Friday, June 3, 2011

A Season of Life

In the midst of laundry, grocery shopping, house cleaning, meal preparing, child raising, husband caring plus all of the lovely little extras such as appointments to keep, breakdowns that occur and repairs that have to be made, crises that must be averted or survived... It isn't unusual to feel as though joy and the anticipation of family life with kids has been replaced with stress and a never ending to-do list.

Many Moms, particularly after infertility and loss, have spent what felt like an eternity dreaming and planning how life would be if/when the longed for baby, child, or children (depending upon the route to parenthood) arrived. Chances are that dream did not include spending the majority of Mom's time fighting for the survival of her family, instead of enjoying her family. That is what it often feels like. The Battle of the Bulge strikes in the form of dirty diaper, laundry hamper, sink, and all that “stuff” which prevents the child's bedroom door from being fully opened or closed. The Long March to the bed of the crying child in the middle of the night after weeks and months (possibly years) without sleep, the march to the refrigerator and pantry only to find them bare, and the even longer march to the store and back.

The chaos, the sleep deprivation, the impossibility of ever getting-it-all-done-so-I-can-just-sit-or-play-and-enjoy-my-kids-and-this-life-I-wanted, it feels like an endless circle.

That is how it can feel. But, the truth-- is that this is only one of many seasons in the life of a Mom. I have heard it said so aptly that the years are short though the days are long. This too shall pass. The time will come that both children and Mom sleep the night through. Children will grow, gain more independence, and Mom will find it less of a battle to accomplish all that she needs and even wants, to do. The day will someday come that the nest is again empty. All those Moms who have gone before us say that looking back, the years passed in the blink of an eye.

What can we do now in the midst of the rush and the madness, to make joyful memories for our children to look back on? What can we do so that in years to come we don't spend an overabundance of time on “I wish that when they were young, I had....”

I have one suggestion to offer and it comes from a child. “Play with me”. How many times my little one said that to me! And no wonder as the answer was always “later”, “I'm busy” or “I just need to finish this--”.

It finally dawned on me as I worked feverishly one day to make the perfect multi-tiered castle birthday cake for my daughter's party. My daughter might (I hoped) remember that cake... She just as likely would also remember that I was so busy planning and preparing for her birthday party, that I was too busy for her. Too busy, too stressed, too pre-occupied on the party itself instead of on listening to what it was she really wanted from me. What she wanted was simple... play with me. The disappointment on her face and the way she turned away as though she wasn't really surprised at my response of “I'm busy!” was not something I could forget.

I don't know about you, but my inner child disappeared a long time ago. Play? How? I admit that the very idea of playing My Little Ponies, Barbies and baby dolls no longer held an appeal. Cleaning the house sounded more fun than that, to my exhausted brain. Plus, then the house would be clean. Well, at least for a few seconds. But far more important to my little girl than having the house cleaned again, having the perfect birthday cake, or really anything else that had been on my never-ending and all-consuming list that I regarded as so important, was-- for me to give her my time, and play. To have fun-- together.

So... that is what we did. And to my surprise, after a clumsy first few minutes my inner child returned and I found that playing actually is more fun than marking another chore off of my endless list! I discovered that I felt more relaxed, in a better mood and more energetic afterward. More important to me than any of that was how happy this made my little girl. Although a relatively clean environment, clothes to wear and food to eat are important... nothing had ever made her face light up like an hour of my undivided time spent playing with her. In addition, I felt closer to her and able to appreciate her on a different level. Whereas I ordinarily focused on taking care of her by keeping her safe and fed and clothed etc., now I was-- enjoying her, enjoying just being with her. Something that I could not do, neck deep and distracted by the futile attempt to “get it all done” first. Seeing what a difference playing together made to her, to me, and to us, I realized that it is every bit as important as any of the other things on my to-do list and more important than most because I will not always be able to get to it “later”.

That to-do list will never end. Childhood will.

Here are a few suggestions to help the rest of the busy and play-challenged Moms out there to get started...

  1. Learn not to finish a chore before taking the time to play with your child(ren). If you're gifted at procrastination, then this won't be difficult. However, for anyone who struggles with perfectionism and have difficulty relaxing until you've got everything finished, this is so important. Start something, walk away from it, and devote some time to play with your kids. The more you practice, the easier it gets. The more you practice the easier it will get to drop what you are doing and take advantage of the times that your child wants to play.
  2. Apply the FlyLady motto “you can do anything for 15 minutes!” Or 5, or 10-- what matters most is putting all of your focus and energy in to the time that is spent in play with your child. Five minutes of undivided attention is more satisfying than thirty distracted minutes.
  3. Tell your child how much time you have to spend in play. It is much easier for Mom to end the play session peaceably if the child knows the limit in advance.
  4. Put everything out of your mind and focus all of your attention on the time spent with your child. Enjoy the unique, amazing little person that your child is, free from all of the to-do list items and other distractions. Store up the memories that you make together.
  5. Make a list together of things to do. This will make the most of the time you devote to playing with your child, since you will not have to puzzle over “what should we play?” Pretend the dining room chairs are the cars of a train, the living room couch is a pirate ship, be wilderness explorers in the backyard, have a camping trip in a dark room or closet and tell stories around the flashlight campfire. Play together with your child's favorite toys. Cars and trucks, light sabers, Barbies, baby dolls, have a tea party... The list will ensure that precious play time is not spent wondering “what should we play?” You will never be short of ideas, and the list will give Mom and child something to look forward to.

Now go make some great memories together. You won't regret it.

Happy playing! 

Melissa Simonin, author

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