The Challenge of Being a Mom of Many (When I Need Breathing Room)

The Challenge of Being a Mom of Many (when I need breathing room) // jessconnell.com

This might be the hardest part (for me) of having a big family.

It’s the part I didn’t really expect, because, prior to having kids, I always saw myself as an extrovert. A quite marked extrovert. Not only that, but I always liked being around kids. Loved it, in fact. Playing, wrestling, tickling, laughing, snuggling down to read a book, silly names… it’s not overstating it to say I was a killer, super-fun babysitter, back in the day.

So to (semi-regularly) find myself in the position of wanting to hunker down under the covers and hide… not just from my children, but from the world… has come as a surprise.

THE URGE TO HIDE

It comes on very suddenly. I feel overwhelmed. Panicky, almost.

Like I can’t.

How, I’ll ask myself in my overdramatic-angry-inner-voice, am I supposed to deal with THIS?

[The “this” changes, by the way. Sometimes it’s an absurdly-messy kitchen floor, a snarky teenage response that catches me off guard, an 18-month-old who just threw up down the fabric-mesh side of the pack and play, finding out that that basement that they said was “clean” yesterday is actually one step away from a Hoarders episode. That kind of “this.”]

What I want to do is HIDE.

RUN.

Let someone else deal with it. Make it stop. Yell. Belittle.

Whatever I have to do… to just NOT have to deal with it…

… but what I end up doing, most often, (well, sometimes I yell.)… but after I blow that short-fuse of yelling, what I mostly end up doing is dealing with it.

  • Call everyone to the kitchen and ask everyone to pitch in and “take 4 things that don’t belong on this floor and put them where they DO belong.” Then “so-and-so please grab the broom.” And “so-and-so, will you please go over to the shoe area and make sense of it?” and on and on. In the end, when I opt for this response, we work together on the problem that seemed impossible. And the problem that seemed impossible gets handled.
  • Or (maybe after blowing a gasket), I point out to the teen  why what he said was disrespectful, or wrong, and ask him to please rephrase it. And then he does, and I try to cultivate a heart that forgives fully and (heaven help me please help me) really LOVES him — ala 1 Corinthians 13 — without keeping a record of wrongs, and we move on with our day.
  • Or, someone (I don’t know who; it’s a blur in the corner of my eye) grabs some paper towels and I hold the still-puking toddler while he gurgles out the nastiest curdle-ish throw up I’ve ever seen, and someone else bolts for the clorox wipes, and my daughter holds out the grocery bag while I get the sleeper off of him and deposit it inside the bag, and somehow, despite being pregnant and about to gag the whole time, bit by bit, I get that nasty mess wiped up, and someone else gets the radioactive grocery-bagged sleeper into the wash, and someone else draws the bath water, and someone else throws out the garbage as soon as it’s all collected in there. Soon, the throw up is just a bad memory and a new prayer request (Lord, please don’t let anyone else get it.) <—- that’s one He truly answered… hooray!
  • Or, sometimes it gets “handled” by me texting my husband “I can’t even deal with the basement” and calling him in for back-up at the day’s end. Yes, sometimes I do this. I need my husband to run defense sometimes when I am past my limit. And so he gets home at night, and steps in and coaches the kids, bit by bit, team by team, toy set by toy set, area by area, to clean the basement as it ought to have been done the night before. And maybe that’s when I hide under the covers, or go to the grocery store, or just get away from it. Because, maybe that day, I’m truly past what I can take.

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MY FIRST RESPONSE HAS TO BE “DO THE NEXT THING”

For the most part, as a large family mom, the first response is to get the needful things done. Our kids need (and we need) faithfulness over the long haul. We need to be women who “do not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season, we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

That means that, in the short term, I need to (if at all possible) do the faithful thing that needs to be done.

  • The disobedient kid still needs to be disciplined.
  • The throw up needs to be cleaned up and the floor needs to be sanitized.
  • The math lesson needs to get done.
  • The bedtime routine still needs to happen.

[I *do* cut out the unnecessary, by the way. If I hit a moment of extreme overwhelm, I don’t make an elaborate dinner (even if it’s on the meal plan), or necessarily tackle the messy basement right then.]

For the most part, though, there are typically needful things that need to be done in that moment. And I’ve found that God helps me get those things that need to be done, done.
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But THEN… the next thing I do is this:

START LOOKING FOR OPPORTUNITIES TO BUILD IN MORE MARGIN & SANITY

Because here’s the deal…

I just read this article that started out talking about how the first few weeks of September are “bliss” for moms because the kids are packed off to school and you have 6 “glorious” hours each day to do the things that nurture your soul.

Nope. Not for us homeschooling moms over here.

September is the exact opposite for us. It’s the time we LOSE those beloved summer mornings, with the kids blissfully entertaining themselves and playing non-stop.

But you know what?

I wouldn’t change that for the world. I don’t want my kids to go away. I like them right here. I just need to build my life in such a way that I can *remember* that I like it.

And as the primary person in charge of the daily things in our home, that job is up to me. So… I start hunting around… considering, and asking myself (and occasionally discussing with my husband):

img_4701Where in our homeschooling morning, and in my life in general, can I build in some pressure-release valve moments? 

  • Do we need to make ourselves immediately stop and pray more? (Even if, initially, I have to grit my teeth and feel like a fraud because the last thing I feel like doing when I’m angry is stopping to pray?)
  • Could I have the kids do a 5-minute “sprint around the house” (literal or figurative– i.e., “go pick up 4 things that don’t belong where they are in the dining room, and put them where they belong.”) while I get another cup of coffee, read a quick devotional, fire off a text to a friend, or do something else that will help me regulate the building stress of non-stop questions/reading/parenting-while-schooling?
  • Do I need to be more diligent about my Bible reading and personal spiritual evaluation?
  • Do I need more coffee? Less coffee?
  • More food? Less food?
  • Could there be a lunch rotation where the kids could handle prepping an easy lunch (we’re talking: homemade lunchables, or simple sandwiches?) while I do something personally restorative? (Snag a bath, pop in my earbuds and listen to a podcast, eat a meal that suits my health goals, exercise?)
  • img_5711Should I take a nap this afternoon (or *most* afternoons?) with the 3-year-old?
  • Do I need to scrub the sink and take my frustrations out on IT, rather than on a child?
  • Do I need to ask my husband to help me figure out a way to take a “night off?” (Perhaps, even, on a semi-regular basis? One friend, during a particularly stressful season, worked out a once-a-week Saturday “morning off” routine with her husband.)
  • Should I be reorganizing the kids’ chores, so they’re taking on more responsibility?
  • Can we do a simpler meal plan?
  • Do I need to consider a different/less mom-intensive homeschool plan?
  • Is there something I need to cut out? (Too many commitments? Too much running and time in the car?)
  • Is there something I need to add in? (a ladies’ group? a once-a-week call with someone who is life-giving?)
  • Any other ways I can find to add breathing room to life?

When I start asking myself questions like this, I feel LESS like running and hiding, and MORE like I’m taking responsibility for my life, and being a good steward of this heart, body, and mind.

 

IN THE COMMENTS: What about you?

How do you deal with the urge to run and hide? 

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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15 Responses

  1. Shannon says:

    Needed this today!
    I blew it yesterday and need a fresh start today & maybe more coffee! Lol! I get it because I’m an extrovert with 5 kids , but most days I would like to hide to! Thank you for posting!!!!

  2. Charisa says:

    This is so timely for me! This is my first year homeschooling multiple kids and I’m feeling it. BUT — this: “I don’t want my kids to go away. I like them right here. I just need to build my life in such a way that I can *remember* that I like it.” It’s so true for me! I really appreciate the practical suggestions and good questions to be asking myself. I’ve started walking/running two mornings a week, but at this point it’s work. I’m not yet at the point of leisure! I really like the idea of adding in – especially a life-giving weekly phone call. Just the thought of it is life-giving! :)

  3. Charisa says:

    P.S. I’m glad you’re back online. You’re posts are one of those things that feed and challenge me.

  4. Chrysta says:

    I needed this today! My primary nemesis is laundry. Half of my kids are in a Christian school with uniforms, so I have a never ending mountain of khakis to wash. Every day.
    Thank you for the reminder that my relationship with the Lord is the key. I find it easy to fall into the trap of looking first for a new way to organize our lives. (The mess always comes back!)

    I look forward to following your blog!

    • Jess Connell says:

      It’s so true– we want a way to CONTROL the crazy… and while there probably *are* practical solutions we can implement to help, ultimately, that’s not where our hope can rest.

      I’ve seen it so many times in my heart: when CONTROL = my answer, I turn to it more and more and get angrier and angrier and it can not ultimately deliver what I want.

      But when I look to God to be what I need, He might lead me to take on some organizational tasks, but He’ll ultimately be my Guide and give me the strength I need, and He’ll get the glory from it.

      When CONTROL & CONQUER is my answer, I end up getting glory… and Marie Kondo gets some glory… but God? Not so much.

      And… by the way…. in this entire comment, I AM PREACHING AT ME. I need to take this one to heart so so deeply.

  5. Diana says:

    I can agree with all of this! And I’m a complete introvert who does not naturally take to children and was a rotten babysitter – motherhood has been QUITE the shock. The “must hide NOW” feeling is quite familiar! :)

    • KB says:

      This is ME exactly too! Its been a hard adjustment being a mom for these two reasons! Glad to know someone else is like this?

      I take a shower or go in my room for a few minutes to gather myself when I’m at the point of wanting to hide. Or I go and write out verses from my Bible (I have two different notebooks where I’m copying two different books of the Bible in cursive..great way to learn the Bible and writing it in cursive makes me go slow and think more of what its saying). Bringing in the Bible makes you realize “oh, I forgot about the Lord in all this!”

      • KB says:

        By the way, thank you so much for your honesty Jess! It’s not often that blog authors post the reality of being a homeschool mom or even just a mom in general! I get so much more out when someone is real and not acting all perfect!!?

  6. Katie S says:

    We just added kid number three, so it feels like a lot compared to the norm for the past couple of years. We’re doing our first year of school at home with our oldest (pretty low-key, but still new for us). Lastly, we had plenty of space when we moved to this home with one kiddo, but we really are a bit cramped now. I do love being home with the kids, but all of these things combined sometimes make me want to hide from it all too.

    We’ve had success with many of the things you mentioned, Jess. We keep food pretty simple; we often stop and everyone helps tidy when things get out-of-hand (so, twice a day); I’m increasingly aware of how much a lazy devotional time negatively impacts the day. Getting out for weekly women’s Bible study evening is huge for me.

    There are two other things we’ve begun lately that have added extra margin. First, we’ve semi-outsourced some things: I’ll order groceries or other supplies we need online and my husband will pick them up on his way home, or the kids and I will make a quick stop if we are in town anyway. We are much better served using the time we’d have spent in-store for reading or playing outside or having dinner quiet time.

    Second, and still very much in-progress, is a major decluttering effort. We’re getting rid of things we don’t need so we have room for the things we do, and so we spend less time shuffling it all. One silly example is that we had two paring knives I liked and four more that I didn’t. But if there favorites were dirty, I’d use the unloved ones rather than washing the others while prepping a snack – at the end of the day I’d have half a dozen cluttering the dirty stack. Now we just have the two, both my dirty and clean piles are a little less daunting. We’re working to apply the concept of having fewer, but well-liked and functional, things elsewhere: dishes, clothing, blankets/bedding…eventually the toys. Just getting started has been a relief.

    • Jess Connell says:

      I have a friend who does all her grocery shopping online and LOVES it. What a neat, modern option it is for overwhelmed mamas!

      I am *RIGHT THERE WITH YOU* in the decluttering thing. Going on our backpacking trip really showed me a lot about how freeing it is to not have so many options. This is a major mental focus for me right now.

      Thanks for sharing!
      Jess

  7. Catie says:

    I’m pregnant with our fourth! Hooray! And I’m also very much an extrovert (ENFJ), but, I feel ya, sister! I loved this post. I really appreciate your honesty. It’s SOOO easy to think that every other mom has it all together and that I should too! But, we all need Jesus!

    I have a friend with twice the children I have, and we sometimes talk about the fact that if you have “a lot” of children (relatively speaking), it’s easy to feel like you can’t share your struggles! Because “you’ve done this to yourself”, you know? Do you ever feel that way?

    Anyway, I love (and have always loved) your blog.

    • Jess Connell says:

      Woohoo for baby #4 — congrats!

      AND YES… I have totally felt that way, many times over. Like you’re not allowed to be weak or needy, EVER, because “you chose this. Duh! Use some birth control already.”

      But the truth is… moms of 2 are overwhelmed too. Moms of 1 get overwhelmed. Moms with a completely empty nest get overwhelmed. And yes, moms of 3-going-on-4, or moms of 7-going-on-8 get overwhelmed too.

      It’s OK for all of us to be broken, needy people, and I’m DONE with the idea that I can’t say so just because I “chose” this many kids… or just because I’m a pastor’s wife… or just because we “chose” to move away from family, or whatever.

      God ordains our lives. He is sovereign and good. And we are messy, broken people who need Him.

      I need to remember this every minute.

  8. Danielle says:

    We just added another little one, so this post is perfect. Learning to let go and cut things out that are not bringing joy has been crucial lately to my time management. Thank you for your timely post :)

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