Some days, it seems all I can do is screw up. I’m sure you know what those days are like: you wake with an overcast soul and no amount of sunshine can break the clouds apart. Since I became a mom, these types of days are extra hard because of the two little lives I am trying to guide. There are days when I feel like I keep piling mistake upon mistake and I wonder how my children are EVER going to become productive adults with someone like me showing them the ropes.
I had a day like that recently. As usual, I started to mentally beat myself up over it. The list began: I yell too much. I feed them junk. I don’t play on the floor with them enough. I’m not a good mom like other moms I know. I don’t listen to every thing my kids say. I don’t know how to make them be nice to each other. We don’t laugh enough. I lost my patience over homework and yelled again. I’m tired. And crabby. And if anyone says, “Mommy!” again, I might scream! And that’s just the beginning, y’all.
And then I heard a small voice suggest that maybe, just maybe, I do a few things right. I stopped right there and decided to erase the negative recording that was vomiting sewage all over brain, listing all the things I mess up. Instead, I made a list of the things I do right. Or at least try to do right for my babies.
I want to share these things with you. No, not to toot my own horn. And not to fish for compliments, in hopes that you’ll leave me a nice comment saying what a “wonderful mom” I am. STOP. THAT. I want to share these things because I think it takes a determined mental shift to pull yourself out of negative and into positive. I believe in silver linings, no matter how thin and frail they are. You’ll see that in this list, because sometimes I have to grasp at straws. I hope you read this list and it helps you reframe your mind to see the good even in some really dark and dreary days. And if you want to leave a comment? Please do – but make it about what YOU do well too!
1. When I enter a room to see my kids, I smile. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or after nap, I try to show them genuine joy in seeing their faces. Years ago, I read this in a book or magazine and decided to try it too. It helps them (and me!) know they are cherished.
2. On school days, I spend 10 or 15 minutes cuddling and laying beside Katie quietly. I believe the simple act of holding her in my arms gives her encouragement for the day. It helps focus my day too, and I get to hear random thoughts that float through her dozing mind.
3. After the kids are dressed, we sit at the top of the stairs and Start Our Day. We start with this prayer: “Dear Jesus, please come into my heart today. Thank you for loving me. Amen.” The prayer is important for inviting Jesus to do life with us each day. And then we look at each other and say, “Good morning. I love you. We’re going to have a GREAT day!” I heard that in a devotional at our former church. A bunch of women and I scoffed at it, but then I decided to start each day with that phrase and it has benefited us.
4. At our house, we stick to a routine. Yes, I get lots of grief over this and sometimes I wish my kids weren’t so routine-oriented because changing the routine (for example, at holiday time) can throw them into a tizzy. But keeping them in a routine (wake-dress-breakfast-activity-lunch-nap-play-dinner-bath-books-teeth-bed) keeps them calmer.
5. We limit TV viewing for the kids. They get a 30 minute show at night after their bath, if we have time.
6. We listen to music. Years ago, I remember seeing my friend Mary and her toddler singing Bob Marley. I thought that was cool and wondered how I could get my daughter to like mainstream music (that I like too!). So I just started to play “regular” music in the car and, behold! It worked! Jackson’s favorite song is Juke Box Hero. Katie’s favorite used to be a song by Josh Gracin. Now it’s whatever Taylor Swift is singing. The point is this: I love music, and my kids do too. I’ve also learned a sneaky trick: when I want the kids to learn something (the books of the Bible or the states, etc.), I find a song on iTunes and we listen to it and learn. Imagine that?!
7. We play outside. A LOT. If the weather is above 45 degrees, the kids are riding bikes down the street or playing in the back yard. I owe this all to Sheryl because she used to take her twin toddlers outside each evening back in the days when Katie was just learning to walk. I brought Katie outside to play, and we haven’t gone inside since. (Ha.)
8. We read. A LOT. We visit the library often and pick out books. We read those books before naps and bedtime. The kids bring books with them on almost every car ride. And just like the music tip, I’ve learned to make books like these that help the kids learn something specific (like the Lord’s Prayer or road signs or the makes and models of cars).
9. Just like we Start Our Day, we also end our day. There’s a bedtime story, one song from a mix CD of favorites, a prayer, then, like my sister and her children, we finish with this quote from the book Love You Forever: “I love you forever. I like you for always. As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.” The last word we say is “mizpah.” It’s also the last word we say when we part from each other for school or work.
10. Food: oh, this is an area with LOTS of negatives, but here are a few small positives: my kids can eat their body weight in fruit. When we go to McDonald’s, I bribe Jackson to eat chicken before I’ll allow apples. At the grocery store, he begs for watermelon and cantaloupe. They also beg for what I call “old people cereal.” You know, the bran kind? They would rather eat Cracklin’ Oat Bran or Oatmeal Squares than some more kid-friendly cereals. Another positive? My kids don’t like soda. They’ve rarely had it and when they did, they spit it out. So, there’s a great positive for you: my kids could live on watermelon, bran and milk. Yay for me.
11. We work really hard to protect our kids’ innocence. I research most movies prior to viewing. Even if it’s something I think Katie could handle developmentally, I will put my foot down if I think it’s not something she should be seeing at her age. I figure she has YEARS of being jaded and grown up, and only a few years of innocence when the world’s heartaches haven’t broken her yet. I want those years to last.
12. I’m hard-nosed about sleep schedules. We don’t skip naps unless we’re a) at Camp Grandma or b) uh… we just don’t. Bedtime is a strict 8:00. That’s partly because I need to be OFF the clock by then, but also because I read lots of books and attended a multitude of sleep classes when the kids were babies and heard from numerous experts that sleep deprivation is damaging. Kids’ bodies need sleep and deprivation of it can lead to slower learning skills, bad eating habits, emotional outbursts, etc. Honestly? I think sleep is so important that I’d rather feed my kids cake for breakfast than put them to bed after 8:00. But that’s just me.
13. Our kids have a lot of grandparental interaction. Thankfully, they have two surviving blood-related grandparents in town, and a few surrogates who have stepped up to the plate to represent my parents. And, thankfully, those in-town and out-of-town grandparents lovingly agree to spend their time and energy with our kids. (Not all grandparents do, you know.) Our in-town grandparents show up at school functions. They invite the kids to sleepovers at their house almost weekly. They take the kids to movies. And feed them junk food. And let them get away with things I won’t. I am grateful to them for the relief they give me and Dan, and also for their simple presence in Katie and Jackson’s lives. My grandparents weren’t like that, and I envy Katie and Jackson a little because of the great bond they have with their elders.
14. This is a heavy topic and hard to pinpoint, but modeling a healthy marriage is on my list of positives. This doesn’t mean Dan and I never fight. Or huff at each other. Or get snippy. But it does mean that we greet each other with joy when Dan gets home from work. And we talk to each other respectfully. And we remind our kids what a great parent the other parent is. We show our kids how to support someone. That wasn’t modeled for me as a child, and it has taken me YEARS (and a patient spouse) to reprogram my brain so I can relate to Dan respectfully and lovingly.
15. I’m trying to give my kids a spiritual life and education. Sometimes, this positive is borne out of a negative: they see me mess up and humbly ask forgiveness – from God and whomever I have wronged. Other times, this positive is brought about more intentionally with things like regular worship at church, saying grace, listening to Christian music in the car, watching me read my Bible and pray. I’d love for my kids to be blind to my faults, but I know if they can see God redeem brokenness and imperfection, they’ll be able to see His love for them too.
So, there you go. Again, please don’t think I’m tooting my own horn. Far from it, my friends! I am my own worst critic and – trust me – the list of negatives and I-shoulds and not enoughs is much longer than this list of positives. My mom used to have this quote posted in her kitchen: “Nothing is all wrong. Even a clock that has stopped is right twice a day.” I’m hoping that my list will give you all the courage to extend grace to yourselves, like I’m trying to do too.