I’ve been practicing a new habit lately. It’s a big one, requiring just as much, if not more discipline than the twice-a-week boot camp I’ve picked up, or the clean eating-tips I’m trying to incorporate into my diet. It’s less productive than the lists that float around Facebook telling me how to organize my pantry, closet, and laundry room in just 30 minutes a day, and it doesn’t offer the instant gratitude of checking something . . . anything . . . off of my seemingly endless list.
I’ve committed myself to study the principles and practice of rest.
As a culture, Americans miss the mark on this one. Professionals in Spain, Italy, the Philippines, and most of South America go home for a three or four hour lunch break, eating a long lunch and then pausing their day for a siesta. We, instead, grab a granola bar from the break room and pay bills from our phone on our walk back to our desk.
We sacrifice intentional, mindful, in-the-moment living for multitasking, and seem to favor mass texts over coffee with a friend. Family time? Hard to incorporate with 10-hour work days and a 90-minute commute.
Somewhere along the way, sleep deprivation became a badge of honor for mothers, boasting about how they’re functioning on just three hours of sleep, all the while omitting the dangerous mood swings, threat of depression, and overall exhaustion that results when we’re overworked, underappreciated, and well . . . tired.
There’s a natural work/rest rhythm, even in nature. Farming is labor intensive and on purpose . . . planting and watering and weeding . . . but the work is done not in the time we spend doing but in the time we spend waiting. You never cut a tree down in the winter because, though it looks stark and barren and broken in places, it isn’t dead; it’s simply resting. Each spring it comes back with fuller branches, sturdier trunks, and deeper roots.
As mothers, we understand the importance of rest when it comes to our children. How many times have you seen a toddler in the midst of a tantrum, only to be apologetically explained by an overwrought mom, “Ugh . . . he just needs a nap.” My youngest is a blanket toting, thumb sucking, proud member of the terrible twos. He can go 90 to nothing, and spend most of his time running and climbing and destroying . . . er, exploring . . . but, periodically throughout the day, he finds his blanket, drags it to me, and hoists himself onto my lap for a little “reset” time.
I’m fortunate that he’s so self-regulating, and I could learn a little from his cues. I’ve actually been guilty of denying his recharge so that I can finish folding a load of laundry. And I admittedly spent most of my kids’ infant months hurrying my way through their awake time so that I could get them to bed and work tirelessly until they awoke again.
God, Himself, sanctioned a time for rest after the creation of the world; what makes us think we could do life without it?
I know it’s difficult to think of squeezing one more thing into our bulging schedules, but I’ve come to realize that if I don’t make rest a priority, it all suffers anyway.
Here are a few tips I’ve been trying out in my life as a recovering overachiever.
- Establish a weekly Sabbath for your family. This doesn’t have to be Sunday, although it’s a great place to start. But one day a week should be free from outside commitments and endless home improvement lists. It allows everyone to spend quality time together without an agenda and creates space for spontaneous trips to the park, or the zoo, or even to the backyard where nothing has to be done.
- Incorporate times of rest into the day. Studies show, and we know intrinsically, that kids are happier and better behaved when their bellies are full and their minds are rested. Maybe your kids have dropped their midday nap (and if you’re anything like me, I’m sure you might still be in mourning; those two hours were glorious). But even if they don’t go to sleep, they need time to recharge. Allow them time to lay on their beds flipping through the pages of their favorite books. Sit them in a comfy recliner with a quiet toy, or (gasp!) their favorite 30-minute television show, and get them used to the idea of resetting. They can even play quietly in their room for up to an hour so long as they understand this is not a time for drums or destruction.
- Be consistent with bedtime routines. This one isn’t just for the kiddos. As parents, we begin establishing bedtime routines for our children early on. Bathe them, provide a little mini lotion massage, read a story, sing a song, and then tuck them in for a good night’s trip to slumberland. We set the stage so their hard-working bodies and brains know that the day is coming to an end. But we neglect these routines as adults. We veg out on the couch and watch TV with images shooting at us at lightning speed. We scroll mindlessly through our social media feeds letting all the pictures and words activate our brains, and then wonder why we have a difficult time shutting off when we finally turn out the light. If you can’t add additional, actual sleep time (although we are supposed to be getting between seven and nine hours of sleep a night), at least give yourself a head start by shutting off technology 30 minutes to an hour before you go to sleep. Take a hot bath, do some stretches, write down the extra concerns that seem so imperative, and then lay down knowing that your day is complete.
- Take time for yourself. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you have FULL PERMISSION to take time for yourself as a mom. So maybe you can’t escape the house for a two-hour yoga session every day, but you can sit on the deck and prop your feet up with a book for 30 minutes.
Ban the kids and husband from the kitchen while you prepare dinner. Turn on your favorite music and remember what it was like to enjoy the process of cooking. Smell and taste and feel your way through the experience, and rest in the knowledge that you are conjuring up a delicious meal that will fill the bellies of the people you love most.
Spend some time reading your favorite blogs. You don’t have to be googling spring cleaning tips or natural remedies for bug bites. Just find a writer that you really enjoy reading and escape into his or her words for a bit.
Go for a walk in the woods. Or on a trail. Or in your neighborhood even. Don’t do it just to be adding steps to your fitbit log or to check off your cardio requirements for the week. Just walk to walk. Clear your head. Look up at the trees and take in the sky. Look down at the funny shaped rocks and pocket one that you can paint a face on later.
Allow yourself the privilege of breathing — in . . . out . . . in . . . out — knowing that with every intentional breath we are connecting our minds to our bodies and moving through this big ol’ crazy world with more balance and grace.
The practice of rest is just that: a practice. We’ve spent years telling ourselves we have to do more, work more, go more, in order to be more, so we won’t likely be able to quiet our inner driving voices overnight. But, I’m convinced there’s something to it, and I’m learning a lot from watching my kids. If they’re tired and overstimulated, they’re cranky and not a lot of fun to be around.
Therefore, if Mama is tired and overstimulated, she’s probably cranky and not a lot of fun to be around either.
Have you found the proper work/rest balance? What are your methods for maintaining a restful approach to life?