The most common response from people when they find out that we have 7 kids is “wow you must be superwoman. I only have 2 kids (0r there abouts) and they are driving me crazy”. Firstly I am definitely not a superwoman. I am not super organised, super chilled, super patient…….super anything. I am the run of the mill “have my good days, have my bad days” type of mum. This is not false humility, I know what I am like when no one is watching! I have always admired those mums who seemingly relish each moment, who laugh easily, who stop to play with their kids constantly……who look past the washing and mess to value the important things. I am not one of those. I have made peace with that and embraced who I am but there was a time, about 5 years ago, where I came to a crossroads. I simply could not keep living the way I was living and stay healthy in body, mind and spirit. I was on the road to crazy. Well maybe crazy is a strong word, but I had forgotten how to laugh……how to see past the to-do list, to see beauty. I am so glad I came to this crossroad when I did, as the hardest years were yet to come.
Basically I got to a point where I had to decide to live in, what I like to describe as a constant state of letting go. I have to say since this turning point, I have ebbed and flowed in my resolve, but with determination and mindfulness I am managing to keep myself in this place most of the time.
It was a point in time after we had just moved house and areas. The kids had started new schools and kinders. We were going through financial hardship and seemingly never-ending business pressures. We’d just had our fifth boy who was a beautifully settled baby, but his pregnancy and infancy was lost in the mix of 9 months of open inspections and moving our lives. I was running, literally and metaphorically, but I was running on empty. If anyone in my family or friends were struggling emotionally, socially, academically I would take it upon myself to ‘fix’ it. My life was full of appointments, activities and self-placed expectations. I had many well meaning people try to tell me that I was overcommitted but I refused to take on their advice……justifying why every commitment I took on was a must. My kids were no longer beautiful gifts to enjoy and nurture, but projects that needed constant work, work, work. I had to be stopped in my tracks. And my road block came in the form of…….. cold sores. Yes cold-scores. Not just one, about 20-30 at a time. I would just clear up from the last bout and the cycle would start again. Now I am not a vain person. I often forget to look in the mirror before dashing out the door. It is my husband or my mum who are the ones to gently remind me that I have toothpaste on my face or a few stray hairs on my chin. However, a constant cycle of cold sores that spread from my nose to my chin, was too much to bear.
Something needed to change. I decided that a bit of self-care was to become a priority for survival but, in my case, it was the intrinsic things that I had to change. I had to learn to let go of the things I didn’t have control of, and I wasn’t supposed to be in control of. I had to acknowledge that it wasn’t my responsibility to make everything right. I wasn’t supposed to be purely and utterly exhausted at the end of each day. With the support of some close girlfriends and my wonderful hubby, I decided to identify what my priorities were, lower my expectations on myself and literally let the rest go. For me, it was a process of praying and releasing those things, for others it may be simply mindfully letting go. For me, it didn’t take meditation or the like……it was simply consciously putting a stop to worries that would creep in my mind, and asking myself “do I, or should I have control over this?” and releasing it if the answer was “no”. I have found that this has to be a daily thing (even hourly) as I find on the days where my mind starts churning.
Churning is exactly what is happening in these moments. The stress hormone, cortisol, as referred to in my previous posts, is released and churns away throughout our bodies. It’s nature’s way of helping us to think clearly and quickly, in order to make wise decisions to get out of harm’s way. Stress is a healthy and normal part of life. However, more often than not, we perceive a threat to be much bigger than it actually is and because of our thought processes, a toxic amount of cortisol is released. Toxic amounts have been scientifically proven to cause inflammation along with a whole string of other symptoms like high blood pressure, muscle weakness, anxiety, depression, fuzzy headedness, poor thyroid function, low immunity, poor sleep……..the list goes on.
I am pretty sure nearly every mum I have met has experienced one or more of these symptoms, and it is so often due to toxic levels of cortisol. Where does it start? In the mind of course. We love our family and kids so much, and the world is so busy and fast paced……. we want to cover all bases of protection and we don’t often stop to consider what is truly a threat to our family’s well being and release what is not. This was definitely my situation, and I suppose I am grateful it was just cold sores that was my red flag, and not something more sinister.
I truly believe that stress management, along with my faith, is what released me into a life that was more fulfilling, empowering and enjoyable. There are many close friends around me that have gone through a similar process of letting go, and it has been a joy to see the transformation from just surviving to thriving (well most of the time anyway). A great little program that has helped a few people that I know is Dr Leaf’s 21-day Brain Detox Plan, which is an online daily guide aiming to re-train our thought processes, taking only 7-10 minutes.
It has been a process over time for me, where I consciously caught hold of my thoughts as well as doing as much as I could to nourish my spirit. Listening to positive and uplifting podcasts was one way, as well as valuing myself and giving myself permission to rest. I have become a serial napper too. I nap whenever I get the chance, realising that sleep is so important for healing and recovery. However, I had to release the self condemnation that I was lazy and wasting my time.
One of the main steps in the process with me was first identifying who I am and what is important to me. In this world of Pinterest, Facebook and Insta we are bombarded with everyone’s “presentation” of their lives…..but particularly the parts that are their strengths. When I was seeing all my foodie, organic friend’s posts I would punish myself that I am not doing enough for my family. When I am seeing my professional, career driven friends talking about their next promotion I would come away questioning my career/family choices. When seeing my more fashion focussed friends posting glamorous photos I would kick myself that I hadn’t put in more effort. It’s funny because I have always considered myself a secure person, but social media seems to have the power to bring even the most secure undone. Like Katy Perry’s song “like a plastic bag, drifting through the wind” I was being blown about by everyone else’s identity and my own high expectations.
It came down to a statement I read in an editorial written by a high flying female journalist “a woman (or man) can simply not be all things”. So I started to identify who I was and wanted to be as a woman, a mother, a wife and a friend……. and to let all the other baggage go. It has also freed me to more inclined to celebrate who others are, in the process.
Since I have become the mum of even more kids, I have had to let go of more. With such a tribe it is literally “let go or go down!” So here are the list of things I have let go of, some practical and some intrinsic, and I am hoping it may help someone out there to release some things weighing them down, as well as offering some practical, tried-and-tested ideas.
#1 NO MORE PRETTY LUNCH BOXES
Every parent knows what a drag and time consuming event lunch box prep can be. It took a long time for me to let this one go. For 8 years I would spend my afternoons or evening with 5-6 lunch boxes lined up, full of colourful, fresh, healthy portions. I loved the way they looked, they made me feel good about my mothering even though half the time they came home mooshed up and only nibbled on. I would ignore the fact that it would take time away from my husband or pre-schoolers. It wasn’t until I added up the hours I spent each week that I realised there had to be another way. Surely I could spend my time more productively, and according to what made me really tick. Food has never been a passion of mine. I admire those who are experts on food, knowing good food is medicine to our bodies, but it simply wasn’t me. I also wanted to allow these kiddos to have some responsibility and empowerment with their lunches. So out went the nude-food compartment lunch boxes and in comes the freezer. The freezer has become my friend. I now spend an hour or so on Sunday afternoons making simple sandwiches in separate containers or bags (depending on freezer space), label them and freeze them for the weeks ahead. I make about 30-40 to cover us. I then bought 3 large storage containers and labelled them “Fruit”, “Healthy Snacks” and “Junk Snacks” along with the number of portions allowed.
Many of the snacks now are prepackaged and purchased according to the health advice of the very knowledgable “shesanatural” blogger to ensure hidden nasties are minimal. So each morning they all pack their own lunch. They are, within my boundaries, responsible for their own nourishment. I do do a random check to catch those few of ours who are prone to “forgetting” the healthy additions. I sometimes slip back into questioning my choices……punish myself for not baking from scratch more, but I can’t explain just how much time and stress this approach has released in my life. So there is no turning back for me.
#2 NO MORE NAGGING
The nag factor. Pretty much one of the biggest points of stress and strain on the parent-child relationship. I thought it was just because I was a mother of boys that this was a huge thorn in my mothering flesh, but it seems my darling girl needs plenty of reminding too. So what answer do I have for this? Well let me preface it by saying I still do nag, but I nag a lot less. I have pretty much tried and tested every system out there to ensure a smooth transition out the door with the least amount of frustration as possible. I am pretty sure the system we have now has worked the best, and it is staying until further notice. I have always been big on natural consequence……. that a consequence has been set up in advance where the time matches the crime. Firstly we have established that the best currency in our house is screen time. It used to be money, but I found it hard to keep track of between them all and I have also felt screen time to be the best incentive to keep boys motivated. I have a love-hate relationship with screens. I have resented the way they have been imposed on us and our kids, but I also acknowledge that they are here to stay so we may as well empower our kids while they are in our safe walls. Basically I want the kids to know that screen time is a privilege, not a right.
They each have a list of age appropriate jobs for the morning and evening. As soon as their jobs are done, they put a counter on the fridge according to their colour, and that counter is equivalent to 30min screen time. If they miss a job, they don’t get a counter. They can use these counters whenever the screen time shop is open. I used to only allow screen time on weekends, but I found that a few were getting sneaky during the week, so we came to the compromise of a maximum 1 hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays after homework is done. It’s proving to be a great motivating tool.
The more counters they have, the more screen time they have for the weekend. I have even used this model for my teen as his creative nature needs more boundaries than any of the others. We used to use just a whiteboard to display their job lists but a friend introduced me to another system (refer to pic- Thanks Terri!) which is fantastic as it allows them to physically tick it off. Great for scatty boys. The older two boys have a few more responsibilities. So to nurture maturity and independence I set them up with their own eftpos card. If they do their extra jobs and help their siblings, without complaining, they get $10 per week into their account. If they don’t do those jobs, or leave their stuff everywhere I simply transfer from their account like a fine, tagging the offence of their statement. Ouch!
All consequence, no nagging…….and I truly hope it will sink in at one point!!
#3 NO MORE PRIDE
My pride has probably been one of the harder things to let go of. My #1 son has helped in the speeding up of the process. Having a child that is so talented but doesn’t assess well, or sometimes does not make good choices has been a truly humbling experience. I quickly had to embrace the concept that our child’s behaviour/results/accolades does not define my identity as a parent. Coupled with business pressures that we couldn’t control and so many children ………forgotten lunches, homework, uniforms, sport practices, appointments simply comes with the territory of busy family life. I have just had to come to the point that I do not allow shame to creep in with each little #mummyfail. I have decided I can still consider myself a good mum even though my teen has received 13 late passes in Term 1 alone, we have probably lost 1000 socks in our 13 years of parenting, our cupboards are messy and our car looks beaten up and sticky taped together (only me to blame for that one!)
#4 NO MORE (OR LESS) QUIET TIME/ME TIME
Now I’m not referring to self-care here. Really this whole post is about mental self-care and I believe self-care is a must if we want to function well as human beings. Most of our generation had a pretty good and lengthy lead up to parenting. Study, partying, travelling……”finding ourselves” was all on the agenda. It was a pretty easy ride. My darling hubby had a good 18 kid-free adult years before kids came on the scene. He has quickly made up for lost time marrying a crazy “baby making machine” (I have literally been called that) like me. However, no matter how much we wanted kids, most of us were not prepared for the loss of me-time. It is like a slow grieving process of all the time and flexibility we had BK (before kids). For the first few years we fought it. Dragging Jem around to cafes, finding ways to keep him quiet so we could enjoy some of our old life style. Looking back, I feel like I was short changing myself. Instead of enjoying the new way of life and all it’s beauty, I was trying to hold onto my old life but now with a clingy baby/toddler. I often wonder if Jem was even more clingy than the rest because he sensed this. Many babies on, we have finally embraced no or very little quiet times in our house. I have had to re-train my thoughts that noise means life, keeping my heart in a grateful posture. A good day is not always a day when the kids behave and I look like a good parent. The crazy days are good too, and it is ok if not everyone is happy at once, and there is literally someone crying or whinging ALL OF THE TIME. I don’t fight it anymore, I embrace the craziness. A tantruming or moody or rebelling child will most likely become the most beautiful well-balanced adult…….and I want to still be able to laugh and enjoy the process. It’s ok if 20 minutes scrolling FB at the end of the day is the only bit of quiet time I get because our house is full to the brim with life……the good, the bad and even the downright ugly. Life can be messy and beautiful all at once.
#5 NO MORE PLEASING EVERYONE
I left this one until last because this is definitely the biggest one for me. I am a recovering people pleaser. My world would fall apart if people, particularly my nearest and dearest, were not seemingly pleased with me. With each child I had, there became less time and opportunities to please everyone. There are plenty of friends where I feel I have not been able to be the kind of friend they want me to be. At first, I would bend myself out of shape to be what they wanted, but I have slowly learnt that I can only be who I am and offer what I have. I have finally resolved that those who truly know me well, know my heart and intentions are pure…… and if there is stuff I have missed it is not because I don’t care. I am so grateful for the gracious friends who have stuck with me, and an encouraging husband who peps me up and makes sure I stop punishing myself. I have finally realised that meeting everyone’s expectations (and my own) does is not always motivated out of kindness. In fact, wanting to be liked can be born out of a selfish motivation. Many children later, it is grace and forgiveness, both given and received, that has set me free in this area.
And finally, the areas I have resolved not to let go of? Everyone is different. We are all designed uniquely, but for me, these are the top 3…….
#1 Time with Sime.
I have resolved that this is something that I fiercely want to hold onto. Besides my faith, my marriage comes second to nothing. A healthy marriage doesn’t mean a perfect one, but it does breed health and life into our whole family, particularly our kids. And after all, I want to look forward to the season when it is just us two again…… and this takes the investment of time. It’s not easy though. At the moment we work at a monthly(ish) date night and an annual getaway. However, recently, it is the 30 minutes of just us together reading, talking and praying before the kids wake up. It is now my favourite time of day.
Exercise is a major part of my mental health management. The time in my life that I let it go, I lost myself. I lacked motivation and drive. I didn’t feel happy in any capacity. It’s more than staying fit and healthy. It is my mental and spiritual breathing space. For me, it has to be in nature, not in a gym. I can’t explain why, it just does. Every baby I have, I have to adjust and be inventive on how to fit it in…… but it has to be a priority. For others, it’s work, but for me it’s life. We are all so uniquely wired and designed. For Sime, it is music. Take that outlet away from him, its like taking a fish out of water…… the oxygen runs out after a while. So we have worked a way to fit that in too (thanks to Sal and Lil). For others, it may be creativity (like for our firstborn). It is not an indulgence finding the time investing in what will make you tick. Everyone around you will benefit from it.
#3 Investing in important relationships
It is so very easy to let go of friendships during the busyness of childrearing. But for me, having real and quality relationships, in a definite must. It takes work and intentionality. At times I am so tired at the end of the day, and on the days I feel like I am not coping well, I just want to crawl into my bed and hide. Many would assume I am an extrovert, but I am not. I have to work myself up for social activity, but I do know true intimate relationships is what makes the world goes round. Without them, life is just a series of activities and tasks. The joy of being fully known, and to fully know someone else (warts and all) and experience unconditional love is the most wonderful and fulfilling feeling. However, it takes a risk and vulnerability to open yourself up. There is the chance of being hurt….. and I have been hurt. I am sure I have caused hurt too. Yet I wouldn’t change a thing. I will continue to open my heart up to people (as I am also doing on this blogging journeytoo) and sacrifice sleep to catch up with friends regularly. I have also resolved to hide nothing from the friends I trust, as I figure if I have something to hide, then I have something to check in myself. Yes I may be rejected, shamed and the openess has not been reciprocated. I also may be misunderstood or judged but I also get the chance to really know people and have them know me. In my view, there is nothing more rewarding. Open heartedness is a quality that I really want to instil in our kids. It is quite counter-culture as particularly with boys in Australia, the approach can be ‘breed them tough so they are not bullied’, however sometimes bullies are created in the process. I hope and pray that they will remain open and trusting, even if the risk is getting hurt. I would rather them lean towards presuming people are good in their essence, than to live a life of defensiveness and miss out on true, rewarding friendships.
So that is it. Thank you for indulging me in this self-reflectivePost. I actually feel indulgent writing about myself so much. However, I am hoping it will help someone to consider the way they are wired and consciously enter a constant state of letting go….. letting go of the things that drain them, that they have no control over and of those negative thoughts that can pull us into a place of despair, toxic stress and no joy. The world is noisier than ever before, and so are our minds. Let us let go of who we are not, embrace who we are and find beauty in the everyday……. and don’t let the cold sores win!!
Greta, The Butcher’s Wife