Ok picture this: you’ve been hiking all day and most of the night before. You’re tired, your legs hurt, and you haven’t made nearly as much progress that day as you would have liked due to a rainstorm and some unexpected rock slides that forced you to bushwhack around parts of the trail. At one point you reached a vertical rock wall that you managed to scale with some decent footholds and a lot of careful concentration, achieved in spite of some angry bird rivals yelling at you the entire time. You finally found a good spot to rest, drank some water, ate some trail mix, and are about to sit and enjoy the view when you remember your map. The trail gets tricky up ahead, and you’ll need the map to navigate. Unfortunately…the map is two miles back. Below the rock wall. Where you left it when you pulled it out of your pack to find bug spray on account of the million mosquitoes following you around. *sigh* No point in freaking out. Just drag your butt off the ground and go back to get it.
Every analogy breaks down somewhere, but what I’m getting at is this: physical exhaustion combined with mental exhaustion creates major challenges. In other words, raising small children, for all its beauty, can leave us feeling all around wiped out some days, especially in the mental category. The constancy of caring for little ones while trying to accomplish other normal daily tasks can be quite a feat. Talking with a toddler all day, refereeing sibling arguments, disciplining, dealing with a crying baby, etc all while trying to guide their little hearts, have fun with them, make sure they eat decent meals, teach them kindness, and so on can take a real toll on our mental stamina. Some days are pretty even-keel, others leave you feeling like someone handed you a priceless treasure in one hand, tied the other hand behind your back and sent you on an obstacle course with angry geese nipping at your heels.
The mental exhaustion that comes with raising small children is a daily occurrence to at least some level. It can take a lot of effort to keep good perspective and not be easily frustrated in the midst of the day-to-day. Here are some things I’ve found to be extremely helpful:
1. Take a few minutes alone. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, put the baby in a safe place, make sure any other children are appropriately occupied, go to your room or some other sanctuary spot (I know of one woman who liked to sit in her closet), shut the door, and decompress. Breathe deeply, remind yourself that you can do this, that your children are precious gifts, and that it’s ok if the laundry doesn’t all get folded today. Take a minute to pray, remind yourself of truth, or just sit quietly. Even a short time alone can work wonders on your mental stamina.
2. Go outside. Take advantage of strollers, backpacks, etc to keep babies and toddlers confined and get everyone outside for a walk, or go to a park where the kids can play while you sit in the fresh air and read, call a friend, or otherwise rest your mind. I’m convinced we were created to be positively affected by the outdoors. I’m always amazed how much more peaceful and rested my mind is when I’ve enjoyed being outside for even just a little while. Sometimes a walk to the mailbox while the kids play is all it takes.
3. Listen to music. Music is extremely powerful in adjusting our mental state for better or worse. Find music that relaxes your mind and sets it on a positive course, and play it throughout the house. It can help your children calm down too!
4. Have things to look forward to. Plan daily and bigger “events” that you can be excited for. This can be anything from reading a book during the kids’ naptime, to meeting up with a friend, to going on a date with your husband, to watching one of your favorite movies, to eating a bowl of your secret stash of cereal after the kids have gone to bed, to you name it. Having things you can look forward to, both big and small, goes a long way in keeping your mind upbeat and well-directed.
The trail of child-rearing isn’t an easy one! Take care of your mind, reset when needed, and keep on hiking. A few rocks and setbacks ain’t got nothin’ on you!