I struggle with the open-endedness of motherhood. Diaper changes, feeding, cleaning, and sleep take up a good portion of the day. But there are at least six unstructured hours of time to fill. I often default to just sitting on the floor with the kids. My mind is wandering or stressing about what I want/need/should be doing.
But fear keeps me on the floor. Fear of neglecting them. Fear of being distracted. Fear of making the wrong choice, as if there is one right way of spending time in motherhood. So paralyzed, I sit there building stress and frustration all the while trying to be the attentive, engaged, teaching, fun parent. No wonder I feel worn-out.
As I told this all to Andrew in December it ended with, “I have no idea what that time is supposed to look like. I don’t know what I’m aiming for.” With the problem firmly identified, I’ve been searching for an answer. What is time with young children at home supposed to look like for me?
My journey is far from complete (in fact this is one that probably doesn’t end…) but I’m making excellent headway. Here are some of my absolute favorite resources:
Simplicity Parenting. This book is fantastic. It was incredibly specific in helping me create a vision of what we are going for. It talks about simplifying the child’s environment, the day to day to embrace the ordinary, our relationship with them (no helicopter parenting in its many forms), and the exposure to the adult world. This book follows Waldorf principles of creating rhythms and routines in our days and has a strong focus on building family relationships and unity. There is a large section on toys – a selection process for what to keep and what to part with, and what to look for in a toy. It also talks about embracing slow days, which is something else I have to come to grips with entirely. Another (bigger) Waldorf resource that is a great starting place is You Are Your Child’s First Teacher.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. While not a parenting book, read alongside Simplicity Parenting I felt so much clarity in my mind. I’ve taken notes on the entire book in the back of my planner so I can refer to the principles at a moments notice. I now use, “What is important right now?” as a measure throughout my day to help me make decisions. Really the book applies to everyone and I highly recommend reading it.
What really made the book powerful and immediately applicable for me was the Mind Organizations for Moms course I worked through at the end of last year. It helped me set up a system for everything that I think about, put it on paper or file it away, and analyze my options before moving forward. This system alone has had the biggest impact on making room in my mind to think and stop thinking. It has created space in my brain and home to be intentional. Reading Essentialism helped create a more defined criteria for what I’m looking at doing, so I can focus my work for the biggest impact.
Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years: This is a short, read in an hour book. My main take-away from this book to teach and encourage independence. We’ve been trying to mix things up so kids have access to food they can prepare and take more control over daily tasks by changing the environment. I feel exceedingly more patient remembering that one of my jobs is letting them take time to figure out how to function in this world. And I’ll stop mentioning it after this, but it pairs nicely with Essentialism too (as do the following…I really like that book). A much more detailed book in examples and methods is Montessori From the Start.
Home Education. Charlotte Mason was a British educator in the late 1800s early 1900s. She loved children, understood children’s needs and natures, and saw them as beings straight from God. While she never had children of her own, she provides great instruction and encouragement to mothers after spending the majority of her life surrounded by children. When I read her words I feel I have purpose, I am calm, and I am excited about being with my children. I don’t feel like I did her writings justice at all. Highly recommend reading this one in bits and pieces because it is packed with wisdom. My favorite Charlotte Mason book not written by Charlotte herself is Charlotte Mason Companion.
These are also all homeschooling methods. I have read a number of other homeschooling books. I initially picked them up figuring homeschoolers have kids home all day just like I do now, and have to do school on top of everything, so they are bound to have some secrets. In more of an educational vein, I really enjoyed The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home and Educating the Whole Hearted Child.
While we have zero decisions or plans made in the homeschool realm, I have been actively thinking about what I think the ideal education setting for early childhood education looks like (under the age of 6). I like the culture of the Waldorf, the methods and principles of Charlotte Mason, and the curriculum of a classical education.
But wait, this article clearly sets the correct tone. We don’t need to do more for young children, Life is the Curriculum.
The true mark of success. Today I sat down and just ate lunch with the kids. Relaxed in my seat. Let them talk. Nathan started a new game, which continued throughout the day with various objects. He handed me his sandwich, put his palms up and waited for me to put a piece of sandwich in them. Over and over again. He had us all laughing.
Emily was quietly occupied for almost two hours during rest and read time today. I thought we were making real progress. As soon as she heard me up and about she ran down covered in make-up. I calmly reclaimed the makeup that she had scaled the closet shelves to obtain. I took her to Walmart still wearing makeup singing at full volume, “Let it go. Let it go. Can’t hold it back any more,” on an endless loop for two hours. We received many, many smiles and comments.
After the library today the kids and I were reading books on the floor. I took a little stone away from Nathan that Emily had gotten out of my room during rest and read time, and Emily quietly picked it up. While I was reading about Madeline, she interjected, “Mom I swallowed it. I swallowed the stone.” So then we called the nurses hotline, who said as long as there isn’t any pain we just need to wait it out.
This is what my motherhood looks like.