“If you do just one thing…” It’s a phrase I’ve taken great comfort in ever since reading the marvelous column about this in Real Simple magazine, back in the day when I was a devotee of the mag. At the time, it just really helped me to focus my swirling mental list of stuff that I was stressed about accomplishing, whether it be in the apartment, my social/family life, or at work, and usually, all of the above at once. I could grab one task out of the chaos, focus on it, finish it, and move on to the next one.
It was quite a transition to go from working woman to mother, and a stay at home mom, at that, especially because it happened quite suddenly in my case. Two and a half months after getting hitched, we learned that we were expecting. And within 2 weeks of that, I was on bed rest until our little honey was full term. Given my pre-term labor, all I could do was “nothing”. Except, that is, cerebrally prepare for motherhood. But for whatever reason, I seemed incapable of even mentally preparing for a baby, much less adapting gracefully to this sudden new stage in our life. I didn’t have that 7-9 month transition period to bid farewell to the working world, ease into marriage, and work out the logistics of welcoming new life. When a discerning friend later empathized, “you didn’t have the mental energy. You were exhausted even as you lay there.” I was greatly comforted because then suddenly what seemed like 7 months of slovenly-ness was clarified into a very simple state of letting my body rest so that we could have a healthy baby. Nothing more, but also nothing less.
But this conversation didn’t happen until after the story I’m telling. Back to the whiplash that seemed so dramatic in our first year of marriage: so it is that I found myself, when our daughter was a baby, often thinking to myself things like: “gee, what the heck do we DO with ourselves today?” “why is this such a tough question?”, “aren’t I a capable woman?”, “I sure don’t want to go back to work, but this whole mothering thing is not coming as naturally as it ‘should'” and, “oh man, I really hope I don’t go crazy today.” I wouldn’t classify this mental state as boredom so much as ignorance and doubt. I simply didn’t know how to be a mother, or at least I thought that I didn’t know.
Then one day, finally, I did the obvious thing. I don’t know what made me so dense before this! Rebecca was lying on the floor rolling around and exploring a dining chair leg, and I lied down next to her. She giggled. It was a new sound to me. She was delighted that I joined her. I internally said “aha”, and “holy cow what kind of looser takes 6 months to figure out that being a mom is connecting with her children?” And from then on, I decided that if I did just one thing each day, I would connect with my children. It has evolved slightly into two sub points: Make them laugh or laugh with them; and make an affection connection: looking them in the eye, agreeing with something they say, saying “I love you” and making sure they hear it, etc.
One day when our oldest was in the neighborhood of 2 years old, she was just having a really hard time. I remember some sort of cry-yelping and a desperate look on her face after naptime and before snack. All the sudden I said, also feeling desperate, do you want some ice? She nodded. I gave her ice. It was a random thought and it just sort of fell out of me before I realized what I was saying, but it was just exactly what she needed. She not only calmed immediately, but also seemed to grow in trust of me. She must have been teething but didn’t know it or know how to tell me, and I discerned it out of the blue. (Thank you, Holy Spirit!) That was an affection connection.
This has made a big difference – when I remember to do it! I’ve found that it focuses me and brings peace and joy to my children. If I have connected with each of my kids today, then it matters less that I haven’t cleaned the toilet. And as I think about it, it’s really a fantastic solution for a person like me who feels like a complete looser until something has been “done” in a day. We have this drive to accomplish everything, but know that we can be so focused on a task, that we neglect relationships. This one thing is something I can check off my list without feeling guilty, since it is, in some respect, a relationship goal!
Thank you for letting me share! Writing this out helps reinforce the habit.
Miss Mary Clare