‘Do the best that you can in the place where you are, and be kind’
- Scott Nearing.
Like most Mamas I know, I often hold myself up to unrealistic expectations. I have the sense that I could and should be doing everything I want to, all at once, managing effortlessly without food smeared on my clothes and dark rings of tiredness under my eyes.
Like most Mamas, I find myself looking at other women who seem to do so much and who make it look so easy, and I wonder what their secret is. I’ve certainly had my fair share of people comment the same to me – how do I manage to be an attentive parent, to keep a clean house, to sew as much as I do, to have two blogs, to go out and do things? And when I write it down like that I think, wow, how do I manage all that? I know Emi gets the same kind of question too, and when it came up again recently, on here, we got to talking about how it is always a misconception that we, that any of us, can do everything without other things falling to the wayside.
So, following the suggestion of one our readers, we thought it would be a good idea to talk a little about what our days are actually like, and our weeks too. What we do do, what we wish we could do, and what we simply don’t manage. What things get sacrificed when it comes down to choosing how we spend our time, because the truth is, something always does get sacrificed, and this shouldn’t go unnoticed.
When I think back to the first year of Ava’s life, one thing stands out. How very unproductive I was. Ava was a babe-in-arms all right, and she was literally attached me to me 24/7. When she was awake, she was nursing, and when she was asleep, she was always asleep on me, so I got very little done. If I got dressed, let alone showered, it was a small miracle. Housework was done only when Howard was home and we could manage to do the bare minimum to keep things clean, if not always tidy. I certainly didn’t even consider doing all the things I do now, and I often wondered if I’d ever be a functioning member of society again.
But Ava grew, as babies do. And round about the time that she started to get a little less attached, I started to really want to make things. The urge was so strong, and felt so necessary, that I invested in a lot of expensive quilting equipment, bought a book, got a sewing machine, and made my first quilt. And that was me, hooked.
I think now that this was a need for me to have something to do for myself, something to let me feel productive and, more importantly, creative, and it felt so good. It didn’t matter if I was bone-tired the next morning, sewing into the wee hours of the night awoke a passion for making things that I had only been vaguely aware of previously in my life.
And that began to fit into a new rhythm we were finding as a family, as we looked for ways to spend our time, our precious time, as well as possible.
For us, that’s the key to being productive – spending our time wisely, choosing to use time instead of simply letting it pass.
But it is also very much about going with the flow of where each of us, individually, are in terms of energy and need. Right now, for example, I simply do not have the energy to spend four or five hours sewing in the evenings, as much as I would love to do so. Instead, I am reading or sleeping and trying not to feel restless, trying to honour the importance of relaxation and rest.
In a typical week, just as in a typical day, we have certain things we like to do. Because Howard works 9-5, we always do special family things at the weekend, lots of outings to the park, swimming, coffees and lunches out etc. But during the week, when it is just me and Ava, I find that a regular rhythm works really well for us.
We always go out at least once a day, and almost always in the mornings, which are our busy periods. On Monday morning we go to the library and to town. On Tuesday mornings we go to Natural Nurturing Network, or see friends when it’s not on. On Wednesday mornings we either go to the library or swimming. On Thursday mornings we go to Woodland group and then friends come back to our house for lunch and playing, and on Friday we usually go to the Museum gardens in town and feed the squirrels and birds.
Ava usually naps just after lunch, so we spend the afternoon doing more chilled out activities likes drawing or painting, having friends over, or going to the local park, and then Ava ‘helps’ me cook dinner.
And then, within each day, we have certain routines and rituals we follow. For example, Ava sits on the counter and has a glass of milk and piece of fruit whilst I make tea and oatmeal, and then we sit in the dining room and look out at the garden eating our breakfast. Then we read some stories, and then, between 8 and 10, I try to do any housework that needs doing and have showers/baths, get ready.
Ava loves to be involved in things so she always ‘helps’ me clean the bathroom (she uses a baby wipe to wipe things) or hoover (she uses an attachment to pretend hoover the carpet). If I have any breakfast dishes to do, Ava will sit up with me and either help dry them or, if she’s not in the mood, sing songs.
Whatever we do, I try to make sure Ava is always involved, even if that means she bounces up and down on the bed whilst I put clothes away. This helps me get things done whilst still being attentive to Ava, and I also think it’s really good for her to see me happily doing things, and enjoying housework, so that she might want to join and help too.
In the evenings, when Howard comes home, we eat dinner together in the dining room and then read stories in the living room. Ava goes to sleep around 8pm, and this is usually when I start doing anything like sewing or quilting, up in my craft room. If I haven’t spent too long sewing, I also try to read for an hour or so before bed. Sometimes, Howard and I will sit and talk instead, or we will watch a show we have streamed, depending on our mood.
But this brings me to an important point. Everything we choose to do, we choose in favour of doing something else. One of the most important decisions we made was not to get a TV license, which means we can never just sit and watch TV. Since we stopped watching TV, both Howard and I have found so much more free time to do other things – for me, making clothes or quilts or household things, as well as having the time to write for both of my blogs and for other writing projects on the go. For Howard, that means time to read a lot of books, and time to write his novel.
But this decision has affected us in a great many ways. It has changed the energy and harmony in our house too. It affects the way Ava behaves, or more to the point, doesn’t behave. During times when she has watched more TV, like when we lived with family, I have noticed an increase in four things – aggressive behaviour, lack of responsiveness, attention issues and hyperactivity. And these things seep into the times when the TV is not on, too. These are the same things I have seen over and over throughout my life, without exception, in children who watch a lot of TV, and both Howard and I saw how strongly it created a disconnection between how we wanted to spend our time and how Ava was reacting to us and to her environment,
And so, without TV, we sometimes put on a film for her, but even this is a thing we do very rarely these days. And this has had the biggest impact on how we spend our time and also, Ava’s capacity for spending time calmly, engaging, interacting. When she needs down time, we quietly read stories or lie on the bed together talking and gently playing. We sometimes draw or I just let her wander about the back garden, but it certainly leads to a much calmer, happier child, who can play with her toys in a much more creative and imaginative way and without aggression.
(Plus, since children below the age of 7 have no way of editing out the things they see on TV, I don’t have to worry about her little sponge brain picking up things completely unsuitable for her – things I certainly don’t want affecting her personality and development.)
Aside from removing TV as a presence in our household, we’ve also had to choose carefully from the things we really want to do. We try to spend some time alone, doing something for ourselves at least once a week, to replenish and reinvigorate ourselves, and this helps a great deal too. But there are only so many hours in the day, and there are things I would love to do that I never get the chance to, at the moment. I would love to do Pilates and meditate – things I did a lot of before Ava was born – but I choose to do other things instead.
I might choose, for example, to write for this, or my other blog instead of watching a film in the evenings, or having a bath, or doing something else that might be beneficial, but writing is more important to me. I also know that I have times of high productivity and times of low productivity, and that for me, it’s a challenge to find a balance between the two. My husband says I am terrible at pacing myself and he is right, which means I have a tendency to burn out sometimes, and whilst I used to be able to hibernate before Ava, I don’t have that option now.
I find that since I only have limited making time, and this is almost always in the evening when Ava is asleep, I have to choose wisely what I want to make. I came to realise that although I love having an Etsy store, I would much rather spend my time making things for Ava, for the house, or for friends and family, than I would for strangers purchasing items online. I don’t get very much satisfaction from that, and so I tend to focus on making things that I feel would benefit our lives in some way.
And the last thing that we try to remember, especially in times when it seems days have passed without us getting much done at all, is that the best way to approach things is 'one stitch at a time'. A little here and there. Whether that’s with housework or making something, just doing a little bit often can have a huge and cumulative affect on our productivity and it also helps to keep our sanity in check too.
I think whatever we are doing, it is important to remember that we are also not doing something else at the same time. I have no idea how single parents manage to be attentive and productive at the same time, and I am in awe of their ability to do both. I am in awe of working mums who manage to organise their days and their children and still come home ready for being present with their Littles. I often wonder how people with four or five children do it – and it really seems like a miracle to me that anyone does.
But, like a good friend pointed out recently, it is impossible, and detrimental, to compare your situation to anyone else’s because we all have our own set of challenges, our own energy levels, our own emotional dramas to deal with. We all have such different lives, and we all need different things to feel healthy. I try to remember this when I find myself wondering how other people do ‘it’, because ‘it’ doesn’t really exist, and comparing yourself to others can lead to a feeling of never being good enough, which is something as Mamas we deal with all the time. We are all doing our best with what we’ve got, where we are.
Soon, Emi will talk about what her days and weeks look like, and what works and doesn’t work for her family