Sometime around the end of January, in the flurry of colds and snow days and potty training and the semester starting- nights got rough around our house. It happens with kids, seasons of little people needing cuddles or cough syrup or covers adjusted during those wee morning hours. Sometimes they fall back asleep, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes parents fall back asleep afterwards, sometimes they don’t. But whatever the case- I am tired, really tired. All those great January resolutions and fresh starts… there was some February fizzle in the midst of the disrupted nights and crabby moods. Some progress yes, but also some bad attitudes. Mostly mine. Kids are resilient. They wake up after a sleepless night and they are still eager to love the world and explore everything in it. I wake up after a sleepless night and feel like punishing everything in it that isn’t precisely to my specifications.
It is so natural and normal to be a grumpy, tired, frazzled, harsh mom in seasons like this. It is also unacceptable. Lately I have had to repeat to myself a lot the mantra that my kids are almost 3 and almost 1 and I am 31. They can’t control their actions and emotions all the time, but I can. I should, I must. Yes, moms are human and there is grace… but there must also be effort and work and intentional parenting development. I have found myself resenting my own inability to embark on all my plans of self-improvement and beautiful living lately, because the tiny people in my life have so many needs. SO MANY. I found myself feeling frustrated with the demands on our day.
The internet would tell me that the secret to my funk is more self care. But the internet is frequently wrong, or at least, lazy. Self-care is great, but it doesn’t always cultivate the selflessness that parenting demands. As always, the secret in parenting funks like this is to lean in. To love harder, play more, give give give when you feel so empty. I decided that I needed to take stock of our days and weeks and find some routines that I could elevate to the level of ritual, giving a little more structure and a lot more beauty to our days. Here are some of the things in our week that were casual afterthoughts and are now cultivated moments that we all look forward to.
No matter how little or long he sleeps, Henry has a rough naptime wake up. Those hours between naptime and dinner are unpredictable, long, and we can’t always do our normal solution for bad moods and go outside. What I really wanted in those late afternoon winter moments was a hot mug of tea and quiet to drink it, an image that doesn’t mesh well with my insanely active son, freshly cranky from the transition from nap to being awake. Then one day, inspired by a scene in this book where the characters drink tea as the snow falls, I asked Henry if we should make tea. It is his favorite moment now. He loves sitting groggily on the counter as I boil water and loves setting mugs and kettles on the tray and picking a special snack. We spread a picnic blanket on the ground or build a fort and crawl inside or enjoy it at the table while we color or read. The order of it, the quiet sounds of clinking cups and the rising steam calms us all. Cranky snack-time recast as tea time ritual.
Before having kids, I deep cleaned my house every single weekend. After having kids, my house definitely needs that treatment more and yet gets it less often. Laundry, cleaning, sheets to change, errands, ALL THE THINGS were piling up and stressing me out. So, after some inspiration in how to get some of these individual chores done from my favorite podcast of late, I decided that, of the three days each week where I am home, one is Home Day. I clean, do endless cycles of laundry, change sheets, etc. We still get out, but we try to only do chores or outings on Home Day that we can do on foot, and the focus is having a day dedicated to resetting our home. What before felt like chores in all the margins now feels like a day where I have space to really do them and the peace of a full reset. Henry helps me make a checklist after breakfast and I make him help too and the day feels satisfying beyond merely feeling productive. Chores recast as ritual.
Our Home Day almost always includes a walk to the library, and that too goes on the checklist. I’m not sure why I spent years not going to the library- maybe because Henry was rough on books or not yet interested in really reading? But now, he could read indefinitely, especially if it is a book featuring some form of public transportation. (We held onto this book until I feared we would destroy it.) There is such benefit in having a default outing, done so frequently that it loses the difficulty of Outings With Kids. The secret is in the details. We always get 6 books, because I’m not ready to keep up with more. Henry picks 2 Thomas the Tank Engine books and I pick 4 others. We have a devoted library tote bag. I have actually started reading again, after what seemed like an endless break for dissertation writing. I devoured the current two books in this series (totally silly, but made me think just a little of this book, one of my favorite reads), and just started this one. At home, we have a basket where only library books go and it sits next to the bed. Routine outings recast as ritual.
Sunday’s with kids- oh man. I have so many thoughts on this topic and will someday write more about it, but suffice to say that we have gone back and forth with so many schedule aspects since Henry was born to make Sunday’s happen. I have no doubt that the schedule we are enjoying now won’t last, as Etta will eventually change her nap schedule again. But for the moment, we have a really beautiful Sunday schedule that leaves us with a lengthy breakfast time. A couple months ago, we started making blueberry pancakes on Sunday’s, and only on Sunday’s. Henry asks for them often, but we always remind him that we do them on Sunday’s, before church, making happy family breakfast part of the greater matrix of positive associations that I want our children to have with the Sabbath. (When we are eating paleo, we use this mix, otherwise it is Bisquick with the special instructions followed because they are just better than any other homemade pancakes and I will FIGHT YOU ON THIS.) This de-facto Sunday breakfast also has the benefit of removing a decision from our lives. I do a lot of set weekend meals and they help us all take a deep breathe and think less for two days. Repetitive meals recast as ritual.
I know routines change, rituals lose some of their glamor. But taking a moment to consider the patterns in our life and the needs of my children and refashion them into something just a tad ceremonious has been so good for us all.
I love this. Good for you for recognizing the need to recast the (truly) overwhelming demands our tiny people place on us as doable and even cherished. I can take some lessons from this. As I’m sure you already have seen, toddlers and little kids love and CLING to the little rituals and traditions we create to order their lives. It’s the sweetest and I will miss it when they’re jaded teenagers! 😭
I love this idea, and all of the rituals you are establishing! 😊
Love the idea of rituals that work for your family! I know I am just an Internet stranger, but it sounds to me like you could be kinder to yourself. It’s not “unacceptable” to be grumpy, tired, and frazzled. That’s life sometimes, especially with kids. None of us are always in control of our emotions, and I feel that American society’s emphasis on always being happy, energetic, and selfless is to some extent unhealthy, causing a lot of people (but especially moms) to beat themselves up needlessly. The solution is not always to lean in and try harder, in my opinion — sometimes it’s just the opposite. As a recovering perfectionist and Type A person, this has not been easy for me. Of course, you’ve gotta find what works for you.
I love this. I so appreciate your perspective. I have a 6-month-old and really struggle on the days that I feel like i’m just reacting/treading water. Like you, I find that the SELF-CARE advice rings hollow. I don’t want to just recover more efficiently — I want to enjoy the day more. This feels hopeful.
You are finding your way through a demanding phase that will become a beautiful memory.
We just returned from Paris and Burgundy, and you were in my thoughts. Hang in there but don’t stop dreaming.