The Learning Curve

My Mom came to visit me my SOPHOMORE year of college, 2nd semester. She was being a sweetie and offered to do my laundry. After getting started, she came into where I was studying and said, "Honey, where is your laundry detergent?" To which I rolled my eyes and replied, "That's it right there, in your hand!"
"Um, no. This is fabric softener," said All-Knowing-Mama.
I had been washing my clothes for a loooooong time using fabric softener.

Blonde, blonde, blonde. 

I bet some of you have made mistakes like this in your domestic career, but for me, this is totally an indicator of my life in general

These last four years, I have so, SO struggled to figure out how to actually be a stay-at-home mom. 

Now let's be clear, it's totally different for each person, everyone has their methods, and a different priority list. But there definitely are a few things we all are challenged with daily. THE laundry. Cooking/Preparing meals. Some degree of housework. Making and keeping a schedule. Parenting children. Working on our marriage. I count myself lucky to share these duties with my hubby (even though "a few" of these things cause us to argue, a lot!) I would say though absolutely nothing on this list comes natural to me, arises out of any kind of gifting, or is something I would chose to do in my free time. Most of them I am looking at my head and wondering, why did I not go to college for any of THIS?!

Most of my life revolves around things that I am not good at, and am not well-trained in. I love my mom so much but I almost never listened to her growing up (I was the stubborn, slightly rebellious child) and any lessons on "adulting" she tried to give me went in one ear and out the other,

Needless to say, my first few years staying home were confusingly miserable. 

I thought I would love not going to work every day-- I can totally relate to the author of Meternity-- it looked like moms had it so much easier than everyone else! But instead, I felt overwhelmed by the amount of things there were to do in my home. Rather than dealing with any of it, the kids and I would leave! Every day! As soon as I could get them dressed and out the door, we busied ourselves with attending Bible Studies, playdates, library story times, running errands, then to return home for a nap, wake up mid-afternoon and go out to do the same again! Most days we had 2-3 set plans. It was serious madness. I ran those little ones ragged. I started blogging and ran an in home business. It took me over a year to figure out I was making myself and them miserable. That year (it was when Emmy was 2 and Mack was 1) my husband worked out of town so I would rush to clean the house Friday afternoon before he came home. I usually didn't finish in time, and would spend the rest of the weekend frustrated with everyone for not pulling their weight (umm, he was on the road 90% of the time and my children were totally incapable!).

Faithful readers who have been with me since my blog beginnings, all 4 of you, might remember this post where I documented how I dressed my kids in their clothes for the next day, the night before. This was that season of life! 

Unless you were taught how to run a home (and were receptive to it!), a lot of us can feel lost these first few years of motherhood. God bless the working mamas. I'm sorry but this post barely applies to you because you have less fluid time than the rest of us, I don't know how you do it and I send you all the love and hugs! 

If you stay at home with your child or children, these are some things that have helped me grow into my role. I would have told you two years ago that I hated being a stay-at-home mom, that I loved my kids to death, but every chance I had to work outside the home I took it. I went to several job interviews but each time, God made it clear (um, I never got the job) that home is where I'm called for now. I just couldn't stand the fact that I spent my whole day doing things I wasn't good at-- especially after having gone to grad school and had a career that was deeply satisfying. Oh the self-righteousness-- thankfully the people in my life have been patient with me.

1. Ask the other mama's.

I had one friend who asked everyone she knew what their laundry system was. It cracked me up. I didn't get what the big deal was (I had one kid at the time, and my laundry method was "buy more underwear"). Every time we were at a Bible study, or having a group play date, there she was again asking everyone how they tackle all them dirty clothes. But you know what, now I think back to all those girls' answers and apply their ideas myself.

I really learned most of what I know from watching and asking my friends. When we had Emmy, we were in a great community of young families and there were a few women that I leeched myself onto. I loved being in their homes, listening to them talk to their kids and husbands, and gleaning the advice they offered. I also attached myself (such a parasite!) to some older women who had already raised their kids. I loved hearing their wisdom and perspective on God, family, and marriage and my early days parenting were truly blessed by their influence (and offers to baby-sit).
My dearest friend Susan visiting us and loving on my kids

2. Be Honest with your Struggles

The best thing I did for my other mama relationships was read the book Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Melton Doyle. I don't agree with everything she says theologically, but how boring is that to only read people you agree with! Glennon truly taught me how to be vulnerable in my relationships.
Having a total fan-girl moment meeting Glennon at the Storyline Conference!
Nothing has given me greater depth in my friendships than learning how to tell people when I'm struggling, and to be honest about my ACTUAL LIFE, not just the one I want people to see on the outside or on social media (barf!)

Life is lonely enough. I got to a point where I couldn't bear one more playdate or conversation with a girlfriend where I pretended like I was doing great and loving life when in reality I was feeling super overwhelmed by my two young children, isolated and friendless in a new town, probably experiencing postpartum depression, and had some legit struggles in my marriage. I am so thankful for the friendships that came my way when I started sharing who I really was and the hurt I was experiencing. I couldn't believe how many other women felt the same way I did-- here I had been so in the dark thinking everyone else's life was perfect except for mine! There really isn't room in my life anymore for surface relationships because the deep ones I have are much better! (And more time consuming, all that drama being shared!) 

3. Trial and Error

Thankfully, we have figured out several things that work for our family. I am actually now glad(ish) for those long, hard days where I felt lost and clueless because they pushed me to get sick of the chaos and find some structure that works for us. Mostly I would hire literally everything out, from cleaning my house, to having the laundry done, and even get a sitter a few times a week. We do get our house cleaned before we have company come (almost once a month), and I do get a sitter when I'm feeling a little cray or need to go to the post office (worst. errand. ever) but mostly I try to do things myself. The real sanity killer is that we don't have places in our town to get food delivery or take-out so that is my biggest hurdle to conquer right now (first world problems). Here are a few things that have helped us!

- Meal plan, meal plan, meal plan. I would rather chew my arm off than take 3 kids to the grocery store more than once a week. We eat out on weekends and for lunch if we're out during the week.

-Wash and dry a load of laundry every day. This is wacko but I don't fold any of it until Friday because I just can't even. So all the clean laundry builds up in baskets and then Friday, I sit and the kids help me and we fold and put it all away in one swoop.

-Only go two places a day. This is a hard and fast rule. Gosh if we try to go more than 2 places a day everybody suffers! So it's typically, Target + the dr.'s office, Target + fast food, Target + the gym, Target + the pool... you get the idea.

- Have the kids help you. Mine empty the dishwasher and put away their laundry now. They are also responsible for picking up their toys, making their beds, clearing off the table after each meal, and putting all their dirty laundry in the laundry room. In theory people, all in theory...

-I have 2 nights a week where I do not care. I do not even care one bit if there are dirty dishes in the sink and a diaper on the floor. Whatever about the hundred socks laying everywhere from next to the TV to beside the toilet. I make no apologies about the crafts all over the table and the toys laying around the front lawn. Honestly, this sucks the next morning when I wake up (I am energized when I wake up to a clean house!) but it is helpful during this season of life to literally let myself off the hook and say, "Okay, today it looks bad, real bad, but now is time for snacking and Netflix, we will deal with this tomorrowish."

-Ask for help- Most nights my hubby gets home after the kids are in bed but I love to bombard him with hugs, kisses, dinner, and a few requests. Since it's summer and his hours are longer, it's usually just one request and none if he walks in looking like he's been in the coal mines all day.
This is "Summer Mike" not to be confused with his chubbier, paler version "Winter Mike" outdoor work can really take a toll!
We are big on the philosophy that this is OUR home, OUR kids, OUR mess, that his job is OUR provision and we seek to lighten each other's load whenever possible (again, totally in theory!) After really struggling through this area, --gosh, a whole entire blog post-- every day for a year could be written on this-- a friend told me her husband asks what she needs every night when he gets home. Because it's always different! *He did not come up with this on his own, it came upon him via a counselor! Not that our husbands are incapable idiots but some are just in more need of suggestions than others.*  So before he settles in and relaxes after his long day, he puts the toddler to bed, does the dishes, folds a load of laundry, whatever the need of the hour is. Mike keeps forgetting that this is our new arrangement but don't worry, I remind him!

4. Learn your Kids

I thought that keeping my kids in the house was like prepping all day for a cage fight. I also thought I would actually die, and pictured myself miserably walking from room to room looking comatose, folding and dusting things as I went. False! My kids love it. They are truly happiest when we are not busy or rushing. I used to be able to only stay home one day at a time. The next day we would need an activity on the calendar. Now I can stay home for days on ends, actually never leaving the house. We save money on gas and our neighbors worry about us so much! We are like zombies running around the yard in pajamas (I still have on my swimsuit from yesterday under my clothes) and very rarely bathe. But my kids really do love being home, even if they get a little feisty, and it gives me a bigger margin to sit and spend time with them, being a more engaged mom.
Staying home all day can lead to cute, impromptu moments like this one! My mini-me!
A book that has really helped me connect with my kiddo's (I'm 100% sure I've mentioned this before) is the Love Languages for Kids. I know that if I have 10 minutes, Emmy needs to have me do a craft with her (quality time) and Mack needs to sit on my lap (physical touch). Archer's emotional needs go widely unmet during this season but I make up for it with a ridiculously long bedtime routine where we sit forehead-to-forehead for 20 minutes plus, giggling and staring into each other's eyes. Because, Archie!

5. Learn yourself

I am so much more productive in the mornings! If I keep moving once I wake up (no easy task! this actually happens about once every 2-3 weeks!) and go straight from the bed to unload the dishwasher, start a load of laundry, and brush my teeth, all before sitting down and checking my e-mail or watching the Today Show, the trajectory of my day is entirely more productive. I learned this one from other mamas, and Freshman Physics-- it's Newton's Law of Motion, people.  

I also am a people pleaser 101 so 'ish gets real the last hour of the day before the hubby gets home. He has a long commute so as soon as I hear from him, I see the house through HIS eyes and think to myself, omg he will walk in and call 9-1-1 if he doesn't hear us right away because it looks like this house has been ransacked by a mob of vandals! I spend that last hour cleaning up our two main rooms-- open concept living, so hot right now, can make your entire house look like a disaster or a photoshoot for Better Home & Gardens depending on if that eating/living area is clean or not! Clean this area, and call it good for the day!

6. Grace, grace, grace

There are some seasons of life that are super hard and you are going to fail way more than you succeed in managing your personal, domestic, and family life. This comes from Miss-Moves-A-Lot. Times of transition are hard. Duh. Also, I really struggle postpartum so I am constantly walking around and telling myself, "You just had a baby. It will not be like this forever. This is just a season." I am constantly seeking grace and the daily reminder that my worth is not defined by how my kids act, what my home looks like, and how many things I get done in a day. 

Thankfully I have had a glimpse of how things get easier as your kids get older, when Emmy and Mack were 2 and 3, we had a golden six months where I had energy, slept through the night, and felt like I could keep up with the house before we got pregnant again and hit a big ole' RESET on the whole system. But God gives me reminders every day how sweet this season is and how quickly it is passing me by. 

On days where I am in my head and being too hard on myself, I will call another mama to vent and hear that empathetic "me too,"remembering I'm not alone. My husband can be super affirming in this area (when he is not complaining that the handles on all our appliances are "disgusting") and if I tell him I am feeling discouraged, he is quick to offer me grace as well. 

The best giver of Grace is Jesus Himself who tells us: "'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." 2 Corinthians 12:9 

SO glad that I can follow a God who not only reminds me I am not SUPPOSED to be perfect, that rather I am to boast in being weak so I can seek all the strength he has to give.

Cheers for a more hopeful week to all and may we not hope in perfectly clean counters or well-entertained kids! Or just look to this e-card for some healthy inspiration:

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