Posted in Faith, Parenting

Making the Home a Haven

As September 2019 approached, I remember asking God for a direction that I should focus on in the year that was to come. I got the distinct sense that I was to put my efforts into making our home more of a haven. This was going to involve household organization, cleaning, decluttering, and making sure I regularly had time and energy for things like cooking, doing dishes, and doing laundry. It was also going to involve being emotionally present for the people in my family – as simple, sometimes, as sitting quietly around the table with them after their long days at work and school, ready to listen and respond.

The message on the pot is self-explanatory. The plant, however, is plastic. 😉

At this point I had been a mother for 8 1/2 years, and with the progression of time, God had been steadily and stealthily peeling my clammy grip from education and career pursuits – one tightly wound finger at a time. However, choosing the home as my over-arching focus for the foreseeable future, was still not my natural bent.

And as the beginning of 2020 brought with it the commencement of a small music therapy contract, and a speaking opportunity scheduled for the upcoming fall, I began to wonder if I had heard wrong. Maybe, I would soon transition back to working outside the home.

Nonetheless, March 2020 happened. God had known that it would. Our lives outside the walls of home ground to a halt. Even my son’s schooling moved to the dining room table – and stayed there for the majority of the year. My inbox was inundated with cancellation messages. There would be no music therapy sessions to lead, no piano lessons to teach, and no speaking engagement in the fall.

The realization that God had been preparing me for that very moment filled me with gratitude and joy. I also came to understand that making the home a haven was not only important for my family – it was important for me. As a bit of what they call an “HSP” (highly sensitive person), my surrounding environment has a large effect on my mental state. When the chores get done, the laundry and dishes are put away, and there is a place for everything, with everything in its place, I am a much happier person. These things affect my husband and kids too, but probably not to such a large extent. After all, I am the one who spends the most time within these walls. I think that by directing me to take care of the home in advance, God was protecting my mental health at a time that would stretch it to the brink and back, time and time again.

If having kids has put a damper on my love for candles, electricity and batteries have renewed it! These little candle holders are from a past music therapy client, and they remind me of ice blocks. The wax warmer was a gift from my husband, and fills our home with wonderful scents.

Progress has been slow, and my home still isn’t perfectly put together. I don’t know if it ever will be. But I’ve made a lot of progress! Pandemic or not, home is important. Much time is spent there. So, it may as well be a place that you want to be.

Here are some of the ways I have been working on making our home a haven:

  • As I’ve alluded to in the past – decluttering. There is much more to say on this topic, so it will probably be its own post at some point. I’m very proud of the amount of things I’ve gotten rid of, and have been enjoying the results.
  • Decor. A few carefully chosen knick-knacks that bring me joy, an artificial plant or candle here and there, and beautiful pictures on the wall, give my eyes a place to rest; while the calm, blank spaces in between provide room for my imagination to wander.
  • Recruiting help. Should a stay-at-home-mom require the assistance of her family members to complete all of the household tasks? I won’t even begin to argue a stance on this highly controversial issue, but I will say that doing everything alone was really not working for me. So Saturdays have become housecleaning day, and everyone pitches in to get the bathrooms cleaned, mess put away, and floors vacuumed. Many hands make work light, and we are usually finished by 11 am. During the week, then, I am free to focus on other cleaning/organizing tasks, dishes, laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, taking care of the kids, and (if needed) my son’s remote learning.
  • Organization. Something as simple as $2 bins from the dollar store, to conceal my office supplies, which are all sorted into recycled jars inside the bins, has relieved much of the anxiety I used to feel about my haphazard desk area.

No home is perfect, and neither are the lives within its walls. I could regale you with stories of struggle and hardship, as anyone could. But a home can be a soft place to land, at the end of it all. It can cushion the inevitable fights and heartaches. It can bring rest to minds that are weary of chaos and unpredictability. I pray that my home would be a sacred space of peace and order, filled with the presence and protection of God. And I pray the same for yours.

How do you feel about your home? Let me know in the comments below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Mental health, Parenting

Crying at the Rink

They came, finally. The tears. Yesterday, in a flood… releasing the overwhelm, frustration, and confusion that had consumed me for weeks. It felt good. My boys looked at me questioningly, as I puttered about with laundry and dishes, sobbing in between loads.

“I’m fine,” I told them, “just a little bit upset.” They nodded knowingly, with endearing concern in their eyes, before continuing on with their games and chatter.

This second lockdown has got me feeling like I am losing my mind. In addition, my church is experiencing conflicts that are dividing the congregation and resulting in hurt feelings on both sides. I have felt exhausted, emotional, invisible, and value-less.

And I finally told somebody.

“Some days are good,” I had typed in the email to her, “but I’ve had more bad days lately than I’d like to admit. Maybe you can pray for me.”

“Yes, I get it,” came the reply. “I would LOVE to pray for you.”

Was it her simple acknowledgment that my feelings were valid? The immediate effect of her prayers? Or the fact that I am learning to be more vocal about my concerns, whatever the outcome, as opposed to veiling them in some kind of ridiculous, prideful, even fearful – stoicism?

Whatever the case, I felt as though I had put down about seven suitcases full of bricks.

But I was still sad. Once the tears began, they didn’t want to stop.

“Are you coming skating?” My nine year old asked, his hope unhindered by my sorry state.

“I don’t think so,” I said deeply, through my stuffed up nose. My body and mind were weary. And the neighbors might see my tears.

“Ok,” he replied, and was off.

“Mo-om,” my youngest pleaded, “I want to go-oh.”

His persistence brought a smile to my lips. “Oh, alright,” I conceded, “let’s go.”

Ski pants. Boots. Gloves, coats, hats. Boy and skates in the wagon. Skate trainer in hand. Stepping onto the street, we squinted against the sun, and made our way to the rink.

A short time later, gliding over the ice, the cold air dried my tears, and freshened my lungs. A neighbor came to stand beside the rink and chat. Discretely, he held a cigarette between his fingers, not wanting my children to see. He was the one who had set up the rink for the community.

“I’ve seen you out here,” he said to my oldest. “I’ve seen your red jacket out here a lot.” Then, to me – “The last thing you want is to set something like this up, and have no one use it.”

A few minutes after he had returned to his house, a woman came by, walking her dog. “Having a nice skate?” she called. My boys engaged her conversation, in their typically nonchalant way.

“Can I pet your dog?”

“If you like dogs, you can pet her,” and she released the animal from its leash. We learned she was a therapy dog, and that her name was “Claire Bear”. The woman said she didn’t have children (other than Claire). She was on a walk to deliver a gift to a friend. She held a small gift bag in one hand. Later, I wondered if she lived alone (aside from Claire). What kind of loneliness must that be, at a time like this?

The skate was over too soon, even though I hadn’t wanted to come. “Let’s go home. I have to make supper.”

“What are you making?” (The daily, suspense-laden question.)

“Spaghetti.” Cheers, all around.

On the short walk home, I thought about our community. The rink. The Christmas lights. The people. My boys, and their unfettered positivity.

I felt better. All divisive issues aside, we need each other. The woman who prayed for me, the man who set up the rink, the woman with the sweet dog. Where do they stand on everything? Who knows. Who cares. One thing is for certain: we’re all in this together.

“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”

Mother Teresa

A simple question for today: How are you doing? Let me know in the comments.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Mental health, Parenting

Motherhood, Music Therapy, and Mid-Life

Sometimes I think I must sound like a broken record. Whether it’s talking about how tired I am, or fretting about whether I am raising my children right, or – especially lately: What is my calling? What is my passion?

Mothering is one thing. I always knew I would do that. In my mind, it was just what would happen. It did, and has been immensely fulfilling.

But something’s still missing, because career has also, always, been dearly important to me. As a sixteen year old, I purchased a book called “Find Your Fit.” I was determined to make the right choice early on, so that money and time would not be needlessly wasted on an education I didn’t use, and so that I could go to work every day with anticipation (rather than dread).

I followed my 16 year-old passion, but perhaps not common sense. I chose and relentlessly pursued (for a time) a career in music therapy. In many ways, it did fit my personality and abilities. But timing, geography, closed doors, my own limitations, and eventually pregnancies got in the way of finding my “fit” within the tiny, highly competitive world that is music therapy (in my region, anyway).

In all honesty, I must admit that my first pregnancy and the break from my job that it necessitated, came as a relief to me. I hadn’t anticipated, in my naivety, what my day-to-day would look like. Let me sum it up for you in three words: human juke box. That is what I felt like I was. I had trained and studied for over 5 years, expecting to work on multi-disciplinary teams of professionals and accepted as one of them. In reality, my value in the workplace went so far as my singing and guitar-playing prowess (which wasn’t very far at all). I didn’t like the spotlight, or the role of amateur pop-star/entertainer. This wasn’t what I had signed up for.

Recently, I read a quote somewhere that grabbed me:

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

E. E. Cummings

It grabbed me because maybe – just, maybe – have I grown up enough to finally come to terms with who I really am? Not who I admire, or who I want to be, or even who I wish I was. But who I am.

Yet, as a tired mother, am I even able to see past my present predicament, enough to know who I am? All I want these days are slivers of time to rest, be alone, think, and pray. The remainder of my time and energy is absorbed by menial, time-specific tasks too numerous to mention, or poured into my family members as I do my best to make sure they’re ok.

An elder asked me a few months ago: “What’s your passion?” (Could there be a worse question to ask a mother?)

Napping. Maybe that’s my passion. It’s all I can think about, anyhow!

Decluttering my home. Crawling out from under this pile of rubble. Seeing the light of day again. Could that be a passion?

In response to the question I had held back tears and mumbled something about how I used to think my passion was music therapy. But now I didn’t know.

And the ridiculous things we google sometimes. Am I right? Today it was “when being a music therapist doesn’t work out.” Yes, I actually googled it. And came up with nothing, of course. Aside from some annoying article written by someone who still loves what they do. (Yes…I’m bitter. I know.)

But the people like me are out there. I’m sure of it. Maybe they’re not talking, but I’ve noticed the colleagues who have dropped off of the association email lists. The classmates I never heard from again. The university students I used to work with, who vanished into thin air. Not everyone who entered this field is still employed in it. I wonder where they are. What are they doing? Did they find their true calling? Or are they still holding out for what they started with?

Maybe my pain is intensified, because I started out loving my profession so much. Maybe I just didn’t have the right amount of time, or luck, or the skill set, or whatever it was, to get properly established in it before having a family. Now I am pushing middle age, with obligations to my time and energy that I didn’t have before. Who would hire me?

I wonder if I should become a librarian. Just think of it: a quiet building, filled with books. (Books have always been a safe place for me.) Putting them away all day. Bringing order. Smiling at people across the desk, checking out their books. Until they leave me again to my quiet building, my books, and my thoughts.

Am I a librarian at heart? Or am I simply looking for an escape from my inner (and outer) chaos?

And is my career supposed to be about me, anyway? Isn’t it about the people I wanted to help? Honestly, what brings me satisfaction, as I look back at my life thus far, are the smiles in those photos. The smiles of my clients, and a few years later – the smiles of my children. They look happy. In those moments with me, they are happy.

And I guess that is worth something.

Are there other mothers out there, who question everything they used to think they knew about themselves? Or who have come out on the other side?

Are there music therapists who are still happy in their jobs? Or ones who aren’t?

Whoever you are, I would love to hear your thoughts and perspectives in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Mental health, Parenting

Moms are People Too!

Recently, I took a break from household and childminding duties to watch an educational video about music therapy.  It felt like a breath of fresh air.  Not because of any ground-breaking content, but because it had been so long since I was in my ‘element.’  So long since I had heard someone speaking my language – talking about the area I had studied and worked in.  I felt a scholarly and professional comradery with the video-taped members of the audience, despite my vast removal from them, as a stay-at-home-mom who no longer works in that field.

After watching the speech and taking notes on it, I felt as though something had come alive in me again.  Something I had been ignoring.  But why had I neglected that part of myself for so long?

Having unique interests, and allowing yourself time and freedom to explore them, is a part of what it means to have healthy personal boundaries.  A person with healthy boundaries will also:

  • Have their own opinions, without fearing what others will think – and will respect the rights of others to do the same.
  • Have a unique identity (sense of self) that is not consumed by any one particular role, or person.
  • Know that their value is innate, and not dictated by what they do or how other people view them.
  • See their personality as valid and overall good, rather than berating themselves (for being too shy and quiet, perhaps; or, too loud and exhuberant).  They will also enjoy and respect the personalities of other people.
  • Be aware of their own feelings, and take personal responsibility for them.  (See this post.)

In short, a person with healthy boundaries will respect him or herself, and also be respectful of others.

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Cultivating a healthy sense of personal boundaries is a skill that does not come naturally to everyone.  Perhaps you grew up in an enmeshed family, where these unique aspects of who you are were not nurtured.  Instead, you were expected to change or hide them in order to please other members of the family.

If this is the case, the same tendencies may continue into adulthood.  For moms of young children (a role that can be all-consuming), the topic of personal boundaries may be of particular importance.  I’ve heard moms say that they have forgotten who they are.  I would tend to identify with this statement.  Our responsibility to love and care for our children is essential for their well-being.  However, it is better (for ourselves and our children) that we also retain some sense of self, apart from being moms.  In this way, we will avoid using our kids to meet our own emotional needs.  We will also show them the example of a parent who enjoys her life, is able to care about others, and makes unique and positive contributions within the family and beyond.  That is an example I would like my kids to follow!

We’re allowed to have individual interests and opinions.  We’re allowed to say ‘no,’ and ‘stop.’  We can be ourselves: our personalities are valid and acceptable just as they are.  We each have failings but are not condemned by them, because we can receive forgiveness and are able to grow in character.

To develop this in my own life, I am becoming more aware of my wants, likes, and dislikes.  I even express them verbally from time to time.  I’m trying to be ok with standing in a crowd.  (Even if I feel awkward or funny looking.)  I’m researching educational and career options within the realities of my life.  I’m trying not to berate myself for the things I cannot do.  Rather, I am focusing on the things I do well.

For whatever reason, God wanted one of me.  So here I am.

What have you lost yourself in?  If you are a mom, how do you retain your sense of identity?  I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Note:  If you are interested in learning more about personal and relational boundaries, I would recommend consulting the book “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.  It is the source of much of what I have learned on the topic.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

 

Posted in Mental health, Parenting

On Life as a (Severely) Introverted Mother

“On the last day of a golden summer…”

I remember with a smile those words, which began a Winnie the Pooh video (on VHS) that I used to watch as a child.

As a youngster, the end of summer was an emotionally intense time for me – fraught with both melancholy and nervous excitement.  Though summer was over, the fall would bring new experiences, responsibilities, and opportunities.

To process these feelings, I would slip away by myself.  I grew up in a house at the end of a long country road, which diminished to a set of tracks beyond our driveway turn-off.  The only ones who ever ventured down those tracks were the farmers who owned the land where they ended, the odd vehicle that had lost its way (or was up to no good), and myself.  If I were lucky, the farmer had made a few hay bales and left them laying around.  They were challenging to climb, and a conquest to sit on.  From the top, I could see across the fields.  The pasture had a few small rolling hills, which were odd and beautiful to my prairie-accustomed eyes.

There, atop the bales, beyond my parents’ property line, I felt independent and free.  Free to think, write, or imagine anything I wanted.  I loved the solitude.

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Now, at the end of my 35th summer, I wish I could go back there.  Just for an hour or two.  I miss being able to retreat to a solitary place whenever I want or need to.  As a mom of rambunctious boys, it can be hard to deal with my introverted nature.  The inescapable, dawn-to-dusk clamour of children, as wonderful as it is, has the potential of driving me to madness.

Today I have mostly sat, drunk coffee, watched my children play, broken up fights, prepared their meals, and fetched things for them.  Somewhere in between, I put in a load of dishes and helped to pick up toys in the basement.  I read a chapter of the Bible, broken up into several sections of about 5 verses each (because of constant interruptions), and journalled a short prayer.  I have not been industrious in any way.  I’ve done the minimum.

It sounds like I’m being lazy.  But in my mind, I’m just trying to stay sane.  Sometimes when I have work projects on the go, I need to stop every 2-5 minutes to tend to something with the children.  Hours or days of this will leave me feeling frazzled, at the very least.

So every once in a while, when I feel that I’m starting to get batty, I allow myself a day of only just getting by.  I complete the necessary duties, and let the others fall by the wayside.  In between the children’s events, I attempt to settle my mind, and process my emotions.  I know that at any moment, my stillness could be disturbed – and that needs to be ok.  However, each interruption will delay my ability to switch back into “work mode.”  (I suppose this is why it usually takes an entire day.)

As an adolescent, a friend once told me that I “think a lot.”  I tried to explain by likening the process to cleaning out our desk drawers at school.  After sorting them through, organizing them, and throwing out the junk, we are able to work more efficiently.

And that’s what I’ve been doing today.  Writing this post, actually, is a part of it.  As I complete these paragraphs, I experience a sense of relief.

Can anyone relate?  Are there other severely introverted moms out there?  How do you cope?

I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Mental health, Parenting

Vitamin D O.D.

I love summer.  I love the warmth, the sunshine, the vitamin D, the fresh fruits and vegetables, the activities, and the scenery.  I love the time with my kids and making memories with them.  (You can read more about all that in this post.)

But here I am, just over a week in, and feeling completely overwhelmed.  My head is swimming with everything I am trying and wanting to do.  I’m stressing about whether I’ll miss something on my summer ‘bucket list’ and deprive my children of some grand experience.  I’m trying to stay on top of my cleaning schedule in the midst of it all.  And did I mention that I’m potty training my youngest this week?  (We’re going hardcore this time – cold turkey on the diapers.  I suppose I’ll let you know how that goes.)

The biggest problem with becoming so overwhelmed is that my kids usually bear the brunt of it.  This morning, I certainly wasn’t the patient mama that I strive to be.  Sure, they were misbehaving, but I could have kept my cool a lot better if I hadn’t been feeling so stressed out.

Amongst the many things I am trying to do, I’m keeping a few plants in my backyard.  I have two planter boxes for vegetables.  Today, it was time to thin out the carrot and dill plants.  I’ve learned in my short years of vegetable growing a simple yet profound truth: less, is more.

I absolutely hate thinning them out.  I’ve watched them from before they were sprouts, and now, they’re perfectly good plants.  However, by the time I am done, I will have uprooted more than half of them.

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My itty bitty garden

And why do I do this?  So the few that are left can flourish, have room to grow, and bear more fruit than they would have if they were crowded out by countless others.

Life is a LOT like that.  If I try to do too much with my kids over the summer, we won’t have room to enjoy any one thing to its fullest potential.  Stress, exhaustion, and worry will crowd out the fruit that I am trying to grow: joy, positive interactions, rest, and renewed health.

Tomorrow, I will have to tell myself to simmer down.  I know I’ve got to let some stuff go.  I pray that I choose well – what to keep and nurture, and what to uproot.

How’s your summer going?  Do you have a ‘bucket list’?  Are there things that you are having to let go of for the time being?  I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Parenting

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

One of the things I remember from prenatal class was when the teacher said: “You cannot do everything, well.”  I have also heard it said: “Women can do it all.  Just not all at the same time.”

And boy, have I ever found these to be true in my life.

After having my first child, I really tried to cover all the bases on my own steam.  I tried to keep up a successful and current career, keep a clean house, cook all our meals, and spend tons of time with my child.  All by myself.

But I couldn’t.  It tumbled down pretty quick.

I really loved my job.  But, I felt bitter about it when I came home to a dirty disaster of a house, and had to scramble for meals for the family to eat.  I also began to feel disconnected from my child, and worried that if I continued on that path, I would miss out on the precious years of him being little.  Years that I would never be able to get back.

I remember, coming to a crossroads.  The term position I had was ending, but I had been offered another one.  It was the sort of job that I would have never dreamed of having.  It really fed the part of me that craved significance, value, purpose, creativity, and excitement.

But, I was starting to realize that while I worked at a job, there was another full-time job at home and with my kids being left undone.  If I were to continue working outside the home, someone needed to help with all the other stuff.  I sat down at the kitchen table and crunched the numbers.  I knew that I would need to pay for housecleaning, and childcare, if I were to take the job.  However, if I stayed with a smaller 1-day-per-week contract, I would be able to do my own housecleaning, and my son would only need daycare one day per week.

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It may not surprise you, that both options were about equal from a financial standpoint.  So, I chose to stay home and keep a side-hustle that wouldn’t use too much time or energy.  I wanted to spend my days with my kids while they were little, rather than apart, if I had a choice.

The decision of whether to stay home or not is a pretty big deal.  (And let us remember that to even have the option of staying home is a privileged position.)  But since it can be such a difficult decision to make, today I am sharing the things that I considered at the kitchen table that day.  If you are in the same situation right now, I hope the following thoughts will help you.

  • Finances:
    • Can your family afford to live on one income?  Are there things about your life that you will have to change?  Are you all willing to make those changes?  (We eventually ended up selling our house and moving.)
    • What will you need help with if you go to work?  (Housecleaning, childcare, cooking, driving or dropping off children, yard work, etc.)  Who will help you?  Will you have to pay them?  What will this cost?
    • What do you expect to make from your job?  What is left over after paying for the additional expenses you will incur by working?  (Paid housecleaners, childcare, fuel and vehicle expenses, clothing, memberships, other work expenses, etc.)
  • Quality of life:
    • What will your child or children experience while you are away at work?  Will the childcare situation be beneficial and stimulating for them, or stressful and exhausting?
    • How will you keep up relationships with the people that matter?  (Husband, children, other family members, friends, etc.)  Will you have enough time and energy to spend on them?
    • What do you and your family need or want in terms of – household cleanliness, meals, vacations, extra curricular activities, etc.?  How will you best achieve this?
    • What will your own schedule look like, realistically?  Will you thrive on this schedule, or will you be exhausted?
    • Is your job a valuable outlet that you will miss?  (For creativity, socializing/networking, academic stimulation, energy, etc.)  How will you fill this void if you decide to stay home?
  • Professional development:
    • Would having a job right now help you advance professionally?  How?
    • Would staying at home cost you, professionally?  How?  (Loss of: learning, promotion, status, income, etc.)  Would you be able to recover from this loss?  Are you willing to make these sacrifices?
    • Is there a way that you could keep your career going on a part-time basis?  (Reducing your role at work, working from home, starting a small side business, etc.)

While I took all of the above considerations into account, I do remember a pivotal moment when my decision was made, before I even acknowledged it consciously.  After explaining my position to a wiser, older woman whom I trusted (but who was not personally invested in the situation), she did something very bold.  She told me what she thought!  She said:

“Usually, it’s better for the children if the mother stays home.”

And I just couldn’t argue with that.  How could it not be better during those pivotal years, for my kids to have time at home with the one woman who loves them the most in all the world?

I understand that every family is in a different position.  There are families where fathers are able to spread themselves out more between work and kids, and then the wife does the same.  There are families who just can’t afford to live on one income, and if it’s a matter of eating or not eating, they do what they have to do.  There are families with grandparents who are able and willing to watch the kids for a few hours a day.  There are families who thrive on a lot more activity and stimulation than my family and I can manage.

Whatever your situation, there will be benefits and drawbacks.  I’ve seen kids thriving at home, and at daycares.  I’ve also seen the opposite…at home, and at daycares.  If you pay attention to how your kids are doing, make the best choices that you can within the options available to you, and ask for help when you need it: they will thrive.

Is this a decision you have made or are making?  Where’re you at?  How’s it going for you?  Tell me about it in the comments section.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Parenting

The Driveway Rumble

One of my favorite things to do with my kids is hang out on our driveway.  We moved to the town from the country, so a paved surface is kind of a novelty.  They rumble around on bikes, scooters, and ride-on toys, while I sit with a coffee or tea at my bistro set.  (Or plant myself at the mouth of the driveway as a human barrier between them and passing cars.)

For me, it’s a rare opportunity to soak up some warm sunshine while the short summer is here.  I relish the chance to sit for a while and sip on something while enjoying the beauty of my children as they play.  For them, it’s a chance to motor around together and have the full attention of a happy mom.  A mom who is happy because, quite honestly, she is meeting her own needs while simultaneously meeting theirs.

This, I believe, is the true nature of play: it’s fun for everyone involved.

As a younger mom, I nearly wore myself out with all the “playing” I did with my son.  I thought that I should do whatever he wanted when we spent time together, because he was the developing child and it was his needs that were most important.

To a point I still believe this.  Sometimes as parents, we need to sacrifice our own desires to support our kids in their interests.  (No, I don’t actually feel like playing Lego/trucks/Uno/fill-in-the-blank, but I’ll do it for you, because I love you and what you like is important to me.)  However, if taken to the extreme, we defeat the very purpose of play.  It’s supposed to be fun!  For both parties.  And let’s face it: they’re kids, and you’re not anymore.  What is fun for them will not necessarily be fun for you.

I’ve also noticed that my mood really impacts my kids.  My joy multiplies theirs, and their joy multiplies mine!  Because of this, I’ve come to re-frame the way I think about playing.  I now think of it as sharing joy.

When we have a chunk of time to spend together, I ask myself, “What could we do to have some fun?”  For us, this may look like:

  • Playing on the driveway, as I mentioned
  • Walking or biking to a park
  • Skating a few laps around the neighborhood rink (the little guy just slides around on his boots)
  • Going tobogganning
  • Cooking or baking something yummy together
  • Heading to the dollar store and spending pocket change for a small toy, activity, or treat
  • Doing a special, seasonal craft (e.g. making Christmas decorations or coloring Easter eggs)

None of these activities are a drag for me, because they are things that I actually enjoy too.  When I structure our time in this way, a few neat things happen:

  • I am more patient in dealing with the inevitable squabbles and behavior problems, because I’m in a decent mood myself.
  • The kids learn that the wants and needs of other people matter too (the world doesn’t revolve around them, and that’s actually ok)!
  • I have a chance to pass on my passions, and the kids learn from what I teach them.
  • The kids experience things that are different from the usual play that would occur either on their own or with other children.

And you know what?  In the middle of these activities, I often find myself spontaneously joining in on what the kids are doing.  We’ll throw a ball back and forth, push a truck around, or dig in the sandbox.  It is still about them and their needs.  But because I haven’t sentenced myself to an hour of doing just that, I can do it cheerfully.

Quality time spent with your children is never wasted, but if it’s fun for you too, your children will feed off of the joy that you are sharing with them.

Do you like playing with your kids, or is it difficult?  What kinds of things do you do together?  I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

 

Posted in Mental health, Parenting

Hey Young Mom, Your Feelings Matter Too!

The other day, I took my kids to the park.  In order to get a bit of exercise myself, I opted to do laps around its perimeter rather than just sit on the bench.  As I walked and kept one eye on my children, I devoted the rest of my mental energy to naming the different feelings I’d had over the past few days, and why.

This may seem like a rather strange, self-involved thing to do.  But lately I’ve noticed something about myself.

I don’t know how I feel.

As a kid, I remember believing that I needed to get out of the way so the adults could have their important discussions.  As I grew, I learned to care about others and put them ahead of myself (a good thing, but it needs to be held in balance).  I entered a helping profession, and my mind was filled with my clients and all their stuff.  I became a mom, and was quickly consumed by my children and all their stuff.

In the meantime, however, I forgot about all my own stuff.

Why is this a problem, you might ask?

Because un-dealt with stuff has a way of boiling over at the drop of a hat, in ways that can harm yourself or the people you love.  You bump your head, and explode in tears.  Your kid spills his milk, and you nearly take his head off with your words.  Someone says something offensive to you, and you’re despondent for days.  (Please tell me I’m not the only one!)

There’s a lot of talk these days about self-care.  That’s important too, but right now I’m talking about something else: self-awareness.  Self-awareness is what allows us to recognize and name our feelings.  Going one step further, we identify the cause or trigger behind the feelings.

This is as simple as:

  • I feel lonely when I take the kids to the park by myself.
  • I feel anxious when my children are sick.
  • I feel joyful when we go out for ice cream as a family.

After becoming aware of how we feel and what is causing it, the next step is to take ownership of and responsibility for our feelings.

Ownership: These feelings are mine.  Others are not experiencing them in the same way as me.  And other people may not have a clue how I’m feeling, unless I tell them.

Responsibility: My feelings are not the fault of other people.  There are things in my power that I can do, in order to deal with my own feelings.

This can look like:

  • I’m going to ask the neighbour if she would like to come to the park with us and hang out.
  • I’m going to stock the house with the supplies I need in case children get sick, and ask for help or emotional support from other people when they are sick.
  • It’s been a rough week.  Maybe we should do something fun together and get some joy back.

As a mom, and as a human being in general, caring for others is essential.  But when you are so others-focused that you are not dealing with your own emotions, and taking steps to deal with them, your ability to help people will be severely limited.  You have feelings, your feelings have causes, and these things are worthy enough to be dealt with.  For your family’s sake, and your own!

Can you relate?  How are you feeling today?  (Do you even know?)

Warm wishes,

Lisa