Only recently can I finally say I am getting back into a place where I’m enjoying motherhood. The last year and a half since our second child was born has been a long and challenging season in our household that I once thought might never end. I know that mothers experience different joys and burdens at different times. No age or phase of childhood is universally “the easiest” or “the hardest,” but rather depends on the varying dynamics and natures of each unique child. For me, personally, the first two and a half years of motherhood brought me an overwhelming sense of fulfillment and joy. While there were certainly challenges in those first couple of years as I adjusted to being a new mom, it was a time that filled me with a sense of purpose like I’d never felt before. Our first child was easygoing and gentle-natured, a great sleeper, cautious and rarely wandered off. He was agreeable and mellow, and I found it easy being his mom most days.
And then his baby sister was born, and everything changed. She was not easygoing. She never stopped crying. She took away all the attention our son was used to having and thriving from. Simultaneously, he was also entering into the prime of toddlerhood and he became challenging in ways he’d never been before. My angel had seemingly turned into a monster overnight and filled our days with endless battles that left me ripping my hair out. My world had turned upside down — the job that brought me so much joy in the past became nothing but hard work, endless tests of patience and exhaustion. There were so many days I hated who I’d become — the yeller, the spanker, the loose cannon. There was even a time recently when my husband sat me down and expressed some frustrations about how he felt that I was always angry, and the climate in the house was rarely pleasant. He told me our home was not a happy place. And while his words were respectful and necessary for me to hear out loud, all I could hear him telling me in that moment was that I was failing at my job as a mother and wife.
But sometimes the things people tell us that sting the most sting because they’re true. My husband wasn’t trying to upset me, and I realize now I needed to hear those words out loud to face the fact that I wasn’t measuring up to the job that was required of me.
I am now pregnant with our third child, and we are still in a hard season. A three-year-old and one-year-old know how to be an exhausting and demanding pair, one adept at taking all your mental energy with questions and testing — and the other demanding all of your physical energy, requiring endless contact, diaper changes, and snuggling. Noise and mess and chaos are your constant companions. Your days can often feel meaningless as you chase little ones around cleaning up the trails they leave, only to find the same mess made just moments later in your trail. Day after day of feeling no real mental stimulation yet being unable to occupy your mind with anything — because you’ll be disrupted again and again. Motherhood can sometimes be this bizarre feeling of being insanely bored while having endless things to do.
There are good days and bad days. Some days are filled with fun and happy moods and agreeable pleasant children, while other days you don’t make it out of the house, and it seems as though the clock is frozen. I want to share some things that have helped get me through the hard days and seasons of motherhood (and were especially helpful during times my husband was away). Here are my three go-to suggestions:
- Structure your time in meaningful ways. If there are specific times of the day you dread or have trouble getting through, create structure and routine for those times. For instance — if you’re like me — you might dread the afternoons, getting from end-of-nap until bedtime. This seems to be a time we are susceptible to grumpy moods and sibling rivalry in our household. I recently began a simple daily routine that got us through that part of the day in a way that everyone could enjoy. We began doing snack and outside time from 3:30-4 p.m. Then, my son would have what I called “table time” for 30 minutes, where I gave him some sort of activity at our kitchen table while I prepared dinner. Examples of table time activities could include play dough, stickers, drawing, building with Legos, etc. This was a win-win situation because it kept him and his baby sister apart for a bit, and I could focus on being productive in the kitchen without worrying about playing sibling referee. After table time is our hour of screen time, then dinner at 5:30 or 6, bath at 6:30, and our family “cleaning party” from 6:45 until bedtime routine at 7 p.m. Our cleaning parties have become a fun routine that everyone looks forward to. I put a children’s music animation on the television, and we all clean up toys, and my husband and I tag-team cleaning up the kitchen from dinner. The kids love dancing and singing along to songs together, and my husband and I love having a clean house after we get the kids tucked in. By involving our kids in the cleanup process, it has helped teach them how to take partial responsibility for their messes at a young age.
- Spend more time with your kids when you want to spend less. I’m a big believer that it is good to get breaks from your kids here and there. However, I notice when I’m feeling burnt out as a mom, I tend to become avoidant toward my children – focusing on household chores, scrolling my phone too much, allowing too much screen time. Those behaviors don’t ever help the situation, but often make the household environment worse. Rather, it is the times when I stop what I’m doing and sit on the floor with the kids and enter their world when the home starts feeling happy, and I start enjoying my children again. The way their faces light up when I get on their level and come into their world is a wonderful feeling as a mother, and the house begins feeling a lot more positive and pleasant.
- Get out of the house. Even if it’s just to get a carwash or to get a coffee, make it a habit and a priority to get out at least once a day. I understand, and know too well that the effort entailed behind getting out of the house is exhausting, and it is only natural to wonder “is it worth it?” It is rare I regret putting forth the effort to get everyone out for a bit. It breaks up the day, changes the pace and the scenery – and it can be a good reset.
I hope there are other mothers out there who are encouraged to try one or more of these things the next time they’re feeling burnt out. By adding in a little structure, putting in a little more effort to connect with your children, and entering their little worlds, or by simply changing it up and getting out of the house, you can quickly reshape the dynamic in your household. These strategies have been absolute game-changers for our family, and I hope they will be for yours, too.