut off from. It made me see possibilities that were new.
And, if I rewind to when Kid #3 was an infant, my husband did something just as helpful.
I was bewailing that I didn’t know how I could find more time in my day to do X, Y, and ZBAQ. (That last was a doozy of a thing, I tell ya.)
He replied, “I can’t help you, because I don’t know what you do all day.”
At the time, I had a kindergartner, a toddler-turned-preschooler, and an infant. I was working from home, in addition to the mom duties and household stuff and whatever else was on my plate at the time.
When I share this story, it’s at this point that I have to call off the mom-hounds. He didn’t have any tone of voice or any implication in that statement. He didn’t accuse me of not doing anything!
He was trying to understand. And he couldn’t, because he didn’t have any information about my day.
As it happens, I couldn’t really tell him how I was spending my day, not really. I was nursing the baby, juggling the middle kid, and figuring out what it meant to have a kid in school for part of the day.
So, in response to his statement, I started keeping a list with times on it. (That was before I discovered Toggl.)
In the course of a few weeks, I was able to see what I was doing during my day. He helped me realize what I was doing.
And in the course of that, we were able to work together and find solutions to my time problems.
We shouldn’t have to remind ourselves to work together, but all too often, we moms position ourselves as the lonely captain of the household ship. We can do it all ourselves, thankyouverymuch. No one wants to help anyway.
Except…maybe they do?
Maybe they don’t even know what help we need. Hmm. Go figure.
Sharpen the saw.
It’s last, and maybe it’s least. I’m asked time and again how I manage to read so much.
(I’m also asked how I manage to do it all, to which I reply, thanks to Regina, “What makes you think I do it all?”)
Reading is how I sharpen my saw. It’s also my favorite hobby. (Um, it’s my ONLY hobby. Yes, really. I’m pathetic…and happily stuck in a book.)
Are you trying to do it all? By yourself?
Stop. It. Now.
You can’t. You shouldn’t.
And also, you need to pause. You need to sit in silence and let God wrap his arms around you. You need to do something for yourself, and especially for your soul and your mind and your heart.
Nope, there’s no time for it. I know.
There will NEVER be time. Ever. At. All.
The devil loves nothing more than a burned out, grumpy, martyr mom. Because, as the heart of the home, as the neck of the family, if you’re off, everyone’s off.
There’s a lot of pressure on moms. For real.
We carry it and we’re tough and yet, it’s never enough. There’s always more to do.
The demands never stop. The workload never lightens.
Sharpening the saw, taking time for your own well-being, isn’t optional.
You change your van’s oil, right? You get new tires before it snows, you update the carseat so that it’s safe, you repair the engine so that it doesn’t explode.
You are so much more valuable than your van. What will your family do without you? For the good of them all, you need to keep the saw sharp, the eyes bright, the heart warm.
For me, it’s often an hour of Adoration that really feeds my soul. But I’ve also been known to hide out on the front porch swing with a glass of iced tea and a book or a call.
Your turn: What’s your “veteran mom” advice?
Feel free to play off of whatever your favorite book was in young adulthood…or be completely original (which, honestly, feels completely inaccessible to me today…).