There was once a time when I equated how much you cram into each day with how good of a stay at home mom you were. Being home with your kids is your job, so therefore to be good at your job, you must have lots to show for each day. I wanted our daughter to start swim class as early as they allowed her. I never wanted to miss a Story Time at the library. Every day had to have outings. Between the museum or classes or play dates or errands or playgrounds or pet stores or open gyms or splash parks or dog parks – we were busy. So I was a good stay at home mom.
Until I wasn’t.
When my sweet little sidekick turned eleven months old we found out she would be blessed with a younger sibling. The further into the pregnancy I got, the more exhausted I became. My back was giving out on me. My hips were giving out on me. And the frustration I felt from not being able to stay at my daughter’s daily pace slowly ate me alive. I felt like I was failing her but couldn’t do anything about it. I was forced to learn to slow down. I was forced to stay in some days. For the whole day. Frequently. I was forced to find new adventures in or close to our home and to reinvent toys that were already in her playroom.
We eventually moved from a pregnancy induced slow down to a “I have a newborn and a toddler” slow down. From there, it moved to a “it’s way too fricking cold out” slow down. Helloooo, Michigan winters. Then one day I read a normal weekly schedule of a fellow mom friend and was quickly reminded of the busier lifestyle we used to grind out once upon a time. Except this time, I no longer felt like I was a bad stay at home mom. When I really paused to reflect on these “slow downs” that used to annoy me to no end, I began to notice something…
We no longer rushed through breakfast. We would take time to make a good breakfast together, sit down, and enjoy it. No more, “You need to hurry and finish up, please!”.
Getting myself ready in the morning wasn’t met with resentment. It used to be I either woke up at 5:30 a.m. for a little alone time, or I would get easily irritated with Tayler as she was somehow always in my way. Now instead of getting up at 5:30 I pull Harrison into bed with me and cuddle him till both kids wake up. Now instead of fighting Tayler to let me get ready, I let her join me and she puts on my blush and lipstick.
I had time to actually play with the kids in the morning. It wasn’t rush to make breakfast, rush to make them eat it, rush to get diapers changed, snacks packed, bags organized, dogs let out, and car ready. If things weren’t rushed, we would never get out the door in time to do stuff before it was time to come back for nap time.
I had more me time, which made me a better mom. If we had more time at home where I was engaged with the kids, I felt less guilty letting them play independently and take some time to do things for myself. Maybe get in a workout as I watched them play. Sit and write a few of thoughts that were playing on repeat in my head. Catching up a little on the previous day’s Ellen. A little me time made me feel better about myself. Happy and healthy mom, happy and healthy kids.
I was more present. We started making a lot of fun activities and crafts together. Playing with her farm animals could go on for hours and it was OK. If our play took us in a new direction, we were able to explore it. I had more time to be there, in the moment, and be her partner in crime.
We had a little down time and a little boredom. Kids don’t need to be stimulated 24/7. And like adults, they need some down time to recharge. I didn’t feel guilty about watching a movie every now and then. They were filled with playing with each other’s hair, snuggling tight, and enjoying being in each other’s arms. She is the BEST, most affectionate snuggler. Every now and then we’d get bored. There’s beauty in boredom, though. It fuels creativity and her independent play broadened.
Outings began to feel exciting again, and a lot less like a chore. That feeling of monotony was replaced by the lost feeling of fun spontaneity. If we went out, it was because we really wanted to. Not because I felt like we had to. It had been awhile since we’d been to our giant pet store, and it was like seeing the animals new again.
I was more patient. I let her put on her own shoes. Even if it took 45 minutes. I let her help pick out her clothes in the morning instead of me quickly grabbing something. I would willingly fulfill her “1,000 hugs before 9 a.m.” quota without getting frustrated. My words were more deliberate, my tone stayed more calm, and I said “yes” a hell of a lot more than I said “no, not right now”.
I started to become what I now know is a better mom. Every mom has different levels of “busyness” that works for her. Some are genuinely more content and happy with a full schedule. Some thrive off daily engagements. Some thrive off some. And some thrive off none. For the first time I had begun to realize that THIS was the level of busyness that made ME the best version of a mom I could be. Once I got over thinking we had to have a long list of extra curricular activities to learn and thrive, we began to really learn and thrive.
Please don’t misunderstand; we aren’t hermits. We still go the museum. We still run errands. We still go to the library. We still have play dates. And fingers crossed for a Story Time reappearance next week. I just don’t let it all consume us. If we are having a bad morning, I no longer force us to leave anyway and then get frustrated when it ends in a public tantrum. I’ll whip up a fort, play Frozen (again), and snuggle the bad moods out of all of us.
Whatever level of busyness you operate best at, don’t be scared to live there. In no way, shape, or form does it have any equivalency to the quality of mother you are.