This is a three-part post in one. There are so many tips and ideas packed in here! I’m sharing the tired struggles of being a stay at home mom, 15 specific ways to battle mommy burnout and my best, simplified discipline advice. There is also a benefit to being a mom that you have probably never thought of. I can’t wait to tell you what it is!
I’ve been tired. More mentally than physically. For seven years I have stayed home with kids. For six of them in a row I have changed diapers. Every day looks a lot like the one before. Dirty dishes pile beside the sink. All the couch cushions are scattered on the floor from a previous fort. We need to go to the grocery store, but I don’t want to take the kids. Surely we can make it one more day. I’m wearing the same leggings and t-shirt I wore yesterday. How many days in a row can you use dry shampoo? One is throwing a temper tantrum because his brother took his toy that he “had first.” One is crying because she can’t get her princess dress off. Batman is climbing on the counters and telling me he’s hungry. Is another cup of coffee okay?
It’s overwhelming some days and has left me depressed over the summer. It’s not one day in particular, it’s the day on top of week and month and year of being on call 24 hours a day.
It’s a quiet, shameful struggle moms try to keep hidden for a long while. Other moms seem to relish and delight in their children. They even have the energy for lessons and exercise and vacations. What is wrong with me? And some people long for children and can’t have them, so I should stuff this down and be grateful, right?
I am grateful. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In order to see this through and find the joy right where we are, it helps to see that these struggles come with a reward. A big one. Several in fact.
It is all worth it. It is WORTH IT to raise your child in the way of the Lord. It is worth it to be the biggest influence in her life. It is worth it to build a life-long trust and relationship with him. It is worth it to be present when they need you. It is worth it to send them out into the world with established priorities, morals and love.
But there’s another reason you might not have heard about — sanctification.
That’s a religious word that I have skimmed over for years without much pause, but right now I’m in need of that very word. Christians are often taught to avoid terms like this, to simplify and simplify again so people will understand what they’re talking about. And that makes sense. But sometimes you need that tumultuous word. Sometimes you can’t water it down.
Sanctification, simply put, means to become more like Christ — to become holy.
My sanctification really began when I got married 11 years ago. When I went from a me to a we, my secrets and skeletons were out in the open. I could no longer hide from Marcello whatever bad habits, ugly behavior or shameful past decisions I had made. I was exposed.
The early years of marriage tend to harbor quite a bit of disappointment as realities set in. You married a sinner. And you aren’t quite as perfect as you thought.
Scientifically, it takes years — 7 to 10 to be exact — for our brains to form around the idea that we are a member of a unit and not solely an individual. That’s a long time and a lot of work to start thinking of someone else, let alone ahead of yourself as the Bible commands. Basically, that’s a long time to stop being selfish!
“If you want to be free to serve Jesus, there’s no question — stay single,” Gary Thomas says in his book Sacred Marriage (which I highly recommend). “Marriage takes a lot of time. But if you want to become more like Jesus, I can’t imagine anything better to do than to get married. Being married forces you to face some character issues you’d never have to face otherwise.”
That book gave me a difficult concept to wrestle with: “Marriage calls us to an entirely new and selfless life.” And “any situation that calls me to confront my selfishness has enormous spiritual value, and I slowly began to understand that the real purpose of marriage may not be happiness as much as it is holiness.”
Wrong worldly concepts of marriage — infatuation, butterflies, romance, happiness — these things we think we deserve, slam headfirst into the real purpose of marriage.
After a few years of marriage (and fertility appointments and many, many pregnancy tests) we conceived our first child. God blessed this fertile, infertile person and we had three babies in four years. I won’t go into details for time sake, but you can read more about my pregnancy difficulties here.
Marcello and I had a solid marriage, but it was hard on us to have three babies. And remember all of this is happening for most of us before that 7-10 years it takes to start thinking as a team!
Marriage began my journey toward sanctification, but children truly put into perspective how unholy I am. This was sanctification, times three, on steroids.
If I had an afternoon by myself, doing whatever my heart desired, I would probably be in a great mood, tip well, smile at strangers. I would probably even think I’m a pretty good person. Why would a good person need Jesus and his ultimate sacrifice to cover their sins? This is a dangerous place to be, thinking you’re “not that bad” or “not as bad as so-in-so” or “a nice person.” It can easily lead to self righteousness and condemnation toward others for their weaknesses.
That’s probably why James tells us:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” — James 1:2-4
Because it’s the hard things that reveal what you’re really made of. When I can’t remember the last time I was alone or had a full night’s sleep. When little ones are crying, every room in the house got hit by a tornado, laundry litters the floor and someone is tugging at my shirt, what am I made of? When, on top of this, my husband tells me he’s terribly sorry but has been assigned a last minute business trip and needs to leave for three days. What am I made of? How will I react?
Do you really want to know? I’ll probably react with an adult temper tantrum, followed by a self pity party and crying in the bathroom. Honestly, in these moments I am made of selfish desire, self pity and wild anger.
The hard things in life give us the opportunity to humble ourselves and accept our sinful nature. It’s the hardships in life that build your character and faith and wisdom.
Refinement through motherhood
We focus so much on how we can shape the children that we forget about how our own character is sanctified. Being a mother helps us to become more like Jesus. I’ll always be a sinner this side of heaven, but I now understand that I can’t be ruled by emotion. I pray more. I forgive easier.
Becoming a mother has sharpened me over the years, shedding me of my old self into something better. Here are some ways my children have shaped my character:
I am forced to be present.
Kids live in the right now, not the past or future or even half an hour ago. In their world, yesterday was yesterday and 20 minutes is a long time away. Some of us, on the other hand, tend to repeatedly recount things and live in the past, while others continually fast forward ahead and live in the future. Neither one of these work — God tells us to live in the present — and kids seem to have that figured out.
I can’t please everyone.
My people-pleasing problem has collided with a brick wall. I just can’t make everyone around me happy with three little kids. We’re a loud, messy circus when we’re out. Even though I try to keep it contained, it’s impossible.
My patience threshold has greatly increased.
I wouldn’t say that I naturally have a large amount of patience, but having kids has forced me to grow in this area. Typically I expect a lot from myself and from others, but having kids has widened my view and made me more accepting. I see that it’s hard to balance it all and things get left off the list and texts don’t get returned. I understand now that a person who is speaking in a rude manner might be having a terrible day. Plus all the noise and chaos that always surrounds me has made me much more oblivious to annoying habits or behavior!
I’m more intuitive.
Have you noticed that you rely more on your intuition after having a child? You just know something’s not right or that something won’t work. I am more aware of our environment and who is in it. My kids have sharpened my intuition and taught me to listen to it.
I am more humble.
Your pride takes a hit as you start doing all the things you said you would never do! You eat your words. You let the baby watch tv while you take a shower. You let the toddler sleep in the bed with you. You let your daughter leave the house in a princess dress and pajamas underneath to avoid a meltdown. Your kids end up trick or treating with no costume (because they were hot) and plastic bags (because you forgot buckets) like heathens. Two are crying and fighting in Target but you push through, ignore the stares, and get what you need that Amazon doesn’t have. You frequently leave parks with a screaming child over one shoulder. You forget that Friday is field trip day. This is getting long. You get the idea. Parenting makes us very, very humble.
I start to see my role as God’s child.
Clara wants to eat the whole bottle of gummy vitamins, but I take it away from her. She doesn’t know that it might cause her harm or make her sick, so she is mad at me. But I know more than my two year old and as her parent I want to protect her.
It works this way with God as well. Maybe you don’t understand why things didn’t work out the way you had planned. But God knows the bigger picture and is working for our good, even though it hurts and is not what we would choose for ourselves.
I learn to love sacrificially.
I don’t think I would have known what selfless was until having children. To sacrifice your body, sleep, hobby, work, social life and filter every decision through how it will affect your child is a noble calling.
How to battle mommy burnout
So we know we’re selfish, we know our family is sanctifying us, but how do we die to ourselves and honor God in these situations? How can we live with a servant’s heart who puts others above herself?
One thing I want to address first is that this is not a mom guilt post. I repeat NO mom guilt! We’re just not doing it. Some of us have to go to work. Some of us have complicated family dynamics. And all of us could have done a lot of things better. But we’re NOT dwelling on any of that right now. We’re here in the present, moving forward the best we can from right here. Okay?
Here are some real things we can do for ourselves to battle depression and exhaustion from motherhood:
Don’t skim past this! Change happens in prayer. A relationship with God happens in prayer. Revelation happens in prayer. Gifts are given in prayer. You have not because you ask not. (James 4:2)
I am taking prayer very seriously these days and have never been so aware of God’s quiet voice. Are you listening for it? He is in all the details. Everything is caused by him or allowed by him. He’s talking to you.
Most nights this summer, after everyone is in bed and the house is dark, I pray in every room and for each person. I pray for peace and joy and protection of our home. I saw big differences when I started this.
By the way, being joyful is in God’s will for you! He will answer this prayer. See how to be joyful where you are right now in this post.
One of my children has a very strong will and struggles with anger. I pray for wisdom and patience and to be the parent God wants me to be. And I pray for the Holy Spirit to stir in him and the fruits of the spirit to develop in his life. (Love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.)
When I started praying, subtle things started happening. I supernaturally calmed down when I normally would have been furious. Actually the whole house calmed down, my husband and children as well. It made me startlingly aware of how I set the tone for the house and what poor job I have been doing.
I started speaking in an even tone, even when the situation was volatile. Two of my friends recommended the same calm down drink. Out of nowhere multiple people started mentioning the same things to me, very specific things and tactics. Our God is a practical God even though we tend to think of him abstractly.
Focus on one verse a day
God has not left us here alone in our weakness. He has given us his Word. If we were to follow the principles found in the Bible alone, we would reap great, life-giving benefits. Be slow to anger. Make allowances for each other’s faults. Love is patient, love is kind. Kind words are like honey. Forgive as you have been forgiven.
When you have small children it’s difficult to sit down and have lengthy quiet time with the Lord! But my friend Sarah has a simple, but life-changing plan! She said she would tell all young moms that if they can’t find time to sit down for quiet time with the Lord, to pick one verse and meditate on it for the day.
I have been doing this and it is changing my day. It is giving me strength to let go of self and meditate and rely on what God wants me to do. A verse on anger labeling me as a fool. A verse about the importance of kind words. A verse about the Lord being faithful and strengthening and protecting me against the enemy. These give me a bite-sized truth to focus on for the day.
I use the You Version Bible App to pick my verse and then copy and paste it in my phone’s notes so I can return to it and keep record of past verses.
This is a game-changer! Try it!
Hymns and scripture art
I don’t only want God’s words on my mind, I also want them on my walls and in the air. I’ve started hanging scripture on the walls. (Hobby Lobby is a great place to find affordable art. This is my latest scripture sign.)
I play hymns, especially on those days I need to calm down. The soothing melody and lyrics help the kids too. My favorite hymn playlist on Spotify is by Chris Rice, below. Go ahead and press play!
I started a grateful journal but have been slacking. It’s turned more into a verbal grateful journal! I just speak it out loud. It seems to be contagious. My husband and kids have started doing it too!
Last week Marcello and I took the kids on a beach trip gone wrong. I forgot towels. And the beach blanket. There was red tide so we were all coughing. The wind was strong so sand was kicking up. Etcetera, etcetera. On the way home the kids were complaining and fussing and getting mad about some injustice or another. Marcello and I both started listing all the things we were grateful for. Everyone is coming home safe in the van. We have access to a beautiful, free beach where we live. We have clean water. We found a sand dollar …
Get out of your all-too-familiar walls and get in nature. Put down the phone and go on a walk or sit on the patio. Connecting with nature has great psychological and mood-lifting benefits. When I don’t even know what to do next, this is my go to.
It’s hard for a mom of small kids to exercise. They climb on you, stay three inches from your face and even mock you. BUT if you can do it, it’s great for releasing endorphins and giving an energy boost. I use the SWORKIT app because it is very customizable and even allows for five minute workouts!
Find your true identity
Your identity was not the job you left. Your identity is not a wife. Or your hobby. Or even Mom. Your identity is child of God.
All of those other titles can be gone tomorrow, but you’ll always be a daughter of the king. He will never fade away. And when you start to see yourself through those lenses, worldly successes lose their vibrance.
Don’t isolate yourself
This one is so important! When depression hangs over our heads we tend to isolate ourselves, but it only makes things worse. Push yourself meet with a friend you can be vulnerable with. Don’t turn down that invite to a barbecue. Join MOPS. Join a Bible study. Actually, joining Bible study was one of the best things I ever did to get out of mommy isolation and even found older and wiser women who counseled me well!
Serve others with your kids
I started doing one kind thing a month with my kids, but the joy that rippled around those actions compelled me to do more. Some acts were bigger, but most were smaller. It has become a new mentality for me to try to make someone feel loved or encouraged every time I leave the house.
When I am am having a particularly bad day I seek someone out to help and it brightens my day and theirs. My kids think it’s normal now and even suggest ideas. Read more about our grateful project here.
Watch a movie together
This is a bit more silly or trivial, but if your kids are old enough, watching a kids’ movie together sometimes is good medicine. It provides some needed quiet time and also sets your imagination afire to their world. It helps adults to think as children! And kids’ movies are happy, funny and wholesome, leaving everyone in a better mood.
We bought an inexpensive projector and has really made watching movies as a family fun! I am actually working on a list of clean, engaging movies for the whole family, but in the meantime, here are some favorite picks.
We use Netflix DVD instead of streaming so we can get new movies each week, but I’ll link to Amazon if that helps. Also, if you do watch from Amazon, you can click “more purchase options” and select SD for a cheaper price!
Innocent, clean family movies:
- Ramona and Beezus
- Peter Rabbit
- Night at the Museum (the first one)
- Despicable me
- Paddington Bear 1
- Paddington Bear 2
Kids with high energy
If you have a child who’s a bundle of energy and is bouncing off the walls, here are a few suggestions.
- Avoid sugar and food with dye in it.
- Get him involved in a sport.
- Try this calm down drink with magnesium and vitamins.
- Make a roller with vetiver essential oil, cedar wood essential oil (I bought this) and carrying oil for the back of the neck or bottom of the feet.
- Try lavender oil in the diffuser.
- Add fish oil vitamins to her diet.
- Play calming music.
- Give directions one task at a time instead of a list of them. Helps with distraction.
If the kids are “bored” or having a hard time in the evening, I like to have a good dance party! Turn up the music and shake your derriere. It’s pretty hard to stay in a bad mood when you’re dancing and watching your kids inventive dance moves! I took it to the next level with this $13 disco light. Yessss.
Find something just for you
Some moms need to keep busy or have a creative outlet. It helps keep the ol’ wheels turning when every day seems monotonous. For me it’s this blog. It allows me to work when I can or want to and practice my writing and photography skills. Some other ideas would be photography, sewing, crochet, writing, painting furniture, building websites, graphic design, reading, start a book club, research, paint, candle making, start a scrapbook or photo album.
Start having date nights with your husband regularly — even if it’s just once a month. Work it into the budget or trade nights with a friend.
This is so good for your relationship with your spouse and it’s important for you to get dressed up and get out of the house sometimes! See this post about date night ideas and ways to save.
It’s important to note that even when you are pushed to your limits, you are still responsible for your own actions.
You might be pushed beyond what you think is fair, but watch your tongue. Restrain from cussing, from cut downs, from verbal abuse. Don’t strike your child in anger. If you do it, repent. Say you’re sorry to God and your child. Turn from it and learn from your mistakes.
I pray for angels to come into our house. I want them to feel at home here. I don’t want my behavior to grieve them or the Holy Spirit.
If you’re operating from exhaustion or depression, things can get primal fast. Discipline can be all over the place, ranging from everything is permissible to crazy punishments for minor offenses. Sometimes we have to press the reset button.
I’m going to share a quick birds eye view of what I’ve learned about discipline:
Nothing will change until we change our own attitude. We are the parent, we set the example. Go have a cry, get it out, and come back ready to start over. The power of a calm voice is absolutely amazing.
Stick to your guns
You said no Doritos until lunch, then no Doritos until lunch. You said screen time privileges were lost until tomorrow, then no screen time until tomorrow. Whenever possible don’t go back on your word. It teaches them to respect authority, understand consequences for their actions are real and avoid the same behavior in the future. You also cut back on the intense whining and whittling away of your sanity as they ask over and over again to change your mind the next time.
Lower expectations and pick your battles
Sticking to your guns also requires picking which things are worth the battle. Marcello and I are learning that we expect too much from the kids. They are kids after all, not little adults! We are trying to help each other evaluate what behavior we need to let go and which ones get consequences. Because trust me, you’re going to stay exhausted if you choose to take up each and every thing. Pray for discernment.
A matter of the heart
Look at what the child’s motive is. Our concern should be what is in her heart, not all tasks that she did or did not do. Is he being deliberately disobedient or did he get distracted? She made a big mess, but was she was painting a card for you? In discipline, it truly is a matter of the heart.
Sometimes we don’t even know where to start. Sometimes the kids need to see visually how their behavior needs to improve.
I have a chart and consequence jar that focuses on kindness. I don’t use them every day, but only when disobedience, fights and words are getting out of hand. We use it for a few days to get things back on track. It’s been very effective for us. Get the printable and some biblical discipline steps here.
Remember the bigger picture
They won’t be at home forever. They won’t always hang on every word you say. This is precious time. It’s an intense time, but it’s worth it to be there for it. It’s worth it to pour into them whatever you can while you can.
If you’re tired, don’t throw in the towel. It’s not an easy choice to stay home with kids, but the easiest choice isn’t always the best choice. That’s what my friend Ashby reminded me of on a recent phone call.
It’s in the deeper, troublesome times that you have spiritual awakening. Is it such a bad place to be? When you’re at the end of yourself. When you’re past frustration, past yelling, past feral anger. When you’re so far down the road that you’re an eerie calm, waiting with open hands.
This is a sacrifice for their future. It’s also a sacrifice for my own future! I want to have grown children who love God, raise their own families to love God and always want to come home. I used to cringe at the word “homemaker” but now it makes me smile.
It’s a sacrifice to have a peaceful home where laughter and love are present. I want to look back knowing that I gave it my all. I didn’t check out, I faced the hard stuff and came out of the trial with perseverance and maturity.
You are not alone
If this isn’t you, if you can’t relate to this post, thank God. Get down on your knees and thank him right now, because it is a gift. He has given you the gift of peace and joy! And I am truly so happy for you!
If this is you, but all days are down and none are up, you need to talk to someone. Depression, mental illness and postpartum depression are all real and there is help for you. This is a good place to start.
If you have a child that might need counseling or you need help parenting, you can easily get help here.
What are your thoughts?
Do you have any more ideas or tips for other moms? What has been your experience? All constructive thoughts are welcome!
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