When our 5 kids were little I ran away. Well not exactly; but I do remember standing by the front door at the end of a horrible, rainy day of being cooped up with sick toddlers, fighting siblings, a hormonal pre- teen and a hormonal and burned out me! With my coat on and purse in hand, I watched for his car to pull in the driveway. Greeting him at the door, I exclaimed,
“They are all screaming. They are all yours. I am running away. “
And I did. I went to the mall where I walked around in utter silence for about 3 hours and no one spoke to me or pulled on me or needed me!
I was overwhelmed, exhausted and tottering on the edge of “mama burnout.” Since then I’ve learned a few tricks that will help us when we feel like we’re about to burn out!
1. Learn to see life in terms of seasons.
Every season has challenges unique to that season and every season has blessings unique to the season. We need to be honest about the challenges but then choose to focus on the blessings. A challenge of the little years is monotony. Routine caring of little ones gets boring and is never finished! You wake up the next day to the same things. However, little kids say the funniest things. When our daughter Libby at age 4 saw the ocean for the first time she exclaimed, “Mama, it’s too full you need to let some of it out.” Write down the funny things your kids say. It’s a blessing of this season. Teenagers don’t say funny things. This season will pass and you want to capture the cute things. There will be different blessings in the teen years.
2. Do something crazy.
One of my big events in bad weather was to go to a mall and ride the escalators. Now you can go to a mall and play at an indoor playground. Declare a crazy dress-up day. Dress up in the wildest costumes you can make from clothes in the house. Put make up on everyone. Paint toes and fingers crazy colors and eat green eggs. Or blue pancakes. Craziness relieves monotony and makes a day fun instead of merely an endurance race.
3. Restore perspective.
Part of burn out comes because our world gets too insular. It’s about us and our kids and our needs. It helps to do something totally unrelated to us. Go to a museum. Rent head phones and really study the paintings. Or go to an interesting lecture or demonstration. Don’t discuss your kids. You’ll need to get a baby sitter for your children but you will come home a refreshed Mom with a restored perspective. Life isn’t all about us.
4. Find an older mentor.
I will be forever grateful to Edith, my next-door neighbor. An elderly widow she saved me in my years of parenting little ones. Many times I ran across my front yard, sometimes barefoot in pj’s and knocked on her door. When she opened it, I’d burst into tears. “Edith, I am the worst mother and wife in the world.” Sweet Edith would take me in her arms, sit me on her couch and say, “You are not the worst Mom or wife. It’s just this season in your life. It will pass. You will be alright.” Edith gave me perspective because she was older. She had been there. She understood.
5. Have girl friends in the same season.
Too often we look to our husband to understand, to empathize, to meet our needs for affirmation and appreciation. Sometimes we can look to others to meet needs that they were not created to meet. We should be going to God first and some girlfriends second. A husband just won’t “get” what it was like to wipe poop off the bathroom walls, pick up cereal under the table, separate wrestling boys, and then do it all over again. We need a friend in the same season we can call and say, “You won’t believe what my 3 year old just did!” She will! And she’ll comfort you and laugh with you. Oh how we need to laugh with other women. Pray for God to give you some women who make you laugh and seek to reach out to some other young Moms who may be on the verge of burnout too! Invite some to your home for a time together. Tell your grossest stories. Pray for each other.
6. Don’t neglect your husband.
It’s all too easy in this season to think. “I’ll work on my marriage when life calms down.” But the reality is that life doesn’t calm down. It will just become more complicated with more options. We have to work on our marriages along the way if we want to have a relationship later, and we have to be intentional about this. It will not just happen. If we want our kids to have strong marriages one day they need to see us working on ours now. Marriage takes time and work. Set aside a regular date night to go out alone with your husband just to have fun. Let a sitter deal with the dinner, bed and bath routine. If you wait until you get them down you’ll be too tired to go out. Instead meet him somewhere after work. This is not the time to discuss difficult issues. Instead it’s the time to nurture a marriage friendship. Swap babysitting with a friend. Plan at least 2 times a year that you can get away alone for a couple of over nights.
7. Do one thing each day that is not merely maintenance.
Moms of young children are frustrated. At the end of the day when we look back we don’t feel like we accomplished very much. I found that I loved to mow the grass! It was the only thing I did that lasted more than 24 hours. And it was instant progress! It helps to have one small accomplishment outside of the usual laundry, cooking, and nose wiping each day. Clean out one cabinet, write a note or postcard to someone to say,” I’m thinking about you today and I miss you.” Cook something for a friend who needs a “pick me up.” Doing something for someone outside your immediate family is a blessing and it teaches your kids to care for others.
8. Get exercise.
It’s not a luxury; it’s your mental health. The hours of 4-7pm are ”arsenic hours.” You want to give it or take it! You are tired, they are tired and you just don’t know how you are going to get through the next couple of hours until they are in bed. I used to grab a teen in the neighborhood and ask them to watch my kids for 20 minutes so I could go for a run. No, I never felt like going and often I went on the verge of tears. But inevitability it gave me the lift I needed to get through the next few hours. Our daughter had 5 kids in 2 years including a set of quads. One of the things that has saved her is regular exercise even if it’s a brisk walk alone for 25 minutes.
9. Spend time in God’s word.
You might not have much time but you can make a little time. It helps to make this the first priority of your day otherwise you are not likely to get to it. For years I’ve read a Psalm and a Proverb every day. One day I read Psalm 144:2. “He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield in whom I take refuge; who subdues peoples under me. “ Lord please subdue these 5 little people today” is still written in the margin on that page. I do believe God has a sense of humor.
10. Remember God chose your family.
God has given us the exact children in the exact birth order with the exact personalities not merely so that we can raise them but in order for them to be His tools in our lives to grow us up into the women He has created us to be. He gave us that strong willed toddler, that child we just don’t “get,” that one with disabilities. Every child is a gift from God and He will use each one in our lives for good if we let Him. It’s helpful to ask, “God, what are you teaching me through this special child of mine?” God is full of mercy and full of grace. And He is always faithful.