My friends have frequently teased me by referring to me as SuperMom. While I love the title, we all know it’s a joke because part of being a mom of any kind is the certainty that for every shining moment you can point to, there are about 50 blunders that took you there. The point is to be gracious and forgiving of ourselves, even as we multi-task our way through our lives, and the lives of our kids. And boy do I multi-task. I’m a creative director in an advertising agency, which has seen me at work until the sun rises in some instances. And that’s par for the course. I promised myself that once I got married and started having babies, none of that would ever happen to me again. That was so sweet of me. Naive and utterly ridiculous. But sweet. I have managed to draw my lines in the sand (and the lines keep shifting, but bless them, they’re THERE) to protect my availability to my family. And that’s going… not as impossibly as one might have feared. My chaos is organized, and my unavailability is well managed and pre-planned. But still, as a wife and mom, I’ve had to fight hard to manage my time so that my baby and my husband (and I guess my house) all feel like the priorities that they are.
Once, when we were between nannies right after I came off maternity leave, I took my 4 month old son to work with me every single day for 6 weeks until one of our 17 interviews panned out with the nanny we have now had for 14 months and counting. EVERY DAY. That meant juggling breastfeeding, tummy time, diaper changes, story time, songs-with-mummy and little walks in the sun WHILE commanding creative briefs, leading meetings, getting artwork approved, producing ads in studio and on TV sets and STILL squishing in dates with hubby. Looking at it on print I’m thinking “she’s either really a super-hero, or she’s a control freak b-word and either way I’m not sure I like her”. Well those may both be fair reactions, but the truth is that…well the truth is I definitely struggle with control freakism. But the OTHER truth is that I was motivated from the place of “I have to work to keep my salary and benefits, but my son must NEVER feel neglected in my presence. And neither must my husband”. So with all these individually respectable mandates in my life all functioning AT ONCE, it was make or break time for my “coping with a full life” mechanisms. I think those little cogs twisted and turned for all they were worth until I found a way (after several hiccups) to meet all the demands that any multi-tasking mom without paid help in or outside the home might face. It involved trial and error, figuring out a routine that works with the natural or close-to-natural rhythms of your family and repetition until it stuck. But they got me through, so who knows…maybe they’ll help you. Here they are:
You have to be your first priority in order to be a functional multi-tasker. Take it from a chronic over-achiever who thought you were SUPPOSED to get hospitalized at the end of every college year for exhaustion and other ailments resulting from a worn out immune system- if you do not take care of you, we will be watching your life story on Lifetime’s Sunday Afternoon dramafest with a title like “They Found Her Crying in the Drive Thru”. “She Ate All the Legos”. “She was only 30 but she looked 68” Or something equally horrifying yet accurate.
START the day with something for YOU. Or if you’re an evening person, know that when you get home, you do that ‘you-thing’ FIRST. And I mean MILLITANTLY first, even if it’s to lock up in the bathroom for a super long “pee break/work clothes change off” with a scented candle and that book you’re in the middle of but can’t ever seem to finish. Go exercise (it sounds exhausting, but you adjust surprisingly quickly and soon it’s energizing and you begin to crave it). Deep breathe. PRAY! Call a friend. Give yourself a 3-song hiatus from the world and ignore all the “MOMMY!”s and “Uhh…honey”s coming from the other side of the universe. TAKE the you-time like your life depends on it. Because. It. Does. Because if you don’t stay in touch with what makes you ‘you’ and what makes you tick, one day you wake up and realize that you feel completely lost in this life that you’re living from demand to demand, and you’re not even sure how it began, how to stop it or what you need anymore. That’s not just a threat to who you are, and your best life, but also to your future, your dreams and your relationships. It’s easy for us as moms to begin living as add-ons to our children, but we are MORE than that. But how can we teach our children about being their best and fulfilling their Divine Purposes, when we’ve devolved into shadows of ourselves? Let me drop my Jesus-life into the middle of this to say that especially for Christians, we’re SUPPOSED to be living a life more abundant (John 10:10). That doesn’t necessarily mean wealth or even health, but it certainly means not living in the dark corners of the shell of who we were born to be. It means filling every inch of our skins with a purpose and with a destiny and with a sense of who we are and why that matters. That for me comes from ensuring I’m rooted in God’s Word. For you, it may be 15 minutes in a tub with a Nicholas Sparks novel or an early morning run. FIND YOUR BEST YOU. It’s the only way to avoid a burnout and to also still feel like YOU. And the more like YOU you feel, the more able (and willing!) you are to share that goodness with anyone. Especially the significant other in your life. Otherwise they can end up being just another item on the day’s to-do list. And that’s not really the best situation for anyone.
Plus this is a good “start” button for the rest of the day’s/evening’s routine.
FellaMamas that point above about you? I can’t emphasize how very crucial that one is to this one. And let me tell you…that “best you” feels sexy, and valid, and valuable. And when you feel all those things, sharing it with The One in your life is no chore. It also frees you up to express what you need from your S/O. EXPRESS when you need help, and WHAT you need done. You’d be surprised how they appreciate not needing to read minds(anymore), and how eager to help they can be. And when mama feels looked after…well. Good things can occur. MAKE DATES. Real live dates where you get pretty, and he puts on real shoes. Leave the house. This is important. You know what your lives and budgets can manage. But MAKE IT HAPPEN.
Quick date ideas for those days when there’s no baby sitter but the kids are in bed:
Movie (TV or DVD) you’ve already seen but can enjoy talking over with each other out of its sheer awesomeness or awfulness
New-to-you- both Movie on TV or DVD
Puzzles- sounds dorky, turns fun pretty quickly. Fast puzzle, or big pieces or put it all away at end if babies are around.
Pick a new hobby, any hobby- travel, learn to knit, grow sweet potatoes in a clay pot..I don’t care- there’s information EVERYWHERE these days…get involved in something together.
Dinner- he cooks. you eat. It doesn’t matter if he normally cooks anyway, make a thing of it. Change into something pretty. Or naughty. Pour some wine. Light some candles. Shake it up over some corned beef or some box mac and cheese or lobster, whatever. Good or bad, smoothly prepared or debacle of the year…he cooks, you eat. Unexpectedly great memories.
Linger over love. Leave the lights on or light a candle. Savor the moment. Buy some dice, try some oils, get new lingerie or dust off some old ones. Share a bubble bath or shower. Giggle and flirt. Take the time to touch. For us mamas, it can be a challenge to celebrate our sexiness with our post baby bodies, but take a breath and let go…do it. Every now and then, surprise yourselves with the flame that’s still there.
Long before we’re willing to admit it, baby gets along without mama pretty well. In the case of special needs children, please listen to your gut and your support team. Special Needs moms are indeed the closest thing this world gets to real-live superheroes. But eve so, as much as you are permitted to within your reality, recognize the steps your child has been taking to figure out the world without you…. then maximize the living light out of it. If you need 5 minutes to stir the soup, or 15 minutes to change over the clothes in the washer, or 45 seconds to breathe before next opening your mouth, remind yourself that sometimes our expectations of ourselves as moms can be greater than our child’s actual demands. Oh we know they need their mamas, of course they do, but for many “Mommy” is like a shiny button. It’s irresistible. We see it. We push it. We get response. We like it. We repeat. The second that button ceases to amuse us, we’re done. So pay attention to their calls, but GAUGE before responding. Is it a button-mommy, or is it a genuine mommy? Can we re-direct their attention? Just as thirst can often be mistaken for hunger, sometimes kids plug in a “mommy” because…because. Give them a new focus and you’d be surprised how that frees up some time and saves your sanity.
Pay attention to their interests. Stage/Age-appropriate entertainment is not only good to help free up small pockets of time for you, but it also can help their development. Crayons are great. Less supervision needed than paints, and they have something to show for it. Stage/Age appropriate building blocks. Books…even when they can’t read, kids can pick a fave and spend time by themselves turning pages. Music. And well..I guess there’s TV. Not my personal first pick, but I never, ever judge. If Dad’s around, get him involved, let him figure out his own way of entertaining them. It won’t necessarily look like your way, but if they’re safe and happy and you have a second to yourself, then give thanks and let it go.
ROUTINE ROUTINE ROUTINE. Babies are born with a natural preference of when to sleep and eat and all these things. Watch them for cues and gently guide their preferences into a routine that stays nice and constant that doesn’t try to hard to recreate the wheel. Once a baby learns the steps that lead up to eating or napping (GLORIOUS napping!), you’ll find space in the relative predictability to plan for your own activities, and can even use these cues to ‘trick’ baby into an earlier nap time, for example, where it may be needed, or to calm them down faster to avoid a blow out from both of you in high stress times.
Generally here, I find that the best trick is to figure out the day’s MUSTS, and then let all else just…be. But my basic guidelines fell under the following:
Major housecleaning done on the weekends. During the week, keep sink clean to keep pests out, pack away the toy mess (That means the KIDS do this…even at 1 they can learn this. Your “5-years-in-the-future” self thanks you for it.) Last one out the bed spreads it. OR just keep that door locked. Hey- we’re in survival mode here. If you have chore-able kids, pile on the demands, mama! Even better for you come Saturday!
Laundry can wait for the weekends. Missing the weekend washing is not particularly optional or the number of ‘let me just scruups out [wash]…” items will run up on you by the frightening loads. Friday night, organize the loads (my darling husband handles that!), prioritize them and then Saturday just load n swap n load n swap and get it done.
MEAL PLANS ARE YOUR FRIEND! It’s tedious til you get into it, but knowing in advance what the week’s meals will look like eliminates hasty (over)spending for pick up items, and gives you the whole day to ‘get into gear’ to cook. Deciding can really drain that energy. Seems small, but deciding then organizing then cooking it can feel like too much sometimes. This saves time, saves stress and saves money.
Slow cookers can save your life. They are not the energy-suckers you may fear, and for little to no effect on your light bill, you can get a huge break and some peace of mind. Pop the ingredients in before work on Monday, put it all on slow and low, then come home and just plate and eat. Monday’s meal can take 2 people clear to Friday, with little ‘re-design’ efforts. Slow cooker roast beef is good for beef, then beef, then beef, then sandwiches, then broken down with some baked beans, or stirred into soup. Just think about it is all I’m saying.
These are all lovely in black and white, but in living colour, well.. we’re all just trying to stay alive, aren’t we? There are still days where I’m that lady in the parking lot sobbing in her car, and when my darling son hears “JUDE! PLEASE JUST GIVE MOMMY A MINUTE” and when my hubby gets the grumbly treatment for no other reason than I have to take it out on SOMEONE. So no… I’m not super mom or super wife or even super me. But I’m trying my best everyday. That’s really the most any of us can do, but from where I’m standing…that’s good enough for me.
We’re doing great, mamas. We all are. One nervous breakdown at a time.