In which I test your attention span

Posted on Saturday~April 4, 2009

"Anybody who is honest will admit that they have times when they know they're not being the mother they wish they would be. But, to dwell on mistakes is simply wasting time. We move on...learning, growing, improving, and loving our children to the best of our abilities."

I should just fill my posts with the things you guys say. Seriously, I've been IN LOVE with your comments on these mothering posts. There are so many wise and lovely moms out there. Thank you.

Today I'm going to share a little more of my personal mom journey, and how Debbie's advice (which I've mentioned in the last two posts) helped steer me back to the place I was going.

We're all just as different as mothers as we are as people. So I don't think Debbie's advice will suit every person. We all have different ways of doing this, and I think it's pretty common for us to get so tired that we forget to mother how we'd like, and then we feel bad. So sometimes we just need to stop and get back on course, leaving the guilt behind.

Debbie's advice suits me for the following reasons:

- I have Attention Deficit issues. Big time. I walk around in circles in my house a lot. All day.
- I struggle with mood issues. Big time. If left bored and unstructured, I get mopey and mean.
- My kids are still very young, they don't occupy themselves at all. Ever.
- Asher is...um...high maintenance. (love him to pieces)
- Miles is and has always been busy beyond the norm. (just ask my friends how much he talks and moves, they'll tell you it's off the charts) (love him to pieces)
- My husband is out of town for work generally every other week, usually Monday-Thursday. (love him to pieces)
- My boys like to wake up anywhere between 5 and 6 am, and I'm not the best sleeper in the first place = sleep deprivation.
- Not much support = much Minnesota Winter isolation = crazy everyone.

OK, you get the idea. Those are my major obstacles. They are the things that make it really hard for me to "mom-it" the way I would like.

Every mom has a list like this. We need to look at it every once and awhile and first of all, let it remind us that we can't feel guilty. Who would be able to keep being calm, happy, patient, etc. with lists like this? These are the things written on our walls. You know, the ones we see after we hit the wall. We sit on the ground and look up at it and say, "Oh yeah. I don't suck, that stuff sucks."

We'll never rise above it all perfectly, that's impossible, but there are ways to survive and maybe even be more content.

When I got Debbie's email, I remembered what used to work for me before I got all distracted and exhausted from the last year or so with Asher's surgery and such. As she described how she got through those early years with twins and two other small people, I was reminded of how I'd like to handle these years.

Because what I've been doing lately. It just ain't working.

What have you been doing, Heather?

Uuuum, nothing:

-We haven't been getting out of the house nearly enough. We're stir crazy, sick of each other, grumpy and rude. All three of us.
-My kids have been watching FAR too much TV. It became a crutch during Asher's colic and then shunt surgery, etc. (please don't get me wrong, I think there are certain seasons where it's entirely acceptable to survive by PBS. Like sickness, and difficult pregnancies, etc. But we don't have any of that going on right now.)
- I've been on the computer far too much. Far too much. This is another thing that changed during all the stress, it was my contact with the outside world and my support. But now it's just a habit like any other, too much of a good thing.
- I rarely take breaks. RARELY. When I do, it's for about three hours or less. I come back feeling like it wasn't long enough. I have trouble asking for help. Dumb. (Remember, we don't even have a sitter! I've yet to look for one. Dumb.)
- I've been so impatient, frustrated, playing the martyr and acting like a big freak. Especially over things like writing on the walls, and breaking stuff, and pouring out all the soap, and....

I don't' like it. They don't like it. We need a change.

For me it isn't so much about giving my kids some sort of cultured learning experience every day. I don't feel guilty about that. They're little. They learn by watching ants on the sidewalk or finding shapes in the clouds.

And I don't need to feel guilty about not wanting to play cars for hours on end. The kind of "truly present" I want to be is...wait for it....happy to be with them. I can feel frustrated here and there, even often, but I don't want to feel it all.the.time. Our current lifestyle has put me in a funk that can only lead me to consistent impatience, intolerance, and frustration.

In short, I don't want to have my insides jump out of my skin if Miles asks me a question while I'm trying to fold laundry, put the dishes away, or type a flippin' blog post.

As Debbie shared the things that she did with her kids when they were small, I realized that each thing she mentioned responded to something on that list above. It might seem simple, but it was just exactly what I needed at this particular time. I don't think that's a coincidence.

What did she do, Heather?

Here are some excerpts from her email:

"I read every newspaper I could and scouted out any and everything that looked like a mother might be there. Children's concerts - we were there. I took them to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at a fancy theater. At those ages! Storytellers, yep we were in the front row. And we never, ever, ever missed story time at the library. Sometimes we went to both each week.

Then I started a playgroup at our local park. Friday mornings at 10. Gosh, we went for years and years and you know what, they still meet! Whoever wanted to come came. Once word got out, mothers came out of the woodwork. And sometimes we would go to McD's for lunch or sometimes just hang out there. It was a Godsend.

We ate "picnic" food at home most days for lunch - outside on a blanket if we at all could. No dishes! Heck. You can live a long, long time on PB and crackers, cheese, and fruit. So that took care of dishes.

Here's another thing we did which is rather controversial but I swear, it saved me. We unplugged when my oldest were 3. Completely. No TV at all. Yes, at first they missed the drug. But then it got easier and easier. And they learned to love books. Adore books. It was my saving grace. They would "read" by themselves or better yet, curl up next to me for hours (no exaggeration) for me to read to them. Nice quiet time. I am sure it wouldn't work with every family, but we consider it to be the smartest thing we ever accidentally did!

I also made the house as "mother tantrum proof" as possible. I owned nothing breakable within their reach. I turned three full kitchen cabinets over to them for art supplies (they are still in use). And I made the lower cabinets all plastic wear, which they drug out each and every day then proceeded to sit in the cabinets.

And later, I hired a local boy who was 9 to be my "mother's helper" after school a day or two a week. I gave him a dollar I think. (That was before inflation) . He stayed in the house or the yard with them and just played with them so I could cook, or fold laundry, or read the newspaper. Kids that age love a little money and responsibility. And I was right here so I felt safe doing that.
(She also said that I'm her favorite person in the whole world, but I left that out.)

I want to be content in this season and I think that's possible. I don't have to like everything about it, but to rise above, I need to take care of our days and myself. That's really hard in this day and age, everything moves so fast, everyone doing it their own way, on their own. But I want to try.

There are certainly times when doing all of the above is nearly impossible, but we're not currently in one of those seasons. It really was Winter in so many ways, and we hunkered down and watched the messes and the grumpies pile up around us. But I feel Spring coming, in so many ways...and I'm so relieved. We will go out, we'll leave the messes behind, and simply enjoy each other. No, it won't make anything perfect, just better. And better is good.

Debbie, thank you for taking the time to share what you thought might be too much information. It wasn't. It was just right. We've been in a really hard place. Thank you.

Moms, I encourage you to take a look at your wall, your list of obstacles and difficulties. Not to dwell on them, but to recognize them. Then think about practical things you can do to make life a little happier, or maybe just a bit more survivable (that's totally a word.) Do you need a sitter? A weekend to yourself? 14 personal assistants? To shut the TV off more often? To eat more picnic lunches so there aren't dishes? To ____________? You fill in the blank. You deserve to feel good about you and your choices. They're different for all of us, and when we stop thinking there's nothing that could help, we see we have some options.

So Heather, are you going to unplug the computer and the TV AND hire a sitter?

It's not quite even close to warm here in my beloved Minnesota, but I do plan to unplug the TV when it does turn to Spring. As for the computer, I highly doubt I'll have as much time for it when we can get outside more, but when I do, I plan to keep using the timer. So there. (Feel free to check in on this with me, I'll feel much better if I stick to it.) Oh! And the sitter...I'll try. I'll finally sit down with my good friend, the computer, and search out options. Finally.

OK then. Um, if you made it through this post, you don't have ADD like me :)

The End.

46 clicked right here to comment:

Kristina P. said...

Debbie is a genius. As are you. I am taking mental notes of these things, for the future.

Annette Lyon said...

I do have ADD, but I made it to the end. :)

Such good advice. I'm past that stage with my kids, but I'm in my own funk, and this was a good reminder of ways to shake out of it--especially with the summer months and no school coming up.

Debbie is brilliant.

Megan@SortaCrunchy said...

I don't know Debbie, but I have to agree with others that she is quite the mentoring friend. How grateful you must be for her!

Heather, I am so exactly with you in all of this. Our climates may be a bit different (in that we spent most of today outside and IT! WAS! GREAT!) but this other stuff? Yeah. We need more predictable routine. We need to unplug. I (!!!) need to unplug more.

Hey, did you know National Turn Off The TV Week is the last week in April? I've been toying with the idea, but honestly, it scares me to death. If you try, I might have the courage, too.

Anyway, this was not ADD at all - quite unified in its theme of encouragement.

Thank you for sharing your heart.

Lara said...

I also have ADD, and I'm totally saving this post. I so agree with so many of your own personal struggles. Maybe agree isn't the right word: empathize...because I have them, too.

I LOVE Debbie's suggestions. I'm going to be better, yes sir.

Jen said...

I just have to say that I loved this past three posts. They really spoke to me in so many ways. There are some wonderful ideas not only in the posts but in the comments as well.
I guess I am trying to say, Thank you. You have touch me in more ways than you no.

LauraND said...

Is it just the season to have all these things on the brain? I feel such a kindredship in this post -- thank for writing it. Yes, I eagerly read it to its 'The End'. I esp. resonated with the idea of not just playing with the kids -- but wanting to! Being happy to! I'm really praying for that one to happen. I've got this new 'slogan' in my head. I'm a slogan person. I was raised on jingles. But, it goes like this: Every Day, Pray, Play...." -- um, still trying to think of a third 'p' that could have something to do with folding some socks. Any ideas?
Thanks for the great thoughts.

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

It's easy to love you Heather because you're so darn NORMAL. You've expressed honestly and brilliantly things that so many of us struggle with so often. The answers seem simple and trite, but somehow become more doable when other people admit they're hard too. Thanks again, and for the record, I feel like we could both benefit from committing to meet at some of those kid-friendly places together.

Sarah@Life in the Parsonage said...

Boy do I get this. I've been really begging God to help me enjoy my kids...not just put up with them (which is my default) but to really like being with them...enjoy this crazy time. He's working on me.

I swear once it finally warms up here I might not turn the computer on for 2 months. :)

Blessed said...

I got through the post and I have ADD :) but I need help in this time of my life too so I'm up for reading any advice that seems like it might be helpful :)

As an aside... we don't have a TV at all in our home. Our friends who do have them come over and tell us that our house is more peaceful than there's - often it doesn't feel so peaceful to me so I wonder what their houses must be like - aack!

I've started limiting my computer use - it really has helped!

Carolyn said...

I LOVE this: The kind of present I want to be is happy to be with them. That perfectly expresses my feelings about this.

Anonymous said...

I like the tone I'm feeling within this email. It made me smile!!!

Kazzy said...

You seem to work so hard for the benefit of your kids. The martyr thing is something I struggled with when my kids were younger too. I think it is normal, so don't beat yourself up too much. Now that my boys are older they are good to say thank you a lot and it really does help.

I would highly suggest (again-personal experience here) that you have a regular date night with your husband where you talk about anything but the kids. My husband has insisted on this and it has saved us many times. Maybe you can do a trade with a married friend with kids and you can trade weekends. Just a thought.

MoziEsmé said...

Thanks for sharing this! I never thought I had AD issues - I can read (and blog) forever, but now I'm wondering... I haven't been able to sit through a TV show, let alone a movie, in ages. I'm going around in circles and can't remember what I'm doing. My husband constantly questions my sanity.

This just seems to reflect my current state of mind - bored to tears yet completely overwhelmed.

And I keep taking on more. I do that "scout for everything that a mother should be at" thing. I've been contacting people trying to figure out what volunteer activities I can do with a 2-year-old. (Nobody wants us!) I'm considering starting a toddler art group.

People wonder why I subject my 2-year-old to crafts and other "educational" activities instead of just letting her play. It's for ME! Plus she likes it, and I figure it might be doing some good for her as well.

Anyway - there's a lot of practical stuff in your post, and I loved it...

Manic Mother said...

Good for you! I forced myself to join 2 different local moms clubs in town. And although I generally don't feel like I fit in with the other mothers, the boys have such great times at all of the different outings they plan. So I keep going, for them, and it keeps me from losing my mind.

Erin said...

Those were all great ideas Debbie shared. Now I need a little advice - what do I do when I don't have ADD, but I do have a touch of agoraphobia and the thought of going to everything that may have children there seriously freaks me out?

I need to get over that. My kids need experiences.

Anyway, thanks for another great post.

Corinne said...

Heather - I've been SO bad about reading other blogs the past few weeks, but I had some time tonight and I'm so glad I saw your post. Honestly, I got tears in my eyes because it feels like you're writing about my life when you write about yours.

My saving grace has been that I became an organizer in my mommy group. It keeps my mind going, keeps us busy, gives us some structure to our days and whatnot. It's the days where nothing is planned that I just get so "blah" and feel like I have a heavy weight on my shoulder. I should be enjoying my kids and our life, but sometimes it's so hard when they don't entertain themselves, when you need two freaking seconds to yourself, but instead you're always in armsreach of a child. I LOVE that, dont' get me wrong, but sometimes it can be a bit much.

Thank you for posting this. The reality of motherhood isn't always pretty, so any suggestions help. Debbie is brilliant :) And give fantastic hints and reminders to us. Thank you :)

Cindy said...

Yep - made it through the post - no ADD - loved the suggestions.

My children are grown and I still have days like you - it's grandchildren, children's life issues, husbands illness, work and work, family, friends, church and life itself just pulls at every in of me.

But...knowing what life would be like if I didn't have all those distractions...sad!

I will pray that spring arrives soon and you all get out into the beautiful weather.

We are in AZ and just headed into our HOT season - I'll be spending more time inside soon!

Life is funny.


Kate Coveny Hood said...

I like that Debbie acknowledged that some of the things she did may not work for every family. Some of the experienced mommy advice out there is so unrealistic. And in the end it can come across as preachy and condescending. Those judgey moms out there could take some lessons from Debbie!

Heather - you are such a great mom. I honestly doubt that most women worry about half of this.

Kimberly said...

I am in the exact same funk. For different reasons and with some different contributing factors but seriously, I'm totally the Canadian version of you right now.

Thank you so much for sharing this. It was worth reading the entirety of it. In fact, I may just read through some parts again to get them into my head better.

Izzy 'N Emmy said...

I am always intrigued by your post, weather they be funny or sentimental. I applaud you for the kind of mother you are and are aspiring to be. Good luck in your journey and I look forward to hearing about it.


Femin Susan said...

Your blog is breathe taking. It has a great appeal.

Deb said...

hey girl! moody and mean... me too!!!

listen, no time for reflection as i am WIPED from the mountain and all of its activities, but wanted to check in.

your TWO kids sound like my oldest when he was little (high maintenance and active)... come to think of it, not much has changed.

i think you have gotten some excellent advice. although, if you DO decide to unplug, just do NOT forget where you hide the remote!

K said...

Thank you. This makes me feel a bit more normal. I think I need to unplug the tv, too, right now!

Mylestones said...

This is such good stuff! I appreciate your insight and encouragement to be self-aware, to acknowledge the obstacles we face....and I loved the advice/ideas from Debbie on how we can move past the obstacles to be the kind of moms we want to be.
And yes, find a babysitter, pronto!! This is SOOO important, especially for us gals who are often left to parent alone 24/7, due to a traveling, overworked or deployed husband. And paying a babysitter is still cheaper than therapy, so just think of it as preventative maintenance. :-)

Evolving Mommy Catherine said...

I feel like one of my issues is the computer too. It has become my link to the outside world. We have 1 car and getting out of the house is an option 1 day a week when I take the hubs to work and get the car.

I think there is a lot that Mother's sacrifice for their children and one of those things is their sanity. Just Kidding but really It is hard to not be down on yourself as a mom, because of course we all want to be the best moms ever and there is always another mom to compare ourselves to that does something better then we do.

I really appreciate this series of posts, Heather.

Wendy Kae said...

Well, I'm glad to know I don't have ADD. Great post.

Eudae-Mamia said...

Thank you. For all of this.

I thought I was the only mother that snapped while folding laundry. It's just such a small picture that reflects how I feel about everything right now.

I JUST want to finish the folding the laundry in one block of time - too much to ask? Yes. AND I don't even LIKE doing the laundry. You know?

I love Debbie more than my luggage. I think I'm going to be investigating that unplug thing a little more.

Hugs to you - Em

Angela said...

I am on the same page as you and my list seems to grow. Debbie's wisdom is beautiful and I need to keep rereading it.

I once hired a helper...but am not able to do so now, but it was wonderful and I am also really striving to let my good enough be good enough...not in a lazy way, but a healthy way. I use to confuse excellence with perfection...a lot.

I was also really blessed by Karen Hossink's book, Confessions of an Irritable Mother...she discusses how these daily struggles can refine us...

Muthering said...

You and Debbie both offer some great suggestions here - I'm sure I will need to revisit this post when my third baby (in three years) arrives!

Betty said...

I love the "happy to be with them" part if we could all strive for that our days would be much easier and our future memories fonder.

Marisa said...

Exactly what I needed to read!!!! Thank you!

LexiconLuvr said...

Not only did I make it through the full post, but I got through all the comments too.

WOW! Aren't there a lot of beautiful, kind women on here? So many of us say and feel the same things. What a beautiful unifier; mommy's searching to better themselves and help each other in the process.

Debbie is brilliant. You're lucky to have her there when you need her. Just like all of us are lucky to have you at the click of a button.

Love to you.

Peanut said...

Again, I ask, are you me?

When I look at the weeks before I started slipping into depression again, I can see that it is because of the same reasons: not getting out enough, too much computer, too much TV, not enough sleep etc. I got into these habits because I was tired recovering from my shifts.

This is hard. If it wasn't hard, it wouldn't be one of the most meaningful things we'd do with our life. And we are still learning. You and I are not quite four-year-old mommies yet. But we have great kids, don't we? So we must be doing something right!

Heidi Ashworth said...

I'm so glad to see that you are blaming the situation and not yourself. Yay! I could NEVER live in a state that has winter. I'm such a pansy.

Tooj said...

I think those are wonderful suggestions. I need to figure out how to incorporate some of the activities in for a full time working mom (outside of the home). I WISH I could take them to plays and children activities throughout the week or to the park every Friday at 10am. :( I know these are available on the weekends, but most "economic deals" aren't happening on the weekends. I need to find other sources...I WILL find other sources. This post gives me hope. Thanks.

Jenn @ A Country Girl's Ramblings said...

You have a great friend in Debbie. What a blessing to have such a wonderful mentor.
When my boys were young and we were stuck inside because of snowy/cold weather. I would do stuff like through up a blanket tent and let them play and play and play. Also another fun idea that keeps them occupied for a while is home made play dough. Or shaving cream art. Put shaving cream on the table and let them draw in it.

I was never one to want to entertain my children. Just didn't have it in me. So, when they were young I just tried to get them involved in playing and then I let them entertain themselves. I think that was my saving grace. I just couldn't sit and play tractors for hours on end. Thankfully it worked and now that they are older they use their imaginations all the time and very rarely do I hear "I'm bored".

Sorry this is so long- e-mail me if you want. I have 3 rambuncious boys and can probably come up with some things that may be a help for you.

Heidi said...

Debbie IS a genius. And you're one of my favorite people in the whole world, too.

And I hope you will find the balance you are seeking--and when you do, send it to me.

pam at beyondjustmom said...

I love how open, honest and vulnerable you are and it is a HUGE encouragement to we mothers who struggle through the days. I had a bout with depression when my kids were Miles and Asher's ages, and it taught me how important it is to let go of the guilt (easier said than done), connect with other adults, and take good care of yourself.
Here are a few low-cost things that helped me survive the preschool years:
1) LOTS and LOTS of playdate swapping. When your kids are elsewhere it's blissful time for you, and when they're with you it can be easier while the kids are entertaining each other. Make a schedule and go for it.
2) Drop the guilt about the screen time, as long as it's reasonable. I love the timer strategy.
3) A supportive community of real moms--sounds like your church group is one of those. My co-op preschool was a wonderful network. We only had preschool a few hours a week, but we survived through playdates!

Thanks for opening the conversation. It's SO important!

Kelly @ Love Well said...

Those are great tips.

Personally, I've been thinking more and more about the screen time issue lately. I've noticed my kids get irritable, lazy and non-imaginative when they sit in front of the TV all day. I wonder if the same could be said of me when I spend a lot of time online? I think so.

I really think I might try unplugging for a week and see what happens. I know it will be hard the first few days; detox is that way. But after that? I'd be curious to see what would happen.

LisAway said...

Thank you, Heather. This is so timely. I have been disgusted with myself about my health as well as my mothering. I sort of go into everything already irritated. Yesterday we watched video of when Evie was almost 5 and David was three. I was such a good mom! I was really thin (I know it doesn't matter, but I FELT good, and I knew I was eating healthy and spending time outside, etc.) and I was always teaching my kids stuff and making jokes with them etc.

I've been planning and complete overhaul this summer. The weather's already good and I'm going to blonde up this hair (naturally) and keep my skin from being sickly pale and I'm going to eat healthy. I think once I start MOVING and stuff I will have more energy and patience. And I'll be off the computer more often.

Thanks for this post. It made me realize that I don't even really have a wall. I really have no excuse and it should be that much easier for me to get back on track!

Wendi @ Every Day Miracles said...

Wow! I loved your post so much and what an amazing response you got! You are so relatable and that helps so many people Heather!!

I am really, really right there too. Trying to figure out what I need to change to make our days more than tollerable.

Thank you for this. Good stuff!

Angie said...

Just getting to this, and NOT because it's long or boring (because I"ve been so busy... and needing to unplug myself). This is so good, Heather, so good. Your vulnerability and realness is refreshing. Thank you.

I think what's so hard is that it takes discipline. I like to say that being a mother isn't about focusing on the sacrifice, it's focusing on the commitment. Commitment means sacrifice and discipline, but because we WANT to rather than HAVE to.

Give yourself grace, friend, and be gentle on your heart. :) You are a blessing.

Eowyn said...

Brilliant post! I have enjoyed these suggestions. I especially liked the comment about recognizing what's on the wall. "It's not me the sucks, it's that stuff." That's a very powerful thought.

Thank you.

Jessica said...

Ok I skimmed this post a few days ago and didn't have time to comment . . . it has stuck with me for so many reasons. I think you really summarized here the struggle that all moms feel . . . everybody's situations are different (and with active two boys- I do think boys are higher-energy than girls- and a husband away AND Minnesota winter- oh my, ALL my respect. I don't know how you do it). It helps me just to know that other moms struggle with not wanting to "play" all day, and being drawn to the computer for contact with the outside world. I really value your honesty, and Debbie's advice is priceless and practical for every mom. Thanks for this post, it's worth a stack of parenting books!

Mammatalk said...

I have read this post before, but I am so glad I read it again! Wonderful.

nic said...

that was the most valuable ADD test i've ever taken. thank you, heather (and debbie).

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