How does one begin to write about the big, chaotic, colourful, exhilarating, frustrating, rewarding, heart-breaking whirlwind adventure that is Motherhood?
After almost seven years of mothering two rambunctious chaps, I’ve come to the conclusion that no two mothers’ experiences are ever alike. It’s the little moments and the unexpected encounters and a myriad of factors that shape each woman’s completely unique journey of motherhood – and yet, we each make it work, in our own ways. Here’s a snapshot of my experience.
Making do with messes
Before I became a mum, I thought I was a fairly organised person with a good eye for details. But when you have nap times, feed times, play times to track, on top off a house that seems to be getting dustier by the day, life just bursts out of its neat and manageable categories, leaving any new mum quite overwhelmed. I can’t remember the number of times I wept behind closed doors in that first month of motherhood, and it was my rock of a hubby and The Rock (aka God) who kept me sane and anchored during the storms of too-many-opinions and multiple visitations from well-meaning relatives and friends.
Unfortunately, the messes haven’t really gotten any easier as the boys have grown older. There have been so many messy meals, messy rooms scattered with toys, messy toilet seat covers (boys… sigh), messy fights etc . Some days, I feel like a broken recorder asking the boys to “Tidy up your room!” or “Pick up the books from the floor!” or “Remember to flush!” So many exclamation marks. !!!
I shout at them more often than I should/want to, for example when I’m beyond frustrated by their snail’s pace of picking up their animal collection and Lego blocks strewn all over the bedroom floor. On my better days, I’ve found that what works best for us is to choose the right times to get them to tidy, and dangling a little carrot calmly before their little noses. 😉 Most days, I will tahan the sight of their messy room all day until TV time – they get an hour of TV every evening. Then, “After you tidy your room, you get to watch TV.” And watch the feet fly.
I haven’t figured out a system for getting them to flush the toilet yet…
As for the rest of the house, we hired a cleaner to come in once a month for about a year, but she stopped work some months ago. For the first few months, we struggled to keep the house somewhat clean and neat. Now, I think we have a sort of pattern in place – either the hubs or I vacuum the house once a fortnight. I clean the tables and counter tops whenever I have some time to spare in the mornings. And we wash the toilet on weekends that we are not busy with activities and running around.
If we’re too busy, no sweat, we’ll just leave it for the next weekend (or a couple more weeks)! 😀 So yes, we are certainly not poster material for a picture-perfect home, but it’s clean enough for us. I also tried the Marie Kondo method of home organisation at the end of last year – and it was really helpful for us to declutter, so that the space we have is less cluttered, and hence easier to clean.
Managing my time
I’ve been freelance writing for close to six years now, and since I take on only 2-3 articles a month and write mostly at night, it hasn’t been too difficult to manage. However I also started this blog almost five years ago, and then Dottieshop in 2015. These days, I’m juggling my Dottieshop workshops with customised orders, freelance writing, blogging and managing the home – and some days it gets really overwhelming and stressful.
There are three big things that help me make my limited time work.
One, I schedule in EVERYTHING. Yes, everything.
In my Google Cal, I put in the specific things I’m doing at any time of the day. Eg, 10am – write blog article; 11am – cook lunch; 3pm – work on customised watercolour, etc. I don’t find such a system stifling in the least, but I can imagine that some might feel so. For me, knowing that all my to-dos have a time and place to be accomplished releases me from excessive worrying or emotional strain. My heart feels that much lighter when I have typed in when I will work on a particular task.
Two, I make peace with my mummy guilt.
On regular school days, I spend the mornings on my work, as well as a 2 hour belt in the afternoon. The boys typically sleep for 1-1.5 hours in the afternoon, which means they will wake up before I’m done with my work. Previously, I would feel bad about working while they wanted to play, and abandon my work, then feel the stress of undone work at the end of the day. Or I would continue working but keep getting interrupted to go “see what I built, Mummy” and end up yelling at them.
Some months ago, I had a talk with the boys. I explained to them that mummy is now juggling quite a bit of work. I told them honestly that I need about an hour more to finish my work in the afternoons, and can’t play with them or read to them – more so Daryl – right after their nap. I asked them if they could help by giving me that extra time and space to work a little more. Since then, life as a WAHM has become that much better as the boys have learnt to understand when I need the space to work.
Watching them play together on their own is bittersweet, because it can feel like I’ve been “replaced” in some way, but definitely much appreciated. And now that David can read, he sometimes helps to read to his brother too. Heartwarming moments that I wouldn’t have experienced if I hadn’t tried letting go in this way.
Three, I make time for them and myself.
Once a week, my dear mum comes over to babysit the boys for a couple of hours, so I am free to get out to do my own thing – get a haircut, meet a friend, drink coffee, shop or just read in bed. It’s my weekly respite, and I know not many mums get this privilege. I’m thankful.
Related to point two above, I plan in one-on-one times with each boy regularly, as a reminder to them that even though mummy is very busy sometimes, she loves them so SO much. I love our little dates. How do I do it? Well, sometimes it’s on the day when my mum is over, so I bring one of them out with me. Other times, Daryl might get a day off school so I bring him out. Or conversely, Daryl might have a field trip that ends late, so I get some time alone with David. Whatever time I can find – whatever works.
Missing out is OK
With the hubby’s and my work responsibilities and church commitments, we have a pretty full plate. There just isn’t time to send the boys to as many extra-curricular activities as we’d like to or they’d want. Besides their weekly Berries class and swimming lessons, and David’s drum lessons, the boys have nothing else on their agenda.
For one, kids classes are EXPENSIVE. I’m thankful that I earn enough a month now to pay for my own drum lessons and David’s, and to bring them out on special outings during the school holidays. Secondly, these things take up time – not just the class time, but traveling time as well – and we would much rather let them enjoy the time for free-play or spending time with family.
The boys are avid fans of Wild Kratts, Dinotrain and Paw Patrol, and sometimes choose to spend their TV time watching these shows on Daddy’s iPad instead. They also enjoy playing selected games on the youths’ phones in church on Sundays after service, with permission from daddy and mummy. So we do ask ourselves every now and then if we are giving them too much screen time. After all, we are always reading about how too much screen time robs children of their abilities to relate socially or to explore their environment for themselves.
I think it’s a good question to revisit every once in a while. Sometimes, we do find that we have been too lax on our rules and let them watch too much, especially during the holidays, and need to pull back on the reins again. Overall, however, hubby and I are of the opinion that screen time is fine in controlled amounts. Most days, the boys will get about an hour of screen (TV or iPad) program time, and they look forward to it excitedly. On Sundays, they get some extra time to play approved games on the phone.
I’m glad they’re doing this a little more now though. So nice to see my son’s head burrowed in a book. There was once I thought the day would never come… 😉
Marveling in the moment
Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learnt to do in this journey of motherhood is to be present in the moment. But I’m still very much a work-in-progress in this area – I forget to do this a million times a day! But I’m trying to do it more and more. To marvel in the moments, big and small, because the littlest things can take my breath away.
Like when I overhear Daryl getting frustrated over a Lego block that refuses to fit onto another block, and just as I’m about to enter the room to help him fix it before a meltdown occurs, I hear David’s voice: “Daryl! Come, I help you to fix ok? I know how, don’t worry.” And I peek into the room to see him helping his little brother, and quietly slip away.
Or when David is doing work with me and frustrated to tears over a difficult Maths or Chinese question (thank God, English is his forte for now), and his brother trots over to ask me “Mummy, is kor kor ok?” or quietly plays by himself in the room as he waits for us to be done.
Looking back, the most precious moment to me thus far is an incident that happened two years ago at the zoo. Daryl had a bad fall, and blood gushed out from a cut above his eye. As the medics helped us to stem the bleeding and sent us to the entrance to go to the hospital, Daryl stopped crying (I think he was in shock) and David started to cry. And amidst the great anxiety and being close to tears myself in that moment, I was touched and thankful that I got to see, in that moment, just how much he loves his didi. Even though they fight most days, and sometimes hurt each other.
Perhaps the most precious moments are like these – equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming. Unforgettable. And they are my lifeline on days when I feel like throwing in the towel and screaming myself hoarse in frustration over something or other. The silver linings that help me make sense of the grey-cloud-days.
Mothers make it work. Yes, we do. I’m ever-thankful to my hubs for being the best partner I could ever wish for, and to family members and dear friends for being our “Village” in bringing up the boys. And I am just another mum trying my best, making the most of each day and opportunity, by the grace of God.
If you would like to travel to the previous stops on this Blog Train and read more interesting stories, you can start with last week’s contribution on Owls Well from guest poster Twinklystarz! Twinklystarz is an expert tightrope walker, balancing work life in one hand and home life in the other. She has two boys (her hubby and 3 year old son) who bring her much joy.
Next week, we will be chug-a-chugging back to Owls Well again to hear from guest poster Cat K! Cat K is a happy-go-lucky pharmacist who currently lives in Melbourne with her family. Apart from raising her two tween-aged kids and managing territorial disputes between her pet rabbits and cats, she also finds the time for baking delicious cakes. In her post she’ll be talking about the difficulties that she faced as a young mum in relocating to another country with young children in tow.