Faith, Life, Motherhood

The Trouble with ‘Me’ Time

Facial

 

As a busy Mamma, everyone tells you the value – no, the necessity – of taking time out for yourself.  It would be impossible to manage the amount of giving, doing, looking after and caring for others that motherhood requires of us without having the opportunity to refuel at times.

If you read any popular magazines, particularly those aimed at women (and especially those directed at mothers), you’re bound to find articles about making time for ‘me’.  Many of them will offer advice about how to find the time, and the necessity of doing so, as well as what to do when you have given yourself that time.  Spas feature heavily in this type of article, and no wonder; what could be more appealing to someone whose life revolves around caring for other people than to go somewhere or do something that involves pampering for herself.  And I’m not trying to persuade you that there’s anything particularly wrong with that – I’m even hoping for a spa gift certificate for Mother’s Day (that’s a hint, West!) – but what I wonder is, with all the marketing of this practice, does it really live up to the hype?

Taking time away from your regular life to re-set, re-focus, refuel, restore, and relax is a valuable practice.  God thought so, anyway, which is why he created the Sabbath – and since I’ve thrown my lot in with him I’m inclined to agree about setting aside some space in my life for this purpose.

But here’s the trouble with ‘me’ time, as it is defined by the world of advertising and ‘common’ sense:

It’s all about taking away.

‘Me’ time, by definition, is time taken away from your regular commitments – a ‘get-away’ from the ordinary routine – to focus on yourself.

I am for this – I, too, am inundated in my day-to-day life by the demands of a household, extra-curricular pursuits, and the voices, noises, and needs of other people.  Somanyotherpeople. So ‘getting away’ from all of this for a temporary reprieve definitely seems to me to be a sanity-saver, and thus I am on board.

However

It’s not enough.

It’s finite.

‘Me’ time is about stripping away the stresses of life; and as soon as you step back into position, you have as much on your plate as you had before.  Any serenity you may have gained from being in a peaceful place or enjoying some pampering is fleeting once you re-join normal life.

I’ve done this calculation before, when I’ve had a gift certificate in my hot little hand and I’m working out when to go for this long-awaited pampering massage – I look at my calendar and I try to figure out when would be the best time to go so that I’d get the most relaxation out of it.  Having a massage the day before one of my sons’ birthday parties, for instance, would be ludicrous.  The very next day I’d be running around like a headless chicken, stressing out over the details and the cake…  Similarly, I’d want to avoid going for my spa session just after a late night – what a waste it would be to fall asleep on the massage table and miss it altogether!  A lot of decision-making goes into maximizing the relaxing effect of this ‘me’ time.

But then, no matter how hard I try to make that peace last, and no matter how carefully I have planned to keep that blissful feeling as long as possible – it’s over.  The tension creeps back into my shoulders, something or someone is loud, irritating, or demanding – and I’m back where I started.

The trouble with ‘me’ time is that its effects are only temporary.  It is only a temporary stripping away of those things that will inevitably catch up with us and overwhelm us yet again.

So what, then, can we do?  What could possibly be more, and lastingly, restorative and refreshing?

We can have ‘God’ time.

We can spend time in prayer.  We can read the Bible, a devotional, or an inspirational website; or we can attend a church service.  We can retreat to a quiet corner of the house (or the car!) and turn up some worship tunes.  We can get out for a walk alone and talk to God as we go.

The difference between ‘God’ time and ‘me’ time is that when we spend time with God and when we devote space in our lives to seeking his heart, we are truly restored; we are filled up, fortified and prepared to return to the demands of our everyday lives.  We are given peace, contentment, hope and joy that don’t just evaporate with the first challenge that comes our way; instead, this ‘filling up’ continues as we return to our regular routines.  When we spend ‘me’ time, we return to the fray with momentarily less; we’ve enjoyed a short and temporary shedding of our cares – but when we spend ‘God’ time, we step back into our lives with more.

‘God’ time doesn’t just take away our cares; it also furnishes us with the means of dealing with those burdens that sap our energy and increase our stress.  We return from our quiet time restored, refreshed and equipped.  Connecting with God charges us up so that our spiritual and emotional batteries don’t run on empty.

So the next time you’re craving some ‘me’ time – try some ‘God’ time, instead.

 

photo by holly on flickr.  License here: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode

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Faith, Life, Parenting

This Is How a House Is Built

Foundation by Brett Neilson, flickr

 

My folks are building a house in their (our) backyard, and we’ve been watching the progress with great interest.

First, the ground had to be prepared.  There was digging and bulldozing and then the long, labourious process of building the forms and pouring the concrete for the foundation, then more digging and filling as they installed gas lines and other connections.

This was slow, dirty, tough work; the guys were out there in rain and sleet and eventually snow, at the mercy of the elements for hour after hour, day after day, week after week.  When it rained, the earth became heavy and muddy – manual digging was excruciatingly slow, and if they left it for any time without adequate supports in place, the sides would collapse and undo much of their labour.  When it snowed or got cold enough to do so, the existing pipes (exposed by their digging) froze, and they had to bring in heaters to keep the water flowing to the main house.

This process of preparing and building seems to me a great parallel to the process of parenting.

Drafting a Blueprint and Preparing the Land

We begin with a plan; a vision of what we expect to accomplish through our efforts.  (Of course, this is where the analogy of raising kids digresses somewhat from the ‘concrete’ process of building a house; in parenting you start by thinking you’re going to build a mansion and you end up with a modest bungalow, a garden shed, or a dingy.)  Preparing the ground, digging up old pipes and making new connections – this is us taking what we know about raising a family, examining what we’ve experienced in our own lives and making decisions about how we’ll proceed in our new roles as parents.  Those of us who have a partner in raising our kids need to make sure that our two ‘blueprints’ for parenting match; having common goals and a unified vision helps us to work together to raise kids whose lives and hearts are wholesome, healthy, and resilient.

Lots of old junk came up during the digging.  Large boulders, tree roots and other obstacles had to be removed.  There were bits of glass and old tools and other things that needed to be discarded.  Plans had to be adjusted for the slope of the land, and other factors required alterations to the original plans.

West and I have to do this all the time – we are constantly attending parenting seminars and reading things (OK, I read things and report my conclusions – he grunts his assent and follows through) and talking, talking, talking about how we’re going about this business of raising our boys.

My parents’ new place is being built to be their retirement home – so they’ve taken care to think of details that will be useful as they age.  My Mum has added a tile bench into the shower, in case they need/want to sit whilst bathing.  Of course, I couldn’t help but point out that this would provide the perfect spot upon which they might strike their skulls if they slipped in the shower, and asked if they’d considered the comfort of sitting on cold tile with bare bottoms…  Which leads me to this point:

In the building/parenting process, people will give you lots of advice – whether you want it or not. And more than likely, I’m going to be one of those people.

A firm foundation

And then the foundation – arguably the most important part of any house, and yet possibly the least glamourous aspect of any architectural plan.

“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock.”


(Matthew 7:24&25)

When we build a strong foundation, it functions as this ‘solid rock’ upon which we are constructing our house (we’ll take it as a given that the land itself was adequately chosen and prepared for this purpose as well). Jesus spoke of a life built on his teachings being the wisest choice; one that would offer protection and sustenance in times of difficulty.  So what are these teachings?

Jesus himself summed up the most important commandments as follows (Matt.22:36-40):

  •          Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind
  •          Love your neighbor as yourself

A life built on the tenets of loving God wholly and loving and valuing others as you love and value your very self – this is a constructive, useful, generous life.

Jesus mentions following the ‘demands of the prophets’, too; one of which is this:

O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.

(Micah 6:8)

Then there is ‘The Golden Rule’:

  •          ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ – or, put more simply, ‘Treat other people the way you’d like them to treat you’.

Our job as parents is to lay this foundation – to teach our kids right from wrong and show them how to love others, practice grace, and to walk in the light.

These are practical things we can work on; and what we cannot accomplish in our own strength, we pray for.  Never, ever, underestimate the power of prayer – it will help you see God’s heart for you and your family and it will help you know your children’s hearts better as well.  This is not just the privilege of the Christian. God will bend his ear for the least of us.

Support Structures

After the foundation came the framing.  Seeing the internal and external walls go up was thrilling; it was really starting to look more like a house.  These supports are essential elements in the building of any sound structure.

They say it takes a village to raise a child.  We in the Western World rarely have the luxury of such a close natural community; but we can forge relationships with others around us and allow them to share our burdens while we share theirs.

We can surround ourselves with people who will love and nurture our children as we seek to love and nurture them.  A good church will help with this, and good circles of friends and family can offer support as well.

A Roof Overhead

Once the walls were in place to support it, the roof went on.  This was an important step; now there was some protection from the elements – a necessary move, especially as the weather was growing colder and wetter.  Now when the torrents poured and the snow fell heavily from the sky, the house stayed dry.

How do we protect our families?  We offer spiritual and emotional protection through prayer, teaching and conversation.  We provide physical protection in training our children to make wise and safe choices.

Let the Sun Shine In

No house would be complete without windows to let the light in and to provide an outlook on the world.  My parents also chose frosted glass for the side that would be exposed to passing cars (to minimize the glare of the headlights), and double-glazing to reduce noise and provide insulation from the cold.

In parenting, we provide our kids with the benefit of our outlook on life – a way of interpreting the world around them.  We help translate and make sense of the perplexing barrage of ideas, events and experiences faced by our children as they grow.  And we reinforce the fact of our belief that there is a plan and a purpose at work throughout this life, even when we ourselves can’t see the bigger picture.  We teach them how to let the light in.

Insulation and Flooring

In addition to the insulation provided by the double-glazed windows and roof, the builders needed to place batting/foam as insulation.  The floor, too, has layers of protection against the elements.

Our love and care for our kids is underpinned by a thousand small acts of sacrifice; making time for them, celebrating their successes and encouraging them through challenges.  This is the hidden work of ours that provides necessary, sustaining comfort to our families – it might seem like a bunch of fluff, but these ‘behind the scenes’ things we do can make a big difference.

The End Result

We’re still waiting to see the completion of my parents’ house.  There’s a lot yet to be done to make the house (though by now structurally whole) livable.  The addition of cupboards, appliances, hardware and furnishings will personalize the house and make it more functional.  And it will be delightful to finally see the end result of all the careful planning and hard work.

When we do that first walk-through, I doubt that we will be worried about what it isn’t.  I don’t think we’ll see the deficiencies (if any) or worry that it’s not a two-story mansion.  I imagine that we will remember the effort made to create this dwelling, and we will look forward to all the memories to be made in it.

Each house, even if built from the same plan, has its unique qualities.  So many things can contribute to the uniqueness of a home: using different blueprints and materials, building in and for a specific climate and purpose, the setting and the furnishings…  We would be foolish to try to compare this house to any other.

In the same way, we as parents have to wait many years – perhaps a lifetime – to see some of the end results of our efforts.  And as we watch our children grow, we do well to avoid comparisons; instead, I believe that we do best to delight in the joy of what is ours – and to put in the hard work now with a vision towards the future.  To humbly and patiently assist the process of the construction of a whole person, beautifully created and nurtured according to God’s good purpose.

Because this is how a house is built.

Cottage by Stefan Ray on flickr

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Family Harmony, Parenting

Juggling

juggling by gabriel rojas hruska on flickr

I’ve often heard Mums complaining about ‘the juggle’ – trying to stay on top of a thousand weekly activities for their kids, meeting the demands of work and/or household, and being there physically and emotionally for everyone in the family.

Juggling, it seems, is a ‘must do’ activity for mothers everywhere.  There even seems to be a sense of competition between parents when it comes to how many activities we can squeeze into each week; some mothers seem to derive great satisfaction from being up with the crows to get their sons to hockey and being on the go, with multiple demands and diverse directions for all of their activities, until Girl Guides/soccer/baseball finishes last thing at night.  But here’s the thing:  Juggling is a circus act.  And I’m not in the circus (the zoo, maybe, but definitely not the circus).  I can admire juggling and those who are capable of managing it, as I would any spectator sport – but I’m not jumping into the ring to try my hand at it.  I’m out.

My reasons for not being willing to engage in this most stressful of feats are many.  For starters, my grip on sanity is tenuous at best – add a whole lot of ‘where/when/how’ factors and a rowdy bunch of little boys to ferry hither and thither, and I’m likely to end up in a padded room with one way doors (tempting, at times, if they’d offer room service and some good reads…).  I get crazy – and I mean certifiably, jabberingly, jitteringly loonie – when I have to rush and dash from place to place.  Yeah, it’s going to be a smooth transition to senility for me; but I’m not about to engage in something that’ll accelerate the whole process.

Here’s one of the great benefits of having ‘too many kids’:  it’s just impossible, financially and practically, to give them ‘every opportunity’ that comes along.  This means that, each term, we figure out what’s most important to the boys and we try to do those things.  Sometimes we have to miss out on stuff – if it’s a parent-participation thing and I’ve got the baby and the other boys and it clashes with my Mum’s schedule (as she’s my gracious and willing helper many weekdays), then we just can’t make it happen.  If we can’t fit at least a couple of the boys into any particular activity, in general, we don’t do it.

Of course, where possible, we do create opportunities for our guys to have experiences that they are especially keen on: B. is really interested in art, so he got to go to a studio for some drawing sessions one term; C. loves swimming, so we found him an evening class one semester when the others were desperate for a break from their lessons (swimming’s a life skill in my book, so that’s one thing that is usually on the agenda – not that it does much good, because A. has been doing lessons since he was in nappies and he is still only about one level above drowning).

I do enjoy the break from being in the house when we have things on in the afternoons, though, particularly if the weather is cold or wet – and I’ll admit that it lends a certain rhythm to the week to have some things on the agenda.  So I’m not trying to set myself up as some sort of poster child for Activity-Free Parenting or something.  It’s just that I really value our home-time, as masochistic as that may sound for any of you who have actually seen me at home with my kids.

As you’ll have deduced from my last post, it’s not as if I’m anxious for time at home in order to accomplish all my housework.  But there are benefits to being at home, even for us.  When we’re at home, I have the chance to observe the interactions between my boys and thus to offer helpful pointers towards better socialization, such as ‘Hug more, bite less,’ ‘Ask, don’t grab,’ and my personal favourite, ‘Keep your tongue to yourself.’  It’s only by being at home that we really get to work on the interpersonal stuff between family members.  And if we find ourselves with a yawning void between 3 pm and 5:30 (when Westley makes the long commute upstairs from work), I am forced to come up with some boredom-busters or encourage the boys to get creative – which, although I am reluctant to admit it, is another plus to not being a juggler.

By having some time at home, we can just manage to stay on top of A.’s meagre homework requirements and the recommended reading time for B. (and C.).  And the baby gets to nap when he needs to nap – a miracle considering the cacophony of background noises that is the usual soundtrack to his day-sleeps!  I get to have the odd cup of tea (nuked once or twice in the microwave between gulps, because it’s only a treat if it’s hot), the boys get to play with their toys and each other – in short, all is right with the world.

Life is a balance – and parenting young kids involves a constant balancing act.  I’m not saying I’ve got it right yet – I do admire people who find the energy to get out and ferry their kids to all sorts of fun activities (especially if those activities bring them joy and balance in their own family lives). I’d love to be better at just getting the boys outside more and being more willing to organize on-the-fly playdates (I have a rule that they can’t ask on the day they want the playdate – but realistically it usually takes me a good week to sort myself out to acquiesce, even if I’m not hosting)…  But balance can be achieved, and of course I believe it to be more likely that I’ll periodically find and maintain balance if I’m not also trying to keep a whole lot of balls in the air.  Juggling, you see, is a circus act.

And I’m just not interested in joining the circus.

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The irony, of course, is that in order to find some time and create some headspace to finish this post, I had to grab West by the collar and order him to Just. Take. Them. Out. this afternoon.  Consider this full-disclosure.

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