It felt like I was failing at motherhood and while I may not have actually been failing I definitely was not thriving. A lot of the time I felt like this:
And I'm pretty sure my kids had secret conversations that went like this:
I don't think my kids were having a horrible time but I knew that they would be happier if I was happier. We were doing a lot of "just getting by" and I hated living in constant survival mode. I wanted to enjoy the kids I loved so much and I wanted them to enjoy themselves.
This isn't to say that my goal as a mom is to have kids who are happy and entertained 100% of the time. My goal was - and is! - for them to know, without a doubt, that they are loved unconditionally and to live joyful lives. Those two things cannot really happen if Mom is always feeling "bat-crap crazy".
Slowly I learned what I needed to do so that I really was thriving as a mom. A mom who had the time, patience, and humor to play and color with, read and listen to, and give lots of hugs and kisses to her kids.
So what did I do?
Well, the first and most important thing was sleep.
My husband and I eventually figured out that I was exhausted and I needed to get more sleep. He started getting up with the kids at night and letting me sleep in on Saturdays, and a Sunday afternoon nap for Mom became a part of the rhythm of our weekends. Also, now that we are aware of the huge - and I mean huge - difference a good 8 hours has on me we try to make it happen as much as possible. When it's clear that I am becoming overtired again Travis sends me to bed early or arranges his schedule so I can sleep in.
The second thing I did was I stopped comparing myself to other moms. Most especially I stopped reading certain mommy blogs that made me feel like Roseanne Barr. You know the ones... filled with beautiful pictures of their gorgeous homes and beautifully dressed kids and fancy things, while I'm sitting at my hand-me-down, particle board computer desk asking my kids if they can scrape together enough quarters to buy ice cream cones at the DQ. Some women God has blessed with money, good looks, and all the virtues and talents it takes to homeschool 8 kids while maintaining a cleaning/laundry schedule. That is not what He blessed me with, and for my own sake I needed to not look at them because I felt the lack. I hope and pray the day will come when I can read those blogs and look at those women and feel happy for them. I'm not that virtuous yet, unfortunately, so in the meantime I've found blogs written by women who were more balanced and funny and who drink beer, while remaining orthodox, holy, followers of Christ.
The next thing I did was I stopped listening to what everyone else said I "should" do and instead I did what worked for me and my family. For an example you can read my post "Making Peace with Attachment Parenting" but suffice it to say that on rough days when all my kids were crying I learned that I needed to step out on the porch or lock myself in my bedroom for a few minutes. Sometimes the kids cried even harder while I was gone but there was no way I could do a "time in", loving on my children until I took care of myself.
And just as importantly, I became firm about Quiet Time. I arrange it so my nappers go down at the same time in the early afternoon. My older two kids are then shut into the nursery (aka playroom). The rules for Quet Time are simple and clear. They can play with whatever toys are in the nursery - dress up, trains, books, puzzles, dolls, jump on the sofa, whatever - but they cannot talk to me unless someone is hurt or needs their butt wiped. They can only leave the nursery if they have to go to the bathroom. In the meantime I am cleaning, prepping supper, blogging, making phone calls, reading, napping... Quiet time is over when their brother wakes up from his nap, which means it lasts about 2 hours. When it is done we all pick up the nursery together and they get a snack. Besides the fact that I get time to myself my favorite part about how we do Quiet Time is that Lydia and Bennet use their imaginations like crazy. It's so awesome.
In the end, if all else fails, I also try to go to confession every 2 to 4 weeks.
How are things different? Well, now I don't need time away from my kids like I did before. I also don't resent them wanting to nurse, sit on my lap, having to be with them so much. I play with them more, read to them more, tickle them more, and play outside with them more. I am more patient, forgiving, and loving. I am enjoying my vocation of mother much, much more and I think everyone in the house is much happier.