Like many of you, I’m still settling down from the wonderful but crazy holiday season full of more “extras” than any mother should have on her plate in such a short amount of time. To be completely honest, the more Christmases that go by, the more I look forward to January every year.
January is the month of nothing and it’s absolutely glorious. No holidays, no family birthdays, no extra commitments, no yard work–nada. And this January, I had something happen that made it even more glorious: knee surgery.
I know knee surgery doesn’t sound like something to be excited about (and I’ll spare you the details), but believe me when I say this has truly been one of those “blessings in disguise”.
Picture this: as the mother of a busy household of six, you have no choice but to spend most of the day confined to your bed with your leg elevated and iced. Your home is stocked with lots of easy prep meals, the nice ladies at church schedule some dinners to be brought in as well, you put your hubby and children over all the cleaning and laundry (fingers crossed!), you have carpools covered for just about everything (and a child who drives), and for the first time in 17 years all of your children go to school all day.
Are you hearing this? It’s literally the closest I’ve ever been to a personal vacation at a spa. (Truly. My youngest daughters made me a honey oatmeal face mask the day after I got home from the hospital. It was . . . sticky, but sweet. Pun intended.)
I have often wished for this. It’s a running joke of mine that I wouldn’t mind some sort of short term “illness” that requires bed rest for several weeks (nothing so uncomfortable that I couldn’t read books or watch Netflix, mind you) so I could relax a little and put my brain and soul back together.
Well, it looks like I got my wish.
So what has this meant for me? To have my “wildest” dream come true? (I know, I need bigger dreams . . .) To have hours upon hours alone at home in my bed feeling completely guilt-free about neglecting the usual household responsibilities? Well, a few things, but I’ll give you my top three.
(1) Kids are much more capable than we realize.
Incredibly, the sky has not fallen without me there to hold it up this past week. My kids have made themselves food. They’ve cleaned up after themselves. They’ve done laundry. (Maybe not according to my standards, but hey, what do I care? I’m on vacation . . .) They’ve taken care of me, for crying out loud! I know this might feel threatening to moms who want to feel indispensable, but remember: your ultimate goal is to make sure your kids can live without you. And that takes practice.
I was never more proud than when my kids got up and got themselves ready to go to church on time by 9 am this past Sunday. (My husband needed to be there much earlier for something else.) Hearing my teenage daughter yelling for everyone to get in the car was like music to my ears! Yes, our children want to rely on us for a lot of things long after they are capable, and yes, we might like to feel needed and in control of the home where we are used to being in charge, but really, our older kids are quite capable of taking care of themselves in many ways and doing A LOT of the work at home. As they should.
When the kids are at home, be present.
I seriously had no idea how much I’ve been trying to do and how distracted I’ve been during the after school and evening hours until I had this surgery. As every mother knows, there’s no such thing as “done” and it can be a temptation to be constantly trying to get on top of that endless to-do list by “multi-tasking” (code for distracted and frazzled). Don’t do it. Not when it’s time to really be present with your kids. (This is an entirely different discussion for mothers who spend every waking minute of the day with their babies and very young children.)
Without the ability to buzz around the house as usual, and with a newfound focus of what daily habits and routines are most important to me and my family’s sanity and success (more on that in #3), I’ve felt a surprising sense of peace and satisfaction during what have historically been the worst hours of the day. Why? Simply because I’ve been making an effort to really be present and focused on helping with homework, keeping everyone on task and on time, making sure we gather for dinner and some family time, and of course, getting everyone in bed at a decent hour. (Is it just me, or is that the source of all happiness in other homes as well?) Don’t hate me, but I’ve even been reading “Anne of Green Gables” out loud to my girls in the evenings. It may take some work not to revert to my old, scatter-brained ways of trying to do too much at once, but after this experience I’m committed to try.
(3) Deliberate motherhood isn’t always hands on.
If anything, I’ve had an overwhelming realization (or rather, remembering) that some of the most important parts of mothering are NOT hands on. Granted, in my current stage of motherhood that’s mostly because I no longer have little ones tugging at me all day long, but as I’ve delegated my current hands-on work (cooking, cleaning, laundry, driving, etc.) while still handling “everything else” from my bed, I’ve remembered that the most important work we do as mothers is often done in our minds and our hearts.
Not only have I spent several hours of my time this past week thinking about each one of my children individually (which has led to all sorts of things like emailing teachers about reading progress, researching service opportunities for teens, creating and typing up after school schedules, and inquiring about ACT prep courses), but I finally took some time to really think about my personal and family goals and make a comprehensive plan for how to accomplish them. Every January I intend to sit down and take some quiet time for this, but it doesn’t always happen. Why? Because there is always–always–so much to do with our bodies and our hands. It’s hard for many moms to justify taking several hours of personal quiet time to “just” sit and think and plan. It feels so . . . unproductive. And yet, I’m here to say there is nothing more productive than stopping to reflect, assess, dream, and plan when it comes to the long-term “project” of raising human beings.
In fact, that is at the heart of Power of Moms and deliberate motherhood, and I would encourage every mom reading this to consider many of the resources on the website specifically created to guide you in this process. You shouldn’t have to have knee surgery to feel like it’s okay to neglect some of your usual hands-on responsibilities (which will always be there!) to take some personal quiet time for the equally if not more important work that happens in the heart and mind of a deliberate mother.
I hear what you’re thinking. This is all well and good for you, Allyson, with your mandatory bed rest and all your kids in school all day, but what about me? The mom with several small children underfoot all day long with very little hope for any kind of regular reprieve? I hear you. I really do. That was me for over a good decade of my early mothering years and they were, in fact, some of the toughest years (months/weeks/days/minutes) of my life. But I can also look back and see that sometimes I played the martyr, sometimes I refused help out of pride and a desire to look like I had everything together, and many times I missed out on nurturing moments for myself because I believed it was selfish or unjustified. Whatever your situation and your personal hang-ups, I truly believe that if you want it bad enough (and I can tell you that you need it–we all do!), there are ways for any mom in any situation to take some quiet time for herself and reap the benefits of reflecting, assessing, dreaming, and planning.
I took off my bandages this morning and will be showering “for real” for the first time in over a week. I’ll also be leaving the house today for the first time (with the help of crutches) to attend an appointment at the middle school. Slowly but surely, I am coming out of my woman cave and off of my medical vacation to reenter the real world of a mom. But I do hope that even when I become fully functioning again, I’ll remember that my children are more than capable of being contributing members of the family, how satisfying it is to be really present with them when they are at home, and how important it is on occasion to stop, put my legs up, and do the important work of a mother that can only happen in the heart and mind.
Here’s to getting my other knee done next year!
QUESTION: Have you ever been on mandatory bed rest for anything? What was your experience? What did you learn from it?
CHALLENGE: Don’t wait for mandatory bed rest to expect more from your kids around the house, spend more time with them when they are home, and take some quiet time for yourself to reflect, assess, dream, and plan.
Allyson was featured on Studio 5 on KSL discussing this article! Watch her excellent interview here: