I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – if we had not been blessed with more children after our first, I would have thought I had this whole mothering gig figured out. I would have thought that I held the secrets of the sleeping baby and the awesome nap schedules, and the wonderful child temperament.
But I’ve since had two more and am patiently awaiting the arrival of #4.
So I know that I was not born with special Super Mom DNA, nor am I consistently nailing it.
What I do know now that I’m older, wiser, more experienced and more sleep deprived is that babies (and their mamas too!) come in all different fashions – sleepers and non-sleepers, cuddlers and non-cuddlers, happy eaters and not-so-happy eaters, and a million other things.
And I know that our kids have been given to us specifically for a reason. My 1st non-sleeper, big feelings, big heart kid is a treasure to me because I see some of the things he’s teaching and refining in me. And I even see ways he’s helped me be a better mom for him and his sisters.
So while I used to smugly think that people whose babies didn’t sleep simply weren’t swaddled tightly enough, now I realize there is so much more to being a mom than having it all figured out, and having all the answers.
I’ve learned (am learning) that way more important than having the “right” answers to the mothering questions and how-tos is learning what I need to a better version of myself today than yesterday. The version that has patience and grace to extend, who doesn’t immediately jump to yelling at every little thing, and the version who is living out the reality that this is hard, humbling, holy work, that is absolutely SO very worth it.
So how do I do this? How do I become the better version of myself so that I’m pouring out on my children from full or fullish instead of mostly empty? How do I become a better mom?
4 Surprising (and Simple) Things that Make Me a Better Mom
Junior year of college, when I met my husband and we started dating, I consistently slept 2 hours and 45 minutes each night. I know this because our dorm visitation hours were until 2am and he worked or we had classes most nights until 10 or 11. Then we would spend time together, usually with Nick at Nite on in the background, and then I would go to bed, setting my alarm for 4:45am when I had to get up to get ready for my teaching observation hours.
So believe me when I say I’m a person who has often thought sleep was way at the bottom of the priority list, an easy thing to do without. I would stay up late, get up early, drink some water (I didn’t even drink coffee then) and I would just do my day.
10 years, 3 kids, and some age and experience later, I know I can no longer do this. I have spent the last 4 years sleeping on the “not so much” end of the spectrum, first with a colicky baby and then with a baby who just enjoys spending time together in the middle of the night. I’m not that old but I no longer recover or bounce up in the mornings like I did when I was 20. And on the very real days when I sleep in the 3 hour range, my very sweet husband is usually taking some time off of work so I can get a serious nap in.
I am not going to tell you to sleep when the baby sleeps because that has got to be one of the most impossible to follow pieces of advice, especially during the day. I have other kids who need my attention. Along with a house and work and all the things that take about 4 times as long when I can only use one arm.
But I am going to tell you that sleep is a game changer. When I am not rested, it is so easy for me to slip into bitterness, resentment, and keeping a record of wrongs. My words are often harsh and short. My attitude is poor, as if other people who got sleep are rubbing it in my face.
And when I’m able to rest, to draw from a well with something in it, it’s so much easier to extend grace and kindness. To speak lovingly and with patience. To see that my husband needs rest or how I can best serve my family.
I know there are seasons where this is a challenge. Remember, I’ve done two non-sleeping baby/toddlers. So here’s some things that are currently working for me:
-Going to bed at the same time each night. An alarm goes off at 9 and even if the dishes or the laundry or the whatever isn’t done, I start to wind down so I can be asleep by 10.
-I read fiction before bed. I love this. I don’t watch much TV and the screens are not so great right before you sleep anyways. I do have to limit myself to 2 chapters. Otherwise sometimes I forget to go to sleep by 10.
-My kids all have quiet time even though the bigs don’t nap most of the time. I use this as refresh time, even if I can’t sleep. I try not to (but sometimes still do) to just scroll on my phone during this time but to grab my Bible or a book or listen to a podcast. And sometimes I close my eyes and rest or sleep for a little bit. I did this today. There’s LOTS of ways to work this so don’t feel like there’s a one-size-fits-all approach.
-When I have a rough night, I ask for what I need. A nap. To skip dinner and head to bed early. Go somewhere by myself. Something. I speak what I need.
No matter how much I love coffee, moms do not live by coffee alone. I cannot rely on coffee and forego sleep.
One on One Time with My Husband
My kids like to try this *ahem* charming thing where they ask me something and if they don’t like my answer they go and ask their dad. My favorite. Not.
So I started telling them that Daddy and Mommy are on the same team. We back each other up and we have the same opinion about whether they need a snack, should watch a TV show, can go to the playground, whatever.
Ya know, it’s a lot easier to be on my husband’s team when we’re building into one another, encouraging and remembering the good will we have towards one another, and connecting with each other.
Our families didn’t start when we had children. Our families began when we promised to choose to love a moving target for the rest of our lives. That doesn’t get put on hold. Its importance doesn’t fade. On the contrary – once you have kids, you have more people relying on your marriage and the family, home, and security it brings.
And we have to make time to nurture the goodwill in our marriages. That’s part of the reason why we wrote Intentional Love: 31 Ways to Love Your Husband/Wife with Purpose – we recognize that in this intense season of parenting, that we could all use more tools in our tool box when it comes to small and thoughtful ways that we can be building our marriages every day.
[This is the LAST WEEK of the Intentional Love Book Bundle pre-order sale where you get BOTH books for $17.99 + shipping. Sale ends Thursday May 4 at midnight, so if you’ve been wanting to grab your copies, get them now. And if you want to check it out to make sure it’s the right fit for you, you can download the first 3 days of each book here.]
We promised to choose to love a moving target. I say this because I KNOW I am not the girl my husband said “I do” to 7 years ago. And he is not the same guy. We have to keep getting to know one another and pursuing one another so that we can continue to grow our marriage.
One on One Time with My Kids
When I taught high school, I had this one student in particular who was always causing problems. Not doing his work or participating in class. Not helping with group work and making comments that didn’t move class ahead. In the class, he was a challenge. And he was used to how he was treated because of his attitude and was very prickly and hard to get through to.
So instead of always approaching in a group dynamic and in front of the class, I started approaching him one on one. Asking about what he liked and what he was interested in. When we had a big project coming up and I encouraged them to complete it in a creative way, he chose to do a stop-action film with his John Cena action figure as the main character. He started coming out of his prickly shell, participating in class, and completing some of his work.
I have to remember this with my kids, too.
Collectively and as a kid unit, there are always relationship dynamics at play. With three kids, that’s 6 relationships that are at play and interacting. And when we add baby #4 in July, that’ll be 12. And that’s just among them. That doesn’t include their relationships with my husband and myself.
To get to know them and know what makes them tick, see what they need from me, what they’re interested in, and a whole host of other things, I have to spend one on one time with them.
Sometimes that’s as simple as morning snuggle time with my little guy because he’s usually the first one up and at’em. Sometimes that’s letting my oldest up from her afternoon rest time a little early so she can be side by side with me. Sometimes that means doing school work on the couch so whoever is working can be on my lap while they do it. Sometimes it means reading Llama Llama Red Pajama 273 times on a camping trip because it’s the baby’s favorite book. Sometimes that’s walking her in 18 laps around the campground because she just needs mama to help her fall asleep.
Getting to know my kids over and over again and pursuing their hearts helps me know how I can grow as a mother to each of them.
Last year, I worked on a project, shooting videos for a course in the evenings after the kids were all in bed. And the fatigue level plus the fact that I was basically talking to myself left me so incredibly drained. I wasn’t caring for myself and I was pouring, pouring, pouring out. I was trying to fill whole spaces with fumes.
I will totally admit that I really wasn’t sure about self-care when the idea first came out. “Me time” felt selfish and it felt like I was pitting my needs against my family’s needs, and choosing myself.
What I didn’t understand then that I understand now is that you cannot pour from an empty jar. And as a wife and a mom, I can feel the tensions rise when I’m trying to pour massive amounts out of a tank that’s filled with not a whole lot.
Getting self-care in a way that actually leaves you feeling filled up means taking the time to know yourself and what you need.
I know I’m an extrovert. I know my biggest bouts of energy come from being around people who are life giving to me. So I talk to those people a lot (thank you, unlimited texting). I set up playdates “for my kids” because the other mom and I can have good, albeit interrupted, conversations. I schedule big chunks of writing for after I’ve spent time with someone.
I am also learning that I need quiet. I need to create quiet. I need to not turn to the noise of social media and scrolling because it’s not restful or filling. It’s just noise. Sometimes I need to sit in my room with a book for 15 minutes. Sometimes my favorite minutes of the day are going to the gym, not because I love working out, but because I get to go by myself.
Maybe your thing is a group of people or a certain person. Maybe it’s something creative or relaxing. Maybe it’s something physical or quiet. Take stock in what helps you feel filled up.
It is 100% ok to go to a Bible Study during the week to get to spend time with other awesome, godly women while your kids are well-cared for in childcare instead of signing Jr. up for 3 year old Latin lessons.
It is ok to say no to any of the extras that come down the pike and free up the schedule for 10 minutes to write the thing, glue the scrapbook page, bake the cake, do the stretching.
One way that I love getting in some self-care is spending time with friends. So this week I’m hosting a PARTY to celebrate our books Intentional Love coming out and YOU are invited! You get to be home in your PJ’s, with your fave snack, and having time with friends. How great is that! At the party we’ll be talking 5 Ways to Love Your Husband with Purpose and there will be awesome giveaways, like our books and more! So you don’t want to miss this.
You can sign up to get all of the info about the Girls Night In live broadcast event here. And you can invite friends by sharing that page. Yay!
Each of these things is simple. But that doesn’t make them easy or easy to implement. Every step of this is just that – a step. It’s grace-filled growth, learning how to step into new and different things, and then figuring out how that works for you and your family. And that’s what I love to do here – walk the path of grace-filled growth as we become better versions of ourselves. I’m really glad you’re here.
What are some of your of your simple things that make you a better mom?