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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Motherhood, Parenting

Goodies or Goons?

Goodies or Goons - flickr photo by Philip Howard

It seems to me that there tends to be a uniformity in how the sons of larger all-boys families turn out.  Either all of them become entirely decent, productive members of society – or they all become involved in activities that fall outside the dictates of the law.  In other words, they become ‘goodies’ or goons.

At this point in my parenting journey with my boys, it could really go either way.

Stories abound in which sets of brothers join (or form) criminal gangs and use their fraternal connections and familial might for ignoble ends.

Why would this be?

Well, I’ve always said that groups of boys are much more than the sum of their parts.  Even if your boys can be calm and focused and gentle, most likely they will exhibit none of these characteristics when in the company of other boys.  Boys have a natural inclination to energetic physicality and hyper-competitiveness, and this is accentuated when they are in a group.  Consequently, when all of the siblings in a family are male – and they are therefore without the mitigating influence of sisters – their rowdiness/noisiness tends to be the rule, rather than the exception.

Aggression is another natural part of boys’ makeup. This innate aggression has very real and necessary applications (so I’m not trying to vilify boys at all*), but within the confines of modern life – most particularly within the educational process – it can be a challenge for boys to find an appropriate outlet for this energy.  In this technological age, boys’ natural physicality is often frustrated, and if parents aren’t really intentional about channelling that energy and teaching their boys how to be gentle and nurturing as well, this negligence can have many negative results. We also need to be deliberate and diligent in showing our boys how to contain those aggressive instincts when necessary, if we are interested in avoiding the necessity of making regular prison visits in our retirement years.

When I had my first two sons, I was determined that they weren’t going to be stereotypical ‘caveman’ males – my boys wouldn’t be rough and loud and rude.  I decided that we weren’t going to buy them any weapons and we would discourage the wrestling and aggressive romping in which we often saw brothers participating. But, like puppies, they began tousling together from an early age; and in spite of a dearth of ‘real’ weapons and an absence of violent media, they found ways of roughing one another up.  This physicality in their play has only increased as we’ve added to their numbers.  I have come to the conclusion that even if we lived on a desert island they’d still end up bashing each other with palm fronds and throwing coconuts at one another.  They’re not generally rude, but rough and loud just seem to go with the territory.

As I touched on above, something that can either mitigate or accentuate boys’ predisposition towards more aggressive behaviour is how they are brought up. When confronted with a gang (gaggle? mess?  murder? I’m never sure what the appropriate plural term for boys should be) of sons, most mothers’ first concern is naturally to ‘manage’ them – so sometimes the whole ‘nurturing’ part of parenting ends up getting tossed out like the proverbial baby in the bathwater as Mamma goes into survival mode.

A friend (herself the mother of four boys) told me about an acquaintance of hers who grew up in an all-boys family (I think there were more than four of them – maybe six?): his mother used to feed them their breakfast cereal in what amounted to a trough – just one huge bowl with a spoon for each boy.  I’m not sure whether my friend expected me to be impressed or horrified by the story.  I was a little of both.  These kinds of tales are lore within the all-boys club, to which I and a number of my friends belong, and there is a sense of kinship in the telling and sharing of them.  Before there were all these ‘life hacks’ going around on the internet, there were mothers of boys passing on the wisdom of their experiences to other mothers walking this path.

Not all boys are the same, of course.  A’s music teacher has two young sons whom she just leaves to play upstairs while the class is going on in a ground-floor room.  Either she’s turning a blind eye to their potential criminality or they are actually obedient, self-controlled kids.  Of course, there are only two of them.  It’s hard for the dynamics of a ringleader and a single follower to culminate in the realisation of devilish schemes.

Speaking of which, I think it is partly this phenomena of ringleaders and followers that crops up when groups of boys are together that causes the uniformity of the results when they’re grown.  Maybe the likelihood of boys in a large all-boys family ending up as positively productive or negatively notorious depends on the inclination of the boy who takes on the largest ‘ringleader’ role in their midst.  Because it seems to me that there does tend to be an instigator for most shenanigans, even if the co-conspirators are equally to blame by the end of the whole thing – and in those families where the boys are all model citizens and are uniformly pleasant to be around, dependable, and all the rest of it, there tends to be a strong leader towards that end as well.

When I think about that and I remember the early-morning candy raids, the flooding of the bathroom, the putty-in-the-bed-linens episode, and other noteworthy events in my boys’ history, it’s easy to imagine that we are doomed.  I might as well start saving up for bail money.

In addition to my sons’ noteworthy departures from upstanding behaviour, there is the fact that all the families I know with four boys around the ages of mine are raising them admirably; this leads me to believe, statistically-speaking, that we are most likely to end up with a gang of goons.

But then I see my boys sprawled together on the couch watching TV; I witness the hand-holding as they walk down the hallway at school; I feel a squeeze on my heart as I watch them give each other a bear-hug; I remember all the kindnesses they show to us and to each other – and I think that maybe, just maybe, we’re going to end up with some ‘goodies’ after all.

Either that or one day you’ll be reading all about my gang of goons in the paper.

*Check out Matt Walsh’s blog for an excellent article on how our society has demonised the natural behaviour of boys.

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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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