The seasons of a mother’s life

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Say ‘no’ to exhaustion and ‘yes’ to a balanced life

After 11 years of living abroad, we returned home. When I look back at the past six months, I see waves of emotion that filled our hearts and minds when we packed up our home, said our farewells and lifted our heads in anticipation for the future. We felt excited, scared, alone, stressed and completely overwhelmed. But for me, it was the exhaustion, physical and emotional that overshadowed it all.

I could see it coming. I knew that relocating, finding a house, new schools, a church, a doctor and a hairdresser with two kids aren’t for sissies. We’ve done this before. In fact we’ve lived in 9 rental properties in 13 years. We were content with the fact that at some point the wheels will come off. It’s inevitable – things will get messy. So, on the days when I felt like throwing my toys out of the cot, curl up into a ball and sob inconsolably, it didn’t really surprise me.

What came a surprise though was that when I hit the shores of South Africa and rubbed shoulders with moms in my neighbourhood, chatted to some on the school run and connected with old friends, I saw that I wasn’t the only one suffering from this illness called exhaustion. I saw nothing of the world that I see on Facebook – a world where everything is perfect, filled with beautiful scenery and postcard smiles.

The reality was hundreds, if not thousands, of tired, overworked and over committed moms rushing everywhere.

So I thought about this, long and hard and I think I know why we all feel the way we do.

We pack too much in a day. I have yet to meet a mom who doesn’t use the 5 minutes before school pick-up to unpack the dishwasher, respond to a message on her phone or quickly wrap a present.

We over-commit. We start off by volunteering at an event or an organisation, but before we know it, what is supposed to be part-time act of kindness, becomes a full time serving job at many events or organisations which steal our time.

We set the bar too high. Good is not good-enough, we try to keep up with “the joneses” and we strive for perfection. There’s no more just jogging around the block to keep fit. No, we run what is supposed to be a 5-day hike over the Swartberg pass, in one single day.

We over-commit, over-strive and over-perform. No wonder we’re tired, worn-out and simply exhausted moms.

And do you know what is driving this behaviour? FEAR! Fear of rejection results in over-committing. We think: “If I say no to this, they’ll never ask me again”. Our fear of not being good-enough makes us do things that we really don’t need to do at this stage in our life. We fear vulnerability and we’re scared to admit that we are not the perfect mom we’d thought we’d be.

On one of my recent “exhaustion sickbeds”, I received this wonderful piece of advice from a loving, caring, but concerned friend (which turned out to be my husband!). “You must learn to say NO. The key word for me in that sentence was LEARN. To say no is not something that comes naturally to this people-pleaser-perfectionist-mom. But I was committed to form a new habit and say NO to stuff that leaves me feeling like I’m stretched in all directions. I had to practice and practice and practice. And I still have to practice and practice and practice. Because you see, motherhood is made up of seasons and what is important and possible in one season might not be in the next.

Saying YES to the right things and learning to say NO to those things that don’t fit into your current season will free you up for more growth, more joy and more peace. YES to those things that create balance in your life. NO to those that create chaos. YES to those that energise you to spread love and joy to those around us. NO to those that fill your fear-tank.

I’m practising to say NO to picking up toys scattered all over the living room floor, NO to hanging up the school uniform when my 11-year old should be doing it herself, NO to clearing the table when my 7-year old are capable of helping, NO to taking the dog for a walk when my husband is around, NO to getting caught up in watching a mindless show on TV when what I really need to do is get ready for bed, no, no, no!

The problem with saying no is often the fact that we don’t know what to say yes to. So here’s my advice:

Start off by carefully considering the season of motherhood that you’re in. Remember your situation is unique. Nobody else has your husband, your kids, your house, your job, your family, your temperament. Write down what is important to you. As tired moms, so often we’re unable to see the forest from the trees, so only focus on writing down one value and perhaps one goal that is important to you, now. Just for the moment, where you are right now.

Then look at your life and see if there are anything in your habits, commitments that is keeping you from reaching that goal or from honouring your value. What is making you feel exhausted, overcommitted and over stretched?

Practise saying no – gracefully. Here is a few examples of how can do say no to yourself, your spouse, your kids and to others:

  • If I say no to doing this for my child, I’m giving him room to grow, develop and mature.
  • If I say no to my snoozing alarm and get up, I will be ahead of the game.
  • I need ample sleep, therefore I will say no to checking social media or switching on the TV when it’s near bedtime.
  • My heart wants to say yes, but saying no is what I need to do in this season of my life.
  • I’m honoured by your request but I’m in a season for refocusing my priorities and have committed not to add anything new right now.
  • Though I would love to say yes, I must be brave and say no to picking another ball which I need to juggle.
  • I’ve promised my family that I will not add any new commitments to my schedule right now. Thank you for our friendship that allows me to be honest with my realities.
  • What you’re asking me is simply not fitting in with the season that I’m in at the moment. I’m sorry.

Your turn:

Is there anything in your life that you need to say no to?

By Lizanne du Plessis

Lizanne du Plessis is an Occupational Therapist and the author of Raising Happy Children. She is an experienced occupational therapist with a special interest in the identification and treatment of children with sensory processing disorder. For more information from Lizanne du Plessis go to www.lizanneduplessis.com or email her at info@lizanneduplessis.com