What do you remember from your childhood? Tom Petty said, “I’m not really sure but it seems I remember the good times with just a little bit more in focus.” Do you? Or is it the trauma and difficulties that are really clear, remembering them in vivid detail? I am a visual learner but some hard things have made it really difficult to bring childhood images into focus. I remember really good trips to Disney which has made it my Happy Place ever since. My parents seemed to be different there. Away from their difficulties they could spend real time with us, distracted only by the magic. They smiled more, we laughed more. This is in sharp focus for me.
I also now realize, as an adult, how much they tried to keep from me. I know it was not appropriate for me to know most of it, but I felt it all. I am a highly sensitive person. Nature or nurture? Probably both. I felt a lot of things growing up and had very little training in how to deal with them. I think this is why I love Mr. Rogers' mission so much. Fred said, "“Anything that's human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.” I try to share what I can now with my teens. I know they can read me like a book. I wonder what memories will be in sharp focus for them. I think we as moms try very hard to engineer all these memories for our kids. I don’t know that older generations did it as much as we do.
Take for example, free play, I think (and am convinced by much research) that playtime is very formative for young brains and experimenting with your world is a good gift to give children of any age. Give and take in playtime is great for building relationships. We work so hard and often pay for structured playtime but I wonder if it is the best way. It seems this current pandemic and our long quarantine time has shown us what are the more necessary things. One thing I feel it has revealed is the need for the arts in our lives for restoration. I am willing to bet that you listened to music, watched a show or other broadcast of some live entertainment. If not, I am sure you did something creative. Designing your space differently or making something from scratch is creative and restorative. So if you have read this far you are probably waiting for me to get to the part about your newborn. Well, I do ramble but I also have a purpose for this topic. It is this, I want you to build joyful memories starting now. A big smile when you pick them up from a caregiver, no matter how your day was, is a start. Begin a bedtime song tradition with your newborn. Each of my three daughters had a song all through childhood, my 12 year old is the only one who allows me to still sing it. It is not a kids song. I sing a little piece of a Frankie Vallie song to her, “who loves you pretty baby, who’s gonna help you through the night, who loves you pretty (baby), who’s always there to make it right?” It became part of our bedtime routine and it was a comfort and a signal to get ready for sleep and something just between us. You don’t have to be a good singer, it can be a song most wouldn’t sing to a baby, or you can pick something other than a song. I have another thing I do with my middle daughter. It was really cute until Mother Gothel in Tangled did something similar and kinda ruined it for me. We then adapted it as my daughter got older and we still say it sometimes,
Me: “I love you.”
Middle Daughter: “I loved you first.”
Me: “Can’t be, I loved you the minute I knew I was having you.”
MD: “I loved you before that. You loved me first tech-nic-cally, but I loved you first for real-ly.”
And I let her win.
It just kind of grew from a game we played. You will find your own ways. As you change a diaper, maybe you sing, "Head, shoulders, knees and toes." And it makes the change a little easier because it is a distraction. Find the joy in the little moments and one day you will have a memory and so will your child of the fun things you did in the day to day. They will be a little more in focus and maybe the harder ones you could not orchestrate will be in the background. Maybe mask wearing and long days at home without friends will be in the background. But long uninterrupted time with mom or dad was a memory in sharp focus, when you had time to play and smile and laugh with them. Hang in there, I see you and your valiant efforts to take care of your children. It will bear fruit in time.
I watched an “old” movie last night. 27 Dresses. If you don’t know or recall the plot, here’s the quick version. Jane spends her life caring for everyone else. Primarily as a bridesmaid/ wedding planner, she thinks she has no needs of her own. She is holding out for the day when she gets married and every one of those 27 weddings she had been in would be reciprocated by her friends being that caring person for her. She realizes this is a problem through a reporter who is also the love interest. He sees her value in just being herself and she begins to show some assertiveness. However, since she has no experience doing this, self-care and getting her needs met stuff, she swings really far the other way, hurting people she loves.
Why am I telling you about this movie? What could this possibly have to do with a postpartum blog? Much in every way!
It has to do with my absence and it has to do with your showing up for your baby.
Let’s start with my long absence from blogging. I am Jane. Not in the wedding sense but in life. I spent a crap ton of time, at least 25 years, but possibly my whole life, people pleasing. I actually prided myself in the ability to make people like me. I could not fathom a person that I could not turn into a friend. Well, I was very good at it but at a cost to myself. A big cost. I would make sure I went above and beyond in everything I did. (Now I still do that professionally but I have learned my boundaries are important so it is healthy…I think?!?) I was authentic to a point but I could say something in a way that made it seem like I agreed with you but I really did not. Not good, very unhealthy.
So I did this for years in my marriage too. I tried very hard to have no needs. In a narcissistic marriage that is important. I gave all I had to make our life work. I asked for very little for myself. I advocated hard for my children but often lost and got manipulated. If you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, get counseling, seek others who can help you see the truth! Please! I waited too long and it cost me so much. Anyway, all that to say, I spent so much time and energy pulling for something that was not working because I was pulling alone. I am now divorced and recovering, it is a long road back up because it was a long road to the bottom of that relationship. The last year was spent in that process. Being a single mom of 3 young women, I had lots of work to do. Now that I am working from home and promoting my course and online coaching for moms, I have more time to write. I completed my course during our 3 month quarantine. I also had a daughter graduate and several birthdays. It has been a very full time period. Moms work so hard, you guys! I hope I can regain you as readers of my blog, if you are out of this stage in life, pass my site on to a friend. She needs support, just like you did. Maybe even more in this time of isolation.
Now, how does 27 Dresses have any thing to do with showing up for your baby? What did Jane forget? She did not remember how important it is to take care of yourself. I have met many moms who get so caught up in the day to day drudge that they do not even know what makes them feel good and cared for. Self-care and getting needs met is so important. When Jane finally realized her needs, she swung to the opposite end of the spectrum. Instead of caring for everyone else, she became self-righteous. She hurt people she cared about, some of her closest relationships. I have seen this time and again with people that love each other. The baby takes a lot of work and the baby care becomes a chore instead of a joy. Get the baby quiet so you can have time for… usually work, in my experience.
If you can be present with your baby when she needs you and when she doesn’t (nap, enjoying a bouncy seat or tummy time in a baby proof area) get what you need, a special drink, a phone call to an adult you love, a nap yourself. Oh it makes such a difference in how you show up in the relationship with your baby. If you have support people, losen your reigns a bit, ask for help tidying up, or doing laundry (if they wash a little different than you , its ok). Please, take a drive or walk alone for a breather. These times are hard already, in quarantine with your family can be even harder. Especially if you are not taking the time and joyful activities you need to get refreshed. Please make it a priority. You won’t swing so far in the other direction if you balance your needs with the needs of others before it gets bad.
Mommies, you are amazing. Keep doing your important job with joy! The future is counting on you.
Last time we talked about rest and what that would look like for a mom. There were four elements of Sabbath that my Pastor lined out, they were:
a)worship (which we discussed last time)
I told you in that post that I wanted to go out of order because I thought there was a hierarchy for moms. I still do but I feel that play and resting are equally valuable. So I must pick one to do next and I chose play. I choose that next because it really struck me as we were listening in church,
this is a key that modern moms are missing!
Pastor shared it like this, that we are told that the kingdom of heaven is filled with joy. Therefore, joy on Earth is a picture of eternity. My pastor then reminded us that CS Lewis had his Jesus character Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia, romp for joy after his resurrection scene. Did you lose your joy at the birth of your child? Are you so full of responsibility, as I am at times, that you forget the joy of being the mom of this little person? Does the work feel like drudgery and you forget to smile at your toddler? It happens. It does! But stop a minute. The dirty bottle will wait, (the dirty diaper might not, phew) but the housework definitely will. Smile, tickle, hug, play peekaboo, find something funny. Fake it 'til you make it but please do let down your guard, relax a bit and find the joy. You will! At bath-time, watch as your child marvels at the bubbles or put some on your chin and watch your toddler explode with laughter at the ridiculousness of it all.
True confession time. I had to stop playing Barbies with the girls, I had to find other things to play. I realized each time I was playing, I couldn't just let the prince climb the tower and get the princess. I had to ask, is this prince a Christian? Will he be saving his kiss for marriage? There was no silliness, no joy, just what I thought was moral teaching. And it was awful. And I was being ridiculous. I was much better at painting or doing a puzzle or other make believe play. I found that that was OK. The girls enjoyed time with me and we found other ways to giggle and romp that did not involve a serious teaching moment each second. Find your happy place with the older children. The best was often a dance party or blanket fort. So fun and easy to do quickly. Go with what makes you both joyful. Luke 11:32 to piggyback on yesterday, says “For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the kingdom.” I can't get my brain around that, but it does. Practicing kingdom rhythms makes God happy. Imagine how He must love it when we are being joyful with one another? That is amazing to think about.
I'm praying that you can leave your work behind a bit and change your mindset.
Besides what I just said about the restorative powers of playfulness, there is tons of research on the mental and emotional, cognitive and developmental benefits of play for children. If you are finding yourself worried about if your child is developing well or if you are easily swayed to the tiger mom camp, where you want everything your child does to give them the edge, I say two things, one, go back to the beginning of this series and see that this is just setting you both up for the culture of exhaustion and two, playing actually is the best thing you can do to foster good development in your child. Time to play. I know it can feel awkward at first. I really do. But if you let your child lead, the smile and light in their eyes will help you have confidence that you are doing the right thing. You will both feel refreshed and restored and Sabbath rested, no matter when it is.
A word about time. If you feel that if you open this door it will never end, you should remember that you are in control. You can say to a child, I need to finish this and then I can play for 20 minutes and then we will move on to quiet time, whatever has to happen. They may be upset at first but they will see that the play time is worth it, though it has to end.
Maybe play is painful for you. Maybe thinking of childhood is hurtful or someone took advantage of your playfulness and now it is connected to abuse. You are not alone. This is a broken world where that goes on. It is not what God planned for you but He can use that pain to bring healing and closeness to himself. Seek a guide, a christian counselor or therapist or a pastor who can help you through that or talk to a trusted friend. Don't miss out though. I have shared in the past that buried abuse can show up as you interact with your children. Your brain wants to protect your child and can call the trauma to mind. Use the memory to get to the bottom of things. I have and it has caused me to grow. HEAR ME: I am sorry that happened to you and it is not your fault.
I hope this week you find good ways to restore your soul and may sweet old-fashioned play be awakened in you. It is so good for you and it is huge for the life of your child. God intends for us to have joy. I hope we both can seek it as we practice Sabbath rest.
Paula is a single mother of 3. Follow along on her journeys of motherhood and her fulfilling work as a postpartum doula