It’s a quiet mid-afternoon on Friday. I’m sitting outside on my parents’ deck with Elliott; Gil is lying on a blanket at our feet gazing up at the trees; Lena is napping upstairs.
I love being “home” in Virginia. My mom takes amazing care of us and I always feel so pampered while I’m here. I wake up in the morning to a pot of hot coffee (that I didn’t brew myself!) and a big smile… and arms that are eager to hug my little ones and take them away from me so I can rest.
I’m learning anew how important rest is for a mother. After this past weekend — still jet lagged after running around at UVA Reunions — I felt so burned out. I think part of it was the realization that I, as a mother, was not really on vacation. Elliott was all smiles and un-knotting muscles; he had left work behind him and was free! But I was looking at the upcoming month in Virginia and realizing that it looked discouragingly… familiar.
My work does not end just because it’s the summer or because I’m home in Virginia or because Elliott isn’t going to work every day. My work continues: waking up around 6:30 when the first baby is up, putting them down for naps throughout the day, providing activities for both of them (tea parties, walks, playgrounds, books, rolling over, etc.), getting three
nutritious meals on the table for Lena, administering discipline with compassionate listening, putting them to bed, waking up to comfort them in the night, and so on and so forth.
My mom and Elliott help with everyone one of these tasks. However, the ultimate responsibility for all of these things rests on me. I need to make sure my children are rested, fed, bathed, nurtured. I am the caretaker of my family, a weighty and wonderful and never-ceasing responsibility.
It’s somewhat overwhelming to look at this work of mine as never ending. (Now, of course there will be different stages to this work. Babies are not the same as middle school children, and middle school children are not the same as college graduates. But still.) For the rest of my life, I’ll be a mom. I’ll always feel a sense of responsibility to care for my children, to meet their needs before my own, to love them no matter our age or stage in life. I’ll never be “free” of this. Illustrations like “motherhood is a marathon” fall short because in some ways the marathon will never be over. I won’t stop running — caring — until the day I die.
And the prospect of that is somewhat terrifying. I have been thinking about it a lot this week, seeking perspective and clarity. The truth is I must learn to find rest and solace in the midst of this work. Resigning is not an option. Two babies and a wonderful husband are counting on me. They need me. Right now.
So what do I do? While I don’t have a single, brilliant solution, I have noticed a few things that have helped me lately. They seem so small in the face of the enormity and beauty of this task. But they have helped me to show more grace to my family. And grace is what gets us all through the day, through the marathon, and Home.
Here they are:
- Setting goals. At the start of the day I often say, “[X] is the one thing I want to get accomplished today.” It might be sweeping the floors, finishing a book, writing a long-overdue email to a friend or sibling, doing three loads of laundry from start to finish, or even making one particularly dreaded phone call. (I hate the phone.) Having annual goals helps me too… although I’ve been slacking on my 2013 goals lately. Maybe in the second half of this year…?
- Asking for help. So simple, so hard. I’m getting better about it since Gil was born. (I need it more since Gil was born; two is so much harder than one.) Also it is absolutely key to ask my husband for help graciously and before I am too desperate. Can I get an “amen”?
- Getting enough sleep. I can manage on about 6 hours a night for about 2 weeks and then I fall apart. I’m terrible about putting myself to bed on time, though, and unfortunately so is Elliott! Any tips?
- Drinking enough water. At home I have this cupand carry it around the house with me. I need to get back into that habit while in Virginia.
- Reading books, essays, or even blogs that affirm this work of motherhood and caring. My favorite book on the topic is Andi Ashworth’s Real Love for Real Life. Two other books I want to read about caregiving are this oneand this one. Do you have any other recommendations?
- Finally, prayer and Bible study. Why does this often become so optional to me when it should be my biggest priority?? After reading through the Bible twice since we got married, Elliott and I are mixing things up a bit by reading a book about grace. It’s provoked some great discussion and it’s been good to read together.
How do you pace yourself in the midst of this great, vacation-less work of motherhood?