Reprinting this, because it’s about time.
Last week I received this message from a young mother. I asked if I could respond to her via this post so others would benefit. No matter what our stage of parenting, we could all use a little time out to reflect and refresh.
I have two little girls, age 3 1/2 and 1 1/2. They are wonderful and show me what aspects I need to work on as a person and a mother.
Children are indeed wonderful. They are always showing us aspects of ourselves we aren’t familiar with. One aspect, for instance, is happiness. No one has ever made a mother feel as happy as her children do. The other aspect is sadness and despair. We’ve never felt so frustrated, hopeless or inadequate. Every day our children introduce us to a completely new human being: their mother. And although she vaguely resembles someone we used to know, at times we hardly recognize ourselves. When it becomes especially tiresome and difficult, our relationship with our children sounds an alarm. We need rescued.
I have them both at home with me everyday except for four hours each week. Perhaps I’m overwhelmed but lately I’m finding motherhood to be a total drag.
Too much togetherness is too much. Every mother needs more help. The first step is to admit it; the second step is to ask for it; and the third step is to take the help that comes. You never know where help will come from. Not every angel wears wings.
When we have help taking care of our children, it magnifies the love in our lives. When either by circumstance or choice we think we have to do it all by ourselves, we scrimp on love. Everyone suffers for it.
We don’t always have the money to pay for help, so we have to rely on family. We don’t always have family nearby so we have to make friends. We don’t all have friends so we have to be brave. We have to speak up, make calls, trust strangers, invite people over, walk the street, meet, listen and console one another. Last week I called a friend who talked me off a ledge. Just by contacting me you’ve done the same thing for yourself. And look: no one jumped.
Is it normal to not want to play with your 3-year-old?
Yes. Absolutely. Certainly. 100% normal! (Since I’m not a saint, I think wanting to play with a three-year-old all day long would be kind of unusual.) Still, our children need our company, and so we give it to them. We give them our attention and that gives them our love and respect. Respect gives them confidence and confidence gives them the independence to grow up.
But here’s a little-known secret. Our children don’t need us to play with them all the time. It only seems like that because we keep running away from them. And when we run away, they run after. This is why I equate motherhood to the sudden onset of flesh-eating disease. Joking about it eases the torment, but it still feels like we’re being eaten alive!
What makes parenting a spiritual practice is that it consists largely of doing things we don’t like or want to do. Doing those things changes us, and that change is love.
I find pretend playing to be so difficult and with the constant boundary pushing it’s not too fun.
Child development experts say preschoolers need one hour of undistracted play with a parent each day. (Actually, they say you can get away with half that.) Yes, you heard me, only one hour! But this means one hour when you sit on the floor and don’t get up. You don’t leave to fold the laundry or start supper. You don’t abandon the game to do something more interesting or important. You don’t check your email or fiddle on your phone. And the game is one they choose, not something you think is worthwhile or educational for them.
So the whole point of playing is for Mommy to give up and do what she doesn’t want to do.
Plop on the floor. Say, “Mommy’s going to play with you for one hour.” Set a kitchen timer. When it goes off, get up. See for yourself how it works. When our children are filled up with our attention, they stop misbehaving to get it. You won’t feel trapped because you know the timer will ring.
This really worked for me at a time when I felt like a terrible mother because I couldn’t stand playing with my daughter. I felt bad when I was stuck playing and I felt worse when I refused.
Here is an article that talks more about how a kitchen timer can refresh your parenting.
I’ve been home for almost four years doing this and I’m feeling burned out. I know you have no idea who I am and I appreciate your time reading this.
I know a little bit about you because I believe we are alike. We all need a little encouragement to make it through the day. One day is all we ever have, and time is the most important thing we can give to each other.
I have read your first book and I use it as a handbook at times. Thank you.
I’d like Momma Zen to land in the hands of as many people as possible. It’s the best I can do.
Thank you for writing, and thank you most of all for reading.