Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Five secrets to survival mode

For the past two weeks now I've been battling a horrible cold.  Think stuffy nose, nasty cough, sore throat, no energy, headaches, sleeplessness.  Yuck!  And add to that the fact that I'm now, you know, nearly 39 weeks pregnant, and you can see it's not a pretty picture.  (They say flus and colds are more severe in pregnancy, and I definitely concur with that!)

Meanwhile of course life goes on, and I am still responsible for taking care of all these kids because, as we all know, stay-at-home moms don't technically get sick days. 

You would think that God would spare moms--especially moms-to-many--from life's little inconveniences like stomach viruses and influenza, but it turns out He doesn't, at least not this mom.  I do get sick from time to time, and while I've actually had a really healthy past several months, this cold about did me in.  Thankfully I'm mostly all better now but it's been rough!

One of the questions people have been asking me for years is how do I handle being sick with so many children?  Truthfully, I don't always handle it very well--I find it incredibly stressful to have to check out of normal life for longer than a day or two, and then the guilt starts to creep in, and then I start to feel completely and utterly hopeless and sad and wonder how on earth I'm surviving my crazy life at all, and I begin to rethink our decision to homeschool and start making mental plans to enroll my kids in our neighborhood school, except then I'd have to do pickups and dropoffs while sick, so how would that work? 

It is, um, an ugly downward-spiral.  That generally involves tears at some point, and I never cry, so that is really saying something.

But thankfully I've learned some things over the years that have really helped, and sometimes I wonder if God allows illness--even run-of-the-mill silly things like colds--to illuminate what matters and what doesn't, and to show us that He is ultimately in control, and that the world is not actually all on our shoulders.

1.)  Take care of yourself.  This is key, and something I figured out pretty early on.  You simply cannot raise children and keep a home and love your husband if you are not well physically, emotionally or spiritually.  You may be able to do so for a time, but it's just not sustainable.  So my children know that when I'm sick, I need to rest--which means that some of my normal tasks will fall by the wayside, some will be picked up by my husband, and some will be picked up by the kids themselves.  Naptime will need to be especially quiet if I'm going to be sleeping myself, and one of the kids might make dinner two nights in a row, or my husband might bring home frozen pizzas to heat up for dinner.  And, I refuse to feel bad about it.  We all get sick from time to time, and my priority at that point becomes getting well.

2.)  Avoid feeling guilty.  I know, I know--we moms are somehow genetically engineered to feel guilty about pretty much everything.  Why is that?  I really have no idea, but I do know that it can be mighty tempting to feel bad when your husband comes home to a messy house, or to dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, or to kids with disheveled hair and sticky hands.  Not that that ever happens around here.  :)  In all honesty I don't often think about how high my standards are until I get sick and stuff starts falling by the wayside, and I start apologizing all over myself.  "I'm so sorry our bed's not made!  I need to load this dishwasher right now!  I'll be back to cooking soon!"  And I have to say that when I start down this path, my husband usually laughs at me and orders me not to apologize, tells me things are totally fine and he doesn't care, and then sends me back to bed.  (Though I generally refuse to go until I've loaded those dishes.  I just can't handle dirty dishes on the counter.)  It can be hard to fight the guilty feelings, but ladies, this is an area where we are WAY too hard on ourselves.  And it doesn't do us any good to feel bad about what are, really, quite trivial things.

3.)  Prioritize.  As important as it is to rest and avoid the guilt trap, if there's something I know makes me feel better in general (I mentioned keeping up on dishes earlier), I'll put my efforts toward doing that.  A clean, tidy house has become increasingly important to me as our family has grown.  Before we had all these kids, I was kind of a slob.  Now though I have all sorts of  neurotic control issues around the house.  SO, even when I'm feeling downright horrible, I do generally keep up on the dishes and also enforce my kids getting their assorted chores done--kitchen cleaned up after every meal, toys picked up before naps and before dinner, bedrooms tidied before bed.  All of that goes a long way in keeping me sane while I'm sick.

4.)  Share the load.  Now this one applies to all-the-time, not just when I'm under the weather, but it becomes even more important when I'm not functioning at 100%.  Would it surprise you if I told you I don't do much laundry (aside from mine, Kevin's and the littlest ones) beyond pouring the detergent into the machine?  Or that I don't sweep up or wipe down the table after meals?  My kids do those things.  My kids have responsibilities around the house, like emptying the trash, cleaning the kitchen, loading, switching, unloading, folding, and putting away their own laundry, helping with the littlest ones, and of course keeping their bedrooms and toys tidied up.  And, they're actually pretty good at it.  Every family is different and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to these sorts of things, but I will tell you that I believe my kids are learning valuable, practical life skills while also contributing in positive and constructive ways to our family.  The jobs are pretty much the same every day so they know what to expect, and when they get to work it really doesn't take very long.  And oh, does this come in handy when I'm out of commission.

5.)  Laugh.  This is possibly the most important of all!  It is so easy to get discouraged and frustrated and totally stressed out, but if I take the time to just be, and sit back and enjoy my children, I'm reminded of some Very Important Things.  Like, the fact that life goes on and is more than okay when I'm not myself.  Or that a few subpar meals in a row is not the end of the world.  Or that resting in bed is the perfect opportunity to grab some extra cuddle time with your sweet three-year-old.  One of the loveliest moments with my kids in some time actually came last week around the dinnertable, over frozen pizza that I couldn't taste, while I sat blowing my nose and enjoying their lively conversation.  Being forced to slow down can, in fact, be a gift.

Now if I can just remind myself of all these things when Baby Girl arrives...


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