Several years ago I remember sitting at my dining room table vigorously typing away at my computer. Determined to start my own business from home, I was ready to – as they say – have it all.
I was going to work from home (creating an online job for myself) and stay-at-home with my son and be a dotting spouse who cleaned and KonMaried the house and put a modest dinner on the table each night.
And then there he was…
Off to the corner watching TV.
For a good long while.
This is the hard part to talk about – my struggle as a new mom believing I should try do it all.
The struggle I hear about most from other moms.
There’s this deep pressure to do it all – they call it the invisible load of motherhood.
“It’s not just making dinner every night—it’s knowing what everyone likes, deciding what to make, having a mental inventory of what’s already in the fridge and cupboards, picking up the groceries, and knowing which night we won’t be home for dinner because of soccer. It’s packing the leftovers into a Tupperware and making a mental note of when it will go bad. It’s noticing that maple syrup has spilled in the back of the fridge and silently cleaning it up, tossing out an old salad dressing and some uneaten pasta as you go.” (source)
It carries over into birthday parties and holiday cards and school forms and remembering to mail a baby gift for your new niece. The re-stocking of toilet paper in between completing that work presentation or college paper in the late evening hours. It’s looking for the lost wonder woman sneaker for twenty minutes while your three year-old sobs on the floor like a fish out of water.
Annnnddd…You’re only a gazillion minutes late for the five year-old’s soccer game.
Mothers are downright overwhelmed and exhausted and no one is talking about it.
Which brings us to the even bigger problem.
In the midst of our deep overwhelm, we turn to electronics to mute the edges of life.
This is truth.
Back when I was working to start my own business and stay-at-home with my son (because clearly I assumed no one could care for him as good as me), I reached for an electronic to quiet the day.
Instead of coping with the chaos, I could turn on a TV show and everything would be fine. Together we could simultaneously escape into Tech NeverLand and experience the instant gratification of peace and a moment of quiet.
I tried my best to pull away from tech as much as possible, knowing full well that it wasn’t good in the long run.
And yet, every time I felt overwhelmed, I thought Oh hell, this is for the birds and I turned to the iPhone.
I mean honestly.
The house could’ve been burning down, and instead of calling for help, I would’ve thought something like Everything’s fine. I’ve got a hose right here. Nothing to see y’all. Totally under control.
It was time for a wake up call.
The current generation of kids is growing up in uncharted territory.
Research shows that the drastic decline in outdoor play in kids is creating a slew of behavior problems due to lack of sensory input. By constantly putting kids in front of tech, restricting their movement and diminishing their time to play, we are causing more harm than good.
“According the to American Academy of Pediatrics (2013), a recent study showed that the average child spends eight hours a day in front of screens (television, video games, computers, smart phones, and so on). Older children and adolescents are spending an average of eleven hours a day in front of screens.” (Hanscom 2016).
As we move deeper and deeper into a tech ocean, the suicide rate of teens is downright scary.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Americans ages 10 to 24.
While the cause isn’t clear – more research is needed – I think it’s reasonable to say that tech is playing a pivotal role.
“A 2015 national survey reported that 18 percent of high schoolers have had thoughts of suicide (the rate in the current study, which included children as young as 11, was lower, about 8 percent), and it is estimated that two-thirds of adolescents who experience suicidal thoughts don’t get help.
[…] The largest study to date measuring what, if anything, parents know about their teens’ suicidal thoughts shows that many parents […] are completely unaware that their adolescents have thought about taking their own life.” (source)
As we continue to prioritize over-scheduled lives, fancy devices and material items galore, we are forgetting one thing:
Getting back to parenting basics is more important than ever.
It took a lot of hard work to shift out of tech habits over the years. I had to stop prioritizing overwhelm and start prioritizing family, connection and being truly present.
This is a genuine and real struggle among parents today.
I can whole-heartedly tell you that I know it isn’t easy, which is the exact reason why I started with basic everyday things to help me shift.
Overwhelm is not worthy of an invitation.
1. Stop believing you have to do everything.
I was SURE I needed to do all the things. I didn’t. I was sure that I could balance all the things at once and keep my head above water. I couldn’t. It wasn’t until I stopped allowing myself to believe that I needed to do and be everything that I could start to declutter my life and focus most on family.
2. Focus on family time over scheduled activities.
Weekends spent collecting frogs, going on a hike, or sledding down the hill with your kids. These are the moments that really matter. A busy schedule of sports and activities was only starving out family time and getting in the way of nurturing family relationships.
3. Just say no to all the extra stuff.
If it’s not a hell yes then it’s a hell no. The party favors, perfectly Pinterest birthday parties and matching school outfits – Does it really matter? And will your kids remember it?
What kids will remember is the experience of being with you. Don’t hustle yourself to complete tasks that don’t help you cultivate a deep sense of family.
Human connection is always worthy of an invitation.
1. Eat dinner at the table and talk.
Family dinners are a beautiful, and highly under-utilized tool. This is precious time to connect with your kids and ask about their days. If you’re drawing a blank on exactly what to talk about, grab a set of conversation starters for kids or turn it into a fun game of I Spy or 20 Questions.
2. Trade in fancy vacations for simple family outings.
I honestly don’t think my parents left their home state until they were out of high school. It just wasn’t a priority. Families didn’t work themselves into mounds of debt or try to work 50 hours a week so they could experience one week of paradise. Vacations are wonderful, but the experience of camping over a weekend will be just as meaningful as a week at Disney.
3. Read aloud to your kids before bed.
The time you spend cuddling with your kids, watching them become engrossed in a story told to them from your own lips creates a deeper sense of connection. On top of the sentimental value, more and more studies are proving how beneficial reading aloud with a parent is for developing children’s brains.
4. Ask four important questions everyday before bed.
Kids love to open up their hearts right before bedtime, don’t they? They’re quiet all day long until their head hits the pillow. Then all of a sudden, they want to tell you all the things. Embrace that. This is a powerful time to connect with your kids.
Here are some questions recommended:
- What was the favorite part of your day?
- What was the least favorite part of your day?
- Do you have any questions about your day?
- How did you show love and kindness today?
All of these questions are very revealing. You’d be surprised the things kids will start to share that you had no idea were going on.
I had to prioritize.
It was only once I started to tackle my overwhelm, could I stop turning to tech as a way to press mute on life and start being fully present in the everyday moments – throughout they day.
I stopped doing stuff that literally did not matter. I quit most everything that did not support my goal for having a connected family.
The need for the TV and tablets fell away, and we started to open space for doing nothing, jumping rope, playing board games, wrestling, tree climbing and hugs.
I let go.
And once I did, I finally opened myself up to feeling joyful about motherhood again.
A year ago I couldn’t have done this – spent hours with the kids outside, stayed present and enjoyed it. A year ago, I would’ve done it because “it was the right thing to do” or because “it’s what I’m supposed to do” but I was drowning. . Our family had just moved from Japan, and looking back now, it’s so much easier to see how stressed and lost we all were. I wasn’t depressed per se, but each day there was a heaviness on my shoulders. I battled with myself every hour of the day to not let the kids watch tv the entire day, while I zoned out. Many hours of the day, I resigned and just let the kids watch another show. Other hours, I resisted and took them to a park, to climb trees or just played with them. But it. was. hard. . My husband and I were talking the other night and he said, “Last year, it just felt like a chore.” And I looked to him and said, “That’s exactly right. That’s the perfect word – a chore. Parenting felt like a chore instead of something that we enjoyed.” . This year things are different. I’m in a place where I can talk about it, reflect on it and even learn something from it. I think we all have these times in our motherhood journey where we are just trying to get through it. Where we are doing the best we can with the tools we’ve got. It doesn’t always looks pretty but you always show up. . 10 years from now my kids probably won’t remember how “checked out” I was in 2017, but I will. I will remember because I know how hard I fought to overcome it. I will remember because I know now I can stand fully immersed in a dark place on my motherhood journey and still search for the light. I will remember because I know now I can follow the tiniest bit of light to carry me out of the struggle and back into the joy. A year later, I can watch them sit in a tree and see it for what it really is – a moment immersed in joy, wonder and hope for what is to come our way next. I don’t need to check the time or plan when I can escape into a bathroom again. I can just be with them and love it. . No matter what season you’re in on your motherhood journey – dark and heavy or light and joyful – you are not alone. Remember, I’m in your corner now.
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