After a wonderful post-Christmas week in southern California visiting my husband’s family, we’re on the road heading back home. I’m sure we’ll be taking many bathroom breaks, and there have already been several requests for drinks, snacks, and movies, but by and large road trippin’ has become a piece of cake for our family. The reason is simple: Our youngest child is four years old.
It used to be that a road trip meant orchestrating nap and nursing schedules, and entertaining a baby who couldn’t hold a book or enjoy a movie was a major undertaking. The worst was the inevitable diaper blow out accompanied by the realization that a change of clothing was in the suitcase at the bottom of the trunk under everything else! Unearthing the miniature outfit in the dark on the side of a deserted highway in the middle of winter was always a special treat, and the matter of executing the clean up and change was even more daunting. Do you drive on and look for a filthy gas station bathroom, or just do it on the car floor or seat as the baby shrieks from the freezing gusts of wind? Ah, the memories!
But never again. That stage of motherhood really is gone, and it’s bittersweet to be sure. Holding and kissing my two sister-in-law’s new babies in California was divine, but I didn’t mind handing them back when they started to cry. On the other hand, as much as I don’t miss the hard parts of the baby years, I’ve found the words of an older, more experienced mother friend to be true: Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems. I know trying to navigate a poopy diaper in the cold and dark while a baby screams bloody murder never feels like a small problem, but the heart-wrenching worry and sense of responsibility that laces every day life when you have a struggling teenager who isn’t communicating with you is something else.
And while some things change as you move from one stage to the next, other challenges remain the same. One of my sisters-in-law is in the process of trying to get her baby to sleep by 7pm each night so she can get some necessary work done without being interrupted. I can certainly relate, but my problem is getting my teenager in bed these days! How many hours of my life have been spent feeling like my children were interrupting my work rather than being the reason for it–and then feeling guilty for feeling that way? Striking a balance between getting personal work done and being fully present for our children is something parents will always struggle with, but in the case of those mothers with the very youngest of children who demand every last ounce of energy during their waking hours, trying to make progress on anything (let alone personal goals) can be extremely difficult.
And that’s what this is all about.
At this time of year when mothers are anxious to get a fresh start by setting New Year’s goals, I would encourage each of us to be a little more cognizant of the stage of motherhood we are in when considering the personal progress we’d like to make. Especially the mothers of babies and very young children.
I know you are capable and intelligent. I know you have plans and dreams. What you couldn’t do if you just had a few free hours a day to yourself! (My brain used to wake me up in the middle of the night visualizing all the things I would do if only I had huge blocks of uninterrupted time.) But like every well-intentioned grandmother likes to tell you in the grocery store: You do have your hands full.
We all do, of course, but the “hands full” nature of the work becomes more figurative as the children get older. The busyness of motherhood is constantly evolving as it moves through different stages of care and responsibility. This is never more apparent when observing the service provided by “empty nested” mothers to their families. Even so, they will be the first to tell you they can easily finish a book or schedule time for daily exercise if they want to–coveted activities or “goals” that can be extremely difficult for a mother with a baby. There will be time and years enough. Life is long.
Yes, our goals will naturally change with every stage of motherhood, and learning to accept and work with the limitations of each stage can be the difference between feeling discouraged and like a failure or encouraged and successful. If I could go back in time knowing what I know now, I would throw out more of the goals that required my hands and focus more on the ones that required my heart. I don’t know of many life experiences better suited for developing the characteristics of patience, self-discipline, and love than mothering babies and small children. Why not make the most of it and save your other aspirations for a more “hands free” stage? More peace and less frustration all around. (This is much easier said than done!)
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to spend some time during this unusually quiet road trip to think about my own goals for the coming year before the next big bathroom break. Happy New Year!
QUESTION: Are your New Year’s goals setting you up for failure or success based on your stage of motherhood?
CHALLENGE: Take five minutes today to think of one goal that is either realistic or unrealistic for your current stage of life. Add it to your list or cross it off your list accordingly!
Photo by Winnond at www.freedigitalphotos.net
**For more concrete suggestions, click over to The Bloom Game where you can be guided step by step in making realistic, bite sized weekly goals based on your current needs and challenges. This is the only goal program I know of that is specifically designed for mothers and their uniquely busy lives. It’s purpose is to help mothers experience more “accomplishment, balance, and serendipity.” Please take advantage of it!