A young mother replied last week to her husband who noticed her fatigue and exasperation at the end of day bewitching hour with three small children at home:
"You should see me earlier in the day: I am quite the personality between ten and two! I really am a lovely woman!"So cute, that Jenn. Quite the personality between ten and two... We do have some good hours in the day when we are at our best - before the internal corrosion and external erosion do a number on us. This is especially common among young moms.
I have long lamented the structure of our society which sets up busy couples and families to leave home early in the morning, pour their time and energy into the job to be done all day (with and for someone else), then return home at the end of each day spent physically and emotionally with nothing but remnants for those dearest to them. Think about it. We are our most presentable and perhaps kindest to everyone else we encounter all day, then our mates get the leftovers.
The way of wisdom teaches me to prepare and to conserve so as to preserve what is important.
I began to understand and prepare for this home dynamic when I was still a single young lawyer practicing with all men in a firm. One young man had just arrived at work, leaving his wife and new baby at home. He made some (unfortunate) comment about how nice it is to get to work and see someone fresh and dressed up first thing in the morning, while his wife is still in her bathrobe with a spit up on it. (I know: GRRRRR, right?) His remark was not any kind of pitch to me personally, but it did reveal a vulnerability in marriages I knew nothing about at my young age. His gross insensitivity to the immense life change his post partum wife also was experiencing notwithwstanding, he had put his finger on a soft spot no less real than that of his newborn son: the way we act and present ourselves to our mates matters. I was only 24, but I was adding to my knowledge base about marriage.
Since that time, I have been that young mom with babies and bathrobes and sweat pants. I know there are days when we can hardly see beyond three or four hour feeding intervals and naptimes! "You do the best you can do," is the motto I recall. I also know how easy it is for a woman to become so absorbed in the life of her child or children that her husband is relegated to a houseguest or distant boarder. That is a pitfall for many young moms today, and the chasm doesn't become readily apparent until empty nesting reveals a dearth of relationship between husband and wife.
But I also remember the example of my mother and have learned from her vast storehouse of knowledge and experience. I once questioned why she would have us clean up toys and turn off the t.v. and straighten up from the activity of seven children plus ever-present friends at the end of the day before our daddy would come home: "Because I want things to be in order when he comes home after a busy day." Every day. What I learned over time was that she knew how important it was to take steps to create harmony and order in a home - not based on a panicked, 'hurry up, Daddy's home!' - but consistently making the effort to honor him, them, and create space for family time together at the end of the day. Somebody has to usher this into play; it will not just happen on its own. It made her day smoother as well that she had a method for shifting gears and transitioning, as it would be termed today. It mattered that he was home. And we also learned that the marriage was central; we children were not in control.
Honoring and preferring one another as husband and wife are not words we hear too much about these days, but more on that later...
Forty-plus years later, the picture is different for many of us, but the point is the same. Both mom and dad are likely coming home tired at the end of the day, perhaps after picking up children from day care on the way. One may not be there much ahead of the other to 'head chaos off at the pass', but the desire to do so can still drive us to help create space for rejoining one another. Every day. In fact, it is precisely that desire to love and to serve and to please another that makes all the difference. It's all about the attitude we bring to the task. This may call for a change of attitude to make that step if it presents a different pattern. It takes a certain amount of energy as well, and we need a reserve tank for that purpose. There is a take off and landing in each day, and we do well when we learn allocate resources all the way through. Every day.
Just as a pilot must conserve fuel for a long journey and manage the ascending and descending speeds, we must conserve our energy so that we do not repeatedly burn out by two or five p.m. and run on fumes the rest of the day, as is often the pattern. I say 'repeatedly' because there are surely some days where we just can't get it together. Like my friend's comment above, I, too, have many of them. Let it go! Be gentle on yourself.
Here are some of the ways we can conserve and generate a bit of renewed energy for the balance of the day. Not surprisingly, there are no secrets; you've heard it all before. Look first to the basics when addressing any problem, I always say, then...throw a lot of love at it.
1. Don't forget to breathe. Breathe deeply. Specifically, inhale through the nose to the count of five, and exhale through the mouth, blowing air out through pursed lips. Repeat for several minutes.
2. Palms up. Know the power of posture to signal a return to your center from the frenzied outer spirals of anxieties and worries. You can cue yourself...direct your own attention this way. Bring yourself into the present moment. Relax for a few minutes at your desk...in the car....pick your spot. Do this with hands open in front of you, palms up.
3. Pray. Don't know what to pray? Just come in silence. Even a heartfelt 'Gentle Jesus...' will help us center before the One who can give us a respite while in the midst of the busiest day. Draw yourself up to healing springs of Living Water and ask to be refreshed.
4. Take a nap, if possible, for no more than 20 minutes. The power nap can do more to clear a tired mind and weary body than we ever knew. I can almost hear you saying, "if I had the luxury of taking a nap I would not be in this state!" So it may not be in the cards right now, but one day...or year... it might work.
5. Drink water. Addressing an often overlooked deficit, staying hydrated is of utmost importance. If you've had coffee and tea during the day, drink twice as much water. And while you are wondering if you want to drink water, drink some water. Late afternoon or evening sparkling water with lime slices or splash of cranberry juice is a welcome change too. My friend, Julia, keeps a pitcher of water with sliced lemons, oranges, limes, carrots and cucumbers floating in it. Anything for variety helps.
6. Tend to basic needs. If you have young children, remember they are likely hungry or tired at the end of the day as well. Be prepared with something to eat, or a healthy snack, so that you do not erupt in frustration and fatigue at their whining when they are merely hungry and tired themselves. So have a plan for supper. Online emealz and other resources are plentiful! Dust off the crock pot. Pick up something healthy. Suppertime comes around every day, so we need to plan for it. That's part of being the grown-up: we must step up to the task.
7. Consider a change of attitude. Invite a new spirit of desiring one another, a new way of relating to one another, to replace tired habits and broken routines. You know what they say about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Make a move toward sanity.
8. Go for a walk/exercise as a part of the day or week. Do I do this? Not nearly enough. But I know it to be important and cannot avoid mentioning it. Exercise presents a connundrum, because we think it requires more energy than we have, yet it actually is energy-giving!
Others will come to mind when I put this to bed, and I will gladly add yours when submitted.
A 1950's article made the rounds on the internet, and I was in the company of women who ridiculed and mocked its suggestions to the homemaker to help create an atmosphere of calm in the home at the end of the day. There were lines such as, "take your husband his slippers while he relaxes in his easy chair" which were met with guffaws and near-hysterical hoots, and I can see why! I recognize that the tone of the piece sounds as foreign in 2010 as a Leave it to Beaver rerun. But, that homemaker was my mother, married in 1952. I might disagree with the suggestions of the piece, but cannot find fault with her desire to honor her husband - and he honored her - or to teach her children to clean up and prepare for a nighttime routine. Fifty eight years later, they are still each other's dearest friends and soulmates. She is a wise woman...
I have lived long enough to have seen the difference in homes with unadulterated chaos and those with some form of harmoniously living together. I choose to take steps toward serenity and joy in the home - even though there will be times of chaos in the best of plans. There is grace and forgiveness along the way; nobody does it perfectly! But we encourage one another to present our best selves to the homes and loved ones waiting for us at the end of the day.
Lord, Indeed you have bestowed each of us with quite the personality by day, but somehow we lose it by night. Restore unto us the desire to please You, to honor You and those You have given us to love. Renew our calling and refresh us as we seek to live into what You would have us do. Help us preserve the sacred commitments we made to one another and to you - to love, to honor and to cherish each one in our families. Amen.
header borrowed from www.executivehomemaker.com, a site I discovered when trolling for an image, and one of many seeking to give support and tips for life in 2010.