Four Thoughts For The Times When Parenting is Hard

This week, I got a report from Zoe’s preschool teacher that left me in happy tears. The little girl whose preschool transition I worried about so much is a leader in her class.

I do not need my children to demonstrate any of the traditional indicators of success—as long as they are kind, happy, and doing their best, I’m overjoyed—but I saw Zoe’s natural leadership emerge when she was just fifteen months old and wondered what it would turn into.  For the last fifteen months, this potential has largely been overshadowed by her behavior, and I wondered what other qualities were being hidden by the difficulties she experiences.

I’m so glad she is learning the skills that let her be her true self.

At the same time that she has been demonstrating her abilities in school, we’ve had a hard week at home—think lots of tears, screaming, scratching herself and others, biting herself, throwing things, hitting, spitting, letting herself out the door, strange sensory-seeking behaviors, and arguing about everything. I don’t believe that these behaviors reflect her true self, I don’t judge her for them, and I don’t give up on trying to help the girl underneath come out—but I do get tired.

I’m trying my best to be honest about my parenting journey with her without throwing her privacy under the bus and without writing anything that might make her question my love for her if she ever read it. It scares me that I might do something wrong as I write about this. But at the same time, I want to be honest because I yearn to connect with others who are experiencing similar things and let them know that they’re not alone.

The truth is that parenting the child whose name means “life” has been both the joy and challenge of my recent life.  I have done harder things, but they were, like, REALLY hard things (recovering from an eating disorder) and I had plenty of professional support. (Not to mention that when I was in ED recovery, all I had to manage was myself—and now I have to manage 3 people!)

During the first few months of Zoe’s behaviors, I would feel God’s love and presence so strongly in approximately 4% of my moments, and then there would be 96% of the moments where my toddler was drawing blood from my infant’s eye in the shopping cart at Trader Joe’s and the cashiers were fluttering around with a first aid kit and concerned looks and I was asking Him WHERE HE WAS because gosh, I felt alone.

And I’d pray, and feel a little better, but then they’d wake up at 12:30 and 3 and 5 am and need so much from me, and by 3 pm my faith that God was with me through all of this would fizzle a little. If He was with me, wouldn’t He be teaching me to do this better and wouldn’t I have more energy?!

My recovery from an eating disorder took years of slow, plodding progress.  Similarly, God has not chosen to snap His fingers and make my parenting journey easier (although He just gave me in-laws six blocks away, which definitely counts for something)! 

But as I constantly remind myself, just because it’s difficult, doesn’t mean I’m alone—or that I’m not learning and growing with every step.   For example, my ratio now is more like 80% “cool, you’re with me, God, thanks” and 20% “what the ACTUAL heck do I do in response to this?” Growth!

This week, I felt compelled to write down four thoughts that God has been stirring in me—four reminders for the times when my child is having a hard time, when I feel like I can’t do this right, and when I need a reminder of His truth and design.

I thought I’d share them today, even though they’re a bit of a departure from my usual blog content. If you don’t like Bible study (or if you’re not a parent), feel free to skip everything else in this post, but studying these ideas has really blessed me, and I thought they might help someone else!

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(1) God made my child, and He calls her good.  She was knit together in the image of God and is fearfully and wonderfully made; His eyes saw her unformed body and all the days ordained for her when she was still in the womb. “Your works are wonderful; I know that full well” (Genesis 1:27,31; Psalm 139).

(2) God gave her to me to parent.  “Children are a heritage from the Lord; they are a reward from Him.” My daughter was placed into our family “with the help of the Lord,” and was the answer to our prayers for a child to love. He places each part in the body just where He wants it to be, according to His design (Psalm 127:3, Genesis 4:1, I Samuel 1:27, I Corinthians 12:18).

(3) I am not alone in this job. He wants to help me. He is “my rock of refuge, to which I can always go.” I am never alone; I have an advocate to help me and be with me forever. When I pray “let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me,” I can rest assured that “He is faithful to His promises” and will help me (Psalm 71:3,; John 15:26; Psalm 71:18, 22).

(4) My job is to seek and love God, and to let His love flow through me to my child.  All outcomes are up to Him. We are told to teach our children to “love God with all our heart, all our soul, and with all our strength.”  These commands are to be on our hearts, to be talked about, and to be lived “as we sit at home, as we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we get up.”  This implies active pursuit of God in my own life. Teaching Zoe about God—and teaching her the skills she needs to be successful—are both important, but loving the Lord myself is the most important thing I can do for my children. Apart from Him, I can do nothing; fruit comes only from abiding in Him and loving as He has loved me. I can plant the seeds and water them, but in the end, only God makes things grow (John 15:12-13, 5; I Corinthians 3:7).

To recap, and make it personalized for you (if you are still reading):

God made your child and He calls him/her good.

God gave him/her to you to parent.

You are not alone in this job; He wants to help you.

Your job is to seek and love God, and to let His love flow through you to your child. All outcomes are up to Him. 

I hope these thoughts encourage you today! 

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My To-Do List

If you’ve spent any time with me lately, you’ve likely NOT heard me ramble about work-life balance…because it’s so raw and I don’t know what to say.  My work-life balance has been changing a little bit after several years of being in bare minimum career maintenance mode, and it’s weird.

Since I ramped up my efforts to build my client list (a marketing effort which consisted mostly of prayer and not immediately screaming “NO” when someone made a referral), I have been blessed with a steady stream of clients and work. I am no longer working “very” part-time; I work part-time. This comes with increased client management responsibilities, more deadlines to keep track of, and some slight changes in personal identity.

For about two months, I’ve been saying “I probably need to start saying no to any new projects”—but in those two months, I’ve said “no” exactly 0 times.  Here’s why:

-I genuinely like the projects and am so jazzed by (most of) the work that I do. I take on my clients’ missions and invest in my students’ futures.  I love getting e-mails from students thanking me for helping them learn and grow, coming back from meetings with my brain whizzing with ideas, and getting lost in research as I write narratives for my clients’ grant proposals.  I didn’t have an outlet for my passions, I’m not sure that my life would feel as meaningful. I know that I am called to be a present and engaged mom, but I don’t feel called to push down all of the things that I know and can offer the world in favor of having empty laundry baskets.

-It’s hard to say no to new clients who want to work with me, or to existing clients who would be a great source of continued business when I have a long-term interest in building a small business (or at least a job for myself) in this field.

-My counted-on contribution to our family income is all I “need” to do. But outside of that, I have hopes and dreams for our house, vacations I want our family to go on, and 529 accounts that I want (“want?”) to fill up.  Contract/freelance work = $.

Coming back to reality, however: at this point, all of my scheduled childcare time for the fall is booked with projects…so any new “yes” I say to work is a “no” to time with my kids, family, and/or personal time.

It’s tough to figure out the right balance between “this project pays for a month of your preschool tuitions, freeing up funds for a family vacation that will build priceless memories” and “this project makes me miss time with you and/or takes up any time I have to recharge, resulting in memories of time with a babysitter or a cranky mom.”  And I’ve had to accept that I’m not going to make the right call 100% of the time, because actually saying yes is new.

Trying new things is messy.  Add that to a life that was already a little less than put-together and it’s…well, messier.
photo-on-1-20-16-at-7-48-amBut there’s fun in the mess.  And with every messy challenge comes opportunity.

And so: I think that the challenge for me at this intersection of my kids’ development and my business growth will be to clearly define and act from my values.  The time I spend parenting will change and fluctuate as my kids move towards school readiness, but the value of my parenting time will not decrease, and the quality of that time should not, either.

This challenge also means I have the opportunity to experiment with new projects, clients, and work styles and schedules—and the opportunity to learn more about myself, my family’s needs, and what my future could look like—IF I pay attention.

Also, I realize that I am SO blessed to have these opportunities and choices. When I was fresh out of college, I wrote a description of my dream job. I wanted to work for a nonprofit organization, write professionally, be an adjunct professor, have the flexibility to work from home and coffee shops instead of always needing to be in an office, be able to cook a hot lunch (LOLZ, clearly of the utmost importance), and have time during my day to exercise, play with my then-imagined kids, and invest in other people.  In other words, way too many things, some ludicrous things, and also essentially what I do now.

The kicker is that when I left full-time work, I didn’t intentionally set out to achieve this life; I was just taking steps of obedience and looking, like, one foot ahead until I suddenly looked up and realized that I am actually living that dream (minus the daily hot lunch because it turns out that once I had more than one child, I began to struggle to even make a basic sandwich. If we could slightly tweak the goal to “making a latte after lunch,” though, nailed it). 

Even though this life is what I dreamed of, it’s not always perfect or easy or 100% fun.  It’s called “work” for a reason!  So when I begin to angst about the difficulty of balancing work and family and my soul, I have begun to tell myself: you are tired.  It’s time for a break.  Go for a walk with a friend.  Talk with your husband.  Watch a show.  Read a book.  Write a blog post.  Go to bed.  If your lifestyle can’t support Sabbath—something needs to change. 

In the morning, I wake up and journal and pray.  And towards the end of writing my honest reflections to God, I am always startled to realize that I didn’t have a situational problem; I had a gratitude problem, or was tired, or just needed to say no, or needed to set up an extra babysitting day but also plan a fun family activity to balance it out.  It isn’t actually that hard when you don’t carry all the burden of doing all the things perfectly all the time.

I don’t always know the “right” answer to the “should I take on this client/project” question.  And I won’t always get it right.  But generally, if I pause before responding, prayerfully consider a project, and move it through the filter of the important “to-do” list that I have developed below—I might.

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My to-do list: 

(1) Be an engaged and present mom and wife. I am there for my people when they ask me to be. I put down my thing/to-do and engage when they want to engage. I stick to clearly defined work times and don’t multi-task.  I work in my office or at my Starbucks office—not in the playroom.  I may leave things unfinished at times; this bugs me but I choose the better thing.  I’m there—fully present—for the big moments.

IMG_5178.JPG(Zoe before her first day of weeklong camp this summer! I was happy I could be there to talk her through nerves at drop off and see her excited face at pick-up.)

(2) Manageable and enjoyable work. I curate my projects/clients to a manageable list. As possible, I go for the enjoyable projects. I don’t need to “wow” on every project—meeting expectations is okay.

(3) Treat my soul with respect.  My life has time for quiet time.  I make time and space for a weekly Sabbath—a day or two with no “work work,” unless it’s one of my two grading hell weeks.  I make space for fun things with friends that seem like a waste of time from a productivity standpoint, because these friendships so greatly enrich my life and fun is actually important. I fight for alone time now and then.  I make time for reading. I pay attention to patterns in myself.  If my physical, mental, and emotional self all feel ragged—I talk about it and make some changes.  I “find rest in the incompleteness of the present moment as I learn to recognize the goodness of what is, [and trust] that what is needed for the future will be added at the proper time” (Sally Breedlove, Choosing Rest).

On that note, I’m going to go to bed!

The Beautiful Things

There are brilliant, wonderful, glorious gifts in front of me every single day, if I just turn my eyes and my mind to see them.

That’s one thing motherhood has taught me.

It’s easy to get lost in the work in front of me.  But there are so many moments of goodness along the way—moments where light and color and the physical and the spiritual worlds meet—and when I pay attention, I realize what an extraordinary gift these “ordinary” moments really are.

I want to pay attention more often.  

In that spirit, here are a few shots that I’ve never shared on the blog.  These photos weren’t captured during special events, but to me, they brim with the supernatural—the soft and gentle calling of a Creator who loves to speak to us through light, color, beauty, family, belonging, innocence, simplicity, His sufficiency in the face of our weakness, perseverance, hope, and love.

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“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”  –Philippians 4:8-9 

New House Details – Part II

Just a super quick update to say: we’re officially homeowners!! Whoa!

My words as soon as we left the closing were “David, I think I might throw up.”  Being in charge of A HOUSE THAT I OWN is terrifying and exciting, all at the same time.

It’s terrifying, because:
a) the gene for “spatial intelligence” was completely absorbed by my engineer father and I couldn’t tell you how to fix anything
b) I am used to seeing a lot more money in my bank account
c) I sing “the wise man built his house upon the rock / the foolish man built his house upon the sand” to Zoe…and then David always jokes “the entire state of Florida is the foolish man.”  We now own a chunk of that sand and a house built upon it.

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We may be idiots.

It’s exciting because:
a) I am ECSTATIC about the house’s layout
b) I am THRILLED with our new yard
c) the kitchen makes me want to cook again, unlike the pass-through hallway that I try to get out of as soon as possible in our current house (no offense, current house—I love you otherwise) 
d) I like my new neighborhood and the roads that I’ll drive and walk most often
e) my friend and her sweet daughter live next door, with another little buddy soon to join us!

We rented our home to the sellers through the weekend (we went from homeowners to owners of a RENTAL PROPERTY all in one week! I’m so dramatic), so we’ll get some keys tonight and get in there tomorrow to start some fast and furious renos!

Pray for a good week of work for my sweet husband who has a lot to endure—both in terms of physical labor as he paints multiple rooms, and emotionally as he has to deal with my complete waffling and indecision on the last color selection (for our playroom and eat-in area).  He wants a bright color, I want a neutral, he is willing to give up the bright color but that’s not enough for me because I want him to want what I want and be happy about a neutral.  It’s going to be a great week for everyone!

This will not become a home decor blog, because I am just as qualified to write that as I would be to write a spatial intelligence blog, but I might give you a few more updates in weeks ahead.  I may also write a sappy blog post about moving, as my friend Jeanette pointed out today that what I was telling her about all that I’ve learned in this house sounded like “a blog post in the making.”  I love my friends.

All joking aside, I went into this house during our home tour and instantly thought “this is a great house for ministry.”  This house has the best layout for packing in people to cook for and serve and love…the best backyard for imperfect parties where people can get dirty and have fun playing football and soccer…the best little nook for Bible study with another mom or two while our kiddos play in the adjoining playroom…the best kitchen window to stand at while my coffee brews and look out and praise God for another day.

We’ve never had the opportunity to choose a home before, but we’ve always made each living situation work—so I don’t feel like we “needed” this upgrade.  However, it is a huge blessing to have had the chance to choose a home based on the activities and people that are most important to us.  I can’t wait to see what God does in us, through us, and with us in this home!

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See you in a new house! (unless I need to use my coping strategy of writing sooner due to paint-related issues!)

A Prayer, A Protest

I’ve written before about how I didn’t think about race for a lot of my life—a luxury I didn’t understand at the time.  Having two children with visually obvious black heritage has taught me something different.

I was very aware of the racial differences between myself and my daughters at first, but over time, my day-to-day acknowledgment and awareness have abated because I am just so busy taking care of their daily needs.  I don’t have a lot of conversations related to my children’s heritage anymore, and I have learned to walk away from unsolicited comments or insensitive conversations with my hypothetical fingers in my ears.

Recent events remind me that I need to pay attention.  For my children’s safety.   

I have never hated because of race.  But some people do.

I have never moved into a neighborhood and wondered, “is someone peering out the window with hatred in their heart because of what we look like?” But it happens every day to people who look just like my daughters.

I look at mixed-race families and smile—to me, they look like the family of God.  But to some people, my family is an abomination.

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My innocence to these facts might feel more comfortable, but it’s also ignorant to the reality of what some of our country actually looks like, thinks like, acts like.  This is a country where people who look like me literally wave flags of prejudice—and care more about our right to do so than the sense of oppression it makes our brothers and sisters feel.  I don’t understand the hatred.  I don’t have to live in fear of it, either (and I don’t plan to).  But I have to be aware of it.

Oh, how I want more for our children.

When pondering what happened in Charleston, all I could think of was the interconnectedness Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talks about in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail (which is fantastic reading):

“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. 

…There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being ‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators.’ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were ‘a colony of heaven,’ called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be ‘astronomically intimidated.’ By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

…Was not Jesus an extremist for love: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’ Was not Amos an extremist for justice: ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.’ Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: ‘I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.’ Was not Martin Luther an extremist: ‘Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.’ And John Bunyan: ‘I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.’ And Abraham Lincoln: ‘This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.’ And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .’

So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be.

Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

Lord, raise us up to be creative extremists in our churches, families, and communities.  Help us transform this stupid, messed up, full-of-potential world into a place that reflects Your love for all of us.

Before and…Um, After?

I mentioned about a month ago that I had recently ordered some “powerful” undereye cream.  It was expensive and I usually don’t do expensive, but the haggard look was starting to get old.  I faithfully applied it twice per day and had hoped to post some really dramatic results, but let’s be real: I have two kids under two and a half.  Thus, here is my before:

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and here is my after:

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(Did things get worse?!! Don’t answer that.)

I will continue putting it on every morning and night, because it smells good and something on me should smell good.  But I might retire my hopes that a .5 mL bottle can overpower 46 pounds of 24/7 crazy…

Two Under Two: My Tips

My first post in this two-part series focused on the pros and cons of having two kids under two. In this post, I’ll share the practical tips and perspectives that I have learned along the way.

Here we go!

Experiment with naptime and see what you can get away with. 

-If at ALL possible, try to schedule their days so that you get at least a little bit of naptime overlap.  For the first 5 months of her life, Riley could only stay awake for about 2 hours at a time.  Zoe typically naps for about 1.5-2 hours.  I realized early on that I could usually get at least a little overlap if I did some calculating, then pushed Zoe a little bit later or put her to sleep a little early based on when I expected Riley to be asleep.  For a while, I got about an hour of overlap most days, which was glorious (especially since I used that time to work on grants, grading, etc).   That being said…

Remember that routines don’t last long with this phase of life.  Case in point: right now, my girls are on completely opposing schedules.  Thankfully, I had anticipated that this might happen and had increased my childcare hours to compensate for the missed “naptime” work time, so I’m not stressed if their naps don’t line up (just exhausted! Ha!)

As possible, utilize on-the-go napping.  For the first 4.5 months, Riley napped beautifully on the go.  I usually gave her one nap on the go in the Ergo or stroller in the morning while I did an activity with Zoe, one great nap at home, and then one cat nap (often in the stroller or Ergo again) while we roamed the neighborhood or played outside. It seemed to work fine for that phase where she could “tune out” easily.  Now, however, she seems to be needing two good naps at home.  This brings me to my next point.

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Set your house up for success.

-Riley seems to be needing more at-home nap time, which makes it harder to go to the park, enriching classes, museums, and zoo as much as Zoe and I used to.  In response, I have made our house and yard a bit more “fun” than they used to be.  Two examples:

1) We can’t always go to the park, so I brought the park to Zoe! We have a sandbox, slides, little car, small playhouse, t-ball set, toddler basketball goal, and a water table.  It sounds like a lot, but our yard is relatively large and all of these items were hand-me-downs, gifts, curbside freebies, or consignment store deals.  We also have fun with bubbles, “painting with water” on the sidewalk, collecting pine cones, watching cars/trucks go by, waving to airplanes, sidewalk chalk, kicking a ball around, chasing lizards, and throwing berries to the squirrels—all this while Riley sleeps feet away inside (I usually prop the screen door open, but a monitor would also work).

 2) I also beefed up our craft closet.  Crafts are great because you can strap the toddler into his/her high chair to do them…meaning, he/she is restrained! This is a great activity to pull out for the toddler when you need to feed the baby or rock the baby to sleep.  I usually plan a few crafts a week (Pinterest is a great resource, but so are parenting books or my imagination) and I have enough “general” craft supplies that we can be creative (paints, crayons, Dot-dots, stickers, different types of paper, foam sheets, etc).

-Create a place for your baby in every room of the house.  You never know when you will need to put the baby down to hastily attend to a toddler.  Don’t complicate things by having to scramble for a safe spot for the baby!  Rugs, blanket, Exersaucer, swing, vibrating chair, foam mats—screw your decorating scheme and make it look like a toddler and a baby threw up all over your house (chances are good that they literally will anyway).

As possible, have friends come to your house for playtime.  I am so thankful for the friends who have visited us over the last 5.5 months.  It is way easier for us to host a playdate than to travel to visitors or a meeting spot, and it is easier to meet Riley’s sleep needs when friends visit us here.  We still leave our house most mornings, but since it takes two hours to get everybody fed, dressed, and out the door, any morning where we can cut the “out the door” part is greatly appreciated.

Additionally, friends with older kids are such an asset.  You can chat with them while holding your baby and their older kids can play with your toddler! PRICELESS!

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Set priorities, and don’t be afraid to take shortcuts to make them happen. 

-One of my priorities is that my family eats healthfully.  To get there with two kids, I have had to use some shortcuts…and I’m totally okay with it.

I used to never used to buy steam-in-the-microwave potatoes, pre-chopped onions, pre-cut squash, frozen brown rice, and other prepared foods like these until I had two kids under two and realized: I’m the person they make this stuff for.  Prepared food and cooking shortcuts can make the difference between “PB&J with a side of resentment for dinner” and “a healthy, balanced dinner.”  This season is ridiculously intense.  If you can remotely afford it, buy the stuff that makes it easiest for you.

Similarly, don’t stress if your meals are basic and often repeated.  This stage of life isn’t forever; everyone will survive if you serve the same 10-15 meals over and over again.  If it can be cooked in that tiny window before everyone melts down and it’s healthy, you’ve found a winner and should probably make it next week too.

Finally, have a take-out option ready for those nights when it is just. not. happening.  I am not a take-out gal, but there are times when the options are me dissolving into a puddle of tears before feeding everyone popcorn, and ordering takeout.  In those situations, to be in line with my priority, I pick take-out.

-Another priority? Personal hygiene.  To accomplish this, Zoe hops in the shower with her dad in the morning and I bathe Riley in the kitchen sink while Zoe eats breakfast nearby.  Are they missing out on the joy of fun bath time? Possibly, but they get clean in a way that works with our schedules.  Similarly, I shower at night once the kids are in bed.  Is that my preference? Does going to bed with a wet head produce a great hairstyle? Nope, but it gets me clean while everyone else stays safe.  The end result matters most in this case. 

Be realistic.  Reduce your expectations. 

-That sounds depressing, but if you expect to be able to have the same life that you had with one child, you’ll be disappointed.  It’s going to be different.  You won’t be able to accomplish as much as you’re used to or be as comfortable with your day-to-day life as you’re used to, at least for a while.  BUT…you have a whole new person in your family and they’ll be with you forever.  That is cool!  Try to savor it.

It has helped me to think of this as a new job.  You never feel comfortable or competent at the beginning of a new job, but eventually, you get in the swing of things and start to feel more capable.  Now, the difference between that scenario and this one is that you can’t quit, and you’re not paid, and there are horrible working conditions and no worker’s comp for your injuries…actually, this sounds awful, and if I am completely honest: sometimes it IS awful.  But when you begin to accept the crazy and unpredictable mess that is your daily life instead of resisting and complaining about it, you will feel peace and will be able to find joy and purpose knowing that you have the privilege of transforming babies into humans who will contribute to the world in amazing ways.  It’s an incredible gift. This blog post has a great perspective that has really helped me.

Also, there are hilarious moments.  Allow yourself to enjoy them.
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If someone offers help and it would actually be helpful, take it.  That’s something I’m really working on…that if someone says “I’d love to come to your house and watch one of the girls so you can get some one-on-one time,” or “can I hold Riley so you can chase Zoe?” or “do you want me to watch the girls so you can go to the grocery store?” or “I made extra soup.  Want some?” and it would actually be helpful, and I trust them to help me well…to say yes.  My default is “no thank you, I’m self-sufficient,” but honestly, it often serves my family better if  I can swallow my pride, drop my sense of control, and accept the help.  This leads me to my next point.

-Find a good sitter that you trust.  Regularly use him/her for date nights, time alone with one of your kids, time alone in your house (this is what my work time is for me!) or time alone out of your house.  There may be people out there who can live the two-under-two life 24/7 without sinking into a deep depression or wanting to kill someone, but I am not one of them.  Having a few hours a week where I am not responsible for the care and well-being of two completely dependent children has been absolutely critical to my sanity.  A giant thank you to all those who have watched my children.  You are the reason I can be a good parent the rest of the time.

You might have been a no-TV mom with one kid, but you’re about to meet your best friend: TV.  I use TV 15-20 minutes a day with Zoe, usually around 11:30 pm.  During that time, I feed Riley a bottle while checking my email, and prepare our lunches.  Without that 20 minutes, I give Riley stomach issues from chasing Zoe around the house while yanking a bottle in and out of her mouth, may go until 5 pm without connecting with the outside world, and eat pretzel Goldfish for lunch (if I even eat lunch).  It helps.

Both kids don’t have to be happy at all times.  This was a hard mindset for me to accept at first, but sometimes, you’re doing your best and both kids are crying anyway.  In those moments, take a deep breath, identify the most important priority, and meet it.  Sometimes, the baby needs her bottle and the toddler will just have to have a meltdown in the corner.  Sometimes, the toddler needs some love and the baby will need to cry for a few minutes in her crib.  Sometimes, you need some exercise and your kids will have to cry in the stroller for a few minutes so you can stretch your legs and shake off the stir-craziness.

Take care of yourself.

-One of my biggest paradigm shifts ever happened when Riley was 4 months old, and I realized: I don’t just have to meet TWO people’s needs during the course of the day.  I need to meet THREE people’s needs.  In other words, my needs count too.   I typically work a 13-15 hour day with these children.  Sometimes they nap together; often they do not (and nap time is often work time anyway).  It is unrealistic to expect that I will have no needs during that time frame, or to expect that I can meet all of my needs during that 2-3 hour window after they go to sleep when I am exhausted and resetting the house for the next day.

Thus, I realized that I HAVE to make certain things happen for myself: showering, exercising, eating, and occasional socialization.  Without these things, I end up feeling like a caged animal.  And caged animals lash out.

-Make the things you enjoy most happen, even if it’s for 10 minutes at a time.  I sometimes put on workout DVDs and do the workout until someone melts down.  Even if I got 7 minutes in, it felt nice.  I order two books a month from Amazon (because going to the library to search for a book myself is not happening,) and I read them when I cook, wash bottles, feed bottles, and brush my teeth.  I listen to podcasts and sermons while playing with Riley.  I occasionally talk on FaceTime or the phone until someone begins to act out.  I have written this blog post in short increments over 1.5 week, and although I would like to have sat down and typed it out in one relaxing writing session, that’s not my life stage right now.

-Accept your feelings without judgment.  At the beginning, I was too busy keeping everyone alive to acknowledge my feelings.  Then when I acknowledged them, some of them scared me. Why wasn’t I grateful for every second of my time with my kids? A conversation with a mom of triplets in which she told me that babysitting my kids for two hours had been (insert significant look) “a LOT” reminded me that oh, maybe because I am freaking EXHAUSTED, and this is HARD, and it’s okay to feel that way. If you’re reading this blog and find yourself identifying with this point, let me just give you a gentle reminder that your feelings are okay, and that they don’t make you a bad mom.

Free yourself—as much as possible—to enjoy the good stuff. 

My house has not been deep cleaned in a month.  And I don’t care.

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As the poem goes, “The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
For children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.”

I didn’t take a maternity leave with Riley, and in between our move, work, and getting used to two kids, I don’t feel like I was able to savor those first few months with her as much as I wish I had.  But regret is a memorable teacher.

I have made some changes, and in 2015, I am going to lie down on the floor and play more, cuddle more, take Zoe out for cookies more, and allow myself to ENJOY these kids.  Because this time, even in all its craziness, is really, really sweet.

Moms who have been there—if you have any additional tips to add, I’d love to read them!