A friend of mine, Jess, recommended a book to me and several other moms called Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches, by Rachel Jankovic. The book was written by a young mom in the throes of raising five kids ages five and under (including a set of twins) … can you say “OY!”? Reminds me of my friend Kristin, actually … :) Minus one child.
Anyway, the book is easy to read (the chapters are each about four pages long) and is truly a little breath of fresh air. I don’t know how she had time for it, but she put to words many of the lessons she has learned along the way, and many times, I’m getting a fresh perspective or a pep talk when I read it. And it’s not like she wrote it years after her kids were past this stage, which I really appreciate. She’s still fighting through it, and she comes alongside and says, “You can do it, too.”
So today I read something that really made me think. I soooo see myself in this. In chapter eight, called “Watch Your Language,” she compares a mother’s feeling “overwhelmed” to the child who, when looking at the room you have told him to clean, lies down and cries on top of the toys. She says, “When God gives us children, it is work that He is giving us. Work that comes with huge attendant blessings and bonuses, but work nonetheless.” She said that she decided she had better strike the word “overwhelmed” from her vocabulary, because it simply wasn’t helping her to get done the work God had called her to do. That, of course, didn’t mean she didn’t FEEL overwhelmed – she just wouldn’t allow the word out of her mouth, opening the gates for self-pity.
Man, I can relate to this. How many a day has become an emotional mud bog after I opened the door to self-pity!
Back to the child-cleaning-their-room analogy:
“You can see the work that you are giving them. You know that they need to pick up the dress-ups, the plastic food, and the books. You also know that what you are asking is well within their abilities. Now imagine one child looks at it, takes a deep breath, and dives in. But the other picks up one piece of food and then lies down to cry a bit about all the rest of them. You know as a parent that lying down and whimpering about the tasks does not get it done. It makes it harder, slower, and more difficult in every way. The child who is really working faithfully will see progress, will see that the task is doable. The child who is feeling sorry for himself will never get past that emotional low without some disciplinary intervention.”
I totally see myself in that child lying down and crying. “I can’t believe I have to discipline him again!” “I can’t believe I have to wipe poop out of underwear again!” “I can’t believe it takes this long to get out of the house!” And on and on and on.
Now, that’s not to say that there are not very real challenges to this job. And I also find that moods can be as uncontrollable as the tides. At certain times of the month, it is just the pits for me (and many other mamas, I know for a fact!). It can be very, very hard to get up and keep at the tasks. This particular problem is a real test of faith, I am learning. To speak God’s promises back to Him, begging Him for help, begging Him to lift me out of the mire. Trying with all my might to believe that He is near and that He is helping me. And waiting, waiting, sometimes for days or weeks, for things to not look so sour. Waiting on the Lord to refresh me. BUT, that’s a whole other subject…
So Rachel, the author, gave herself a practical way to cope with overwhelming tasks. She first told her husband and friends to hold her accountable to not saying that word, since it was a “crutch for droopiness,” as she put it! Then she created a “twenty-minute rule.” If things with the kids started getting out of control, she would look at the clock and tell herself that this would be over in 20 minutes. Changing poopy diapers, disciplining, getting a couple of kids into bed and then sitting down to nurse her twins could fit into a window of 20 minutes, and that gave her just one hurdle to get past instead of looking at the whole day as having completely dominated her.
I love this advice. I love that another mom who is totally, ahem, overwhelmed with the task of child-rearing (way more than me, even), has found it possible to say “no” to defeat. I want to be more like that. As much as it depends on me, I want to resist self-pity and just pick up one toy at a time. Change one diaper at a time. Believe that God will give grace. Know that He gave me this task and has not given me more than I am capable of. I have much to learn, but He is a faithful, gentle teacher.
Thanks, Rachel. You rock. And thanks, Jess, for the book!