Yesterday was hellish. My fussy 3-month-old wanted to nurse every hour, no matter where we were. So imagine me nursing him at the library (i.e., unable to get up), while observing my 2-year-old, Elena, climbing as high as she could on the bookshelves. My 5-year-old, Ella, tried to help by yanking her down to the ground by her shirt, which resulted in a full-on tired toddler tantrum. I waddled over with a baby dangling as I tried to keep him latched on, barely covered by my "hooter hider," and tried to calm the escalating situation. Elena was screaming and inconsolable, so I had to pull her out of the library by an arm as she dragged her feet, holding the fretting baby with the other. Then I literally dragged her by a wrist across the busy street because she was trying to beeline through traffic back to the library. Bystanders looked at me with pity, empathy and a few, with disdain. I got in the car, and for a moment wanted to scream at the top of my lungs or break down and cry. Instead, I looked in the back seat at my three truly precious children sitting in their car seats, took a deep breath, turned up some Katy Perry and smiled. It wasn't their fault.
The previous evening, my husband and I attended an idyllic summer barbeque. The adults sat out on the deck catching up on our busy summers, partaking in delicious summer appetizers and sipping on chilled wine and ice-cold beer. The children played on the slip-and-slide and ran wild through the house, enjoying unfettered romping and having a blast. We were all having so much fun and stayed at the party way too late. Our children were absolutely wired when we got home and the house was not quiet until they were all finally sleeping at about 11:30 p.m.. Sheer exhaustion explains the library meltdown.
Now, let me explain how I kept my cool. In a word: meditation. I have been meditating nearly every morning for about three years now, and it's changed my life. Here are the top five methods -- including meditation -- that have helped me maintain a sense of true calm and happiness despite the mayhem that raising three little ones can often bring:
1) Meditate - Like I mentioned, my morning meditation and prayer session is crucial to starting my day out right. With a new baby, there have been mornings where I am in a semi-dreamy meditative state, but while dozing in and out I am centering my mind and sending love out to the world. A morning meditation practice is like a nice dose of Valium for moms, but much healthier, cheaper and sustainable. On the days I meditate, I feel as though I have an outer protective shell on me -- things just roll off.
2) Segment Your Life - Segmenting your life is really about organizing your life in a way that allows you to remain completely present in the activity at hand. In my early motherhood years, I was crazy busy all the time. I was always feeling behind in my work as an environmental engineer, so when I was with my children, I ruminated about all I needed to do... had forgotten to do... and should be doing. And then while at work, I was distracted by longing for my precious babies and the fabulous things they were doing without me. I was never completely where I "was," and I was trapped in my head by my thoughts. Now, I focus like a laser while I am writing and working, and when I am done, I am done. I get on the floor and try to soak in my kids. Children are the best examples of being completely in the moment. My life now feels more balanced and purposeful.
3) Have More Fun - It's easy to let the day-to-day routine and the countless tasks on our to-do lists make us feel overwhelmed and as though we just can't stop moving or working for a minute. Not true! Set an amount of time to work and focus while you're doing it, but then just put it by the wayside and simply do something that makes you smile and feel true joy. My kids and I sometimes have to get creative to come up with fun ideas by using our imaginations or getting on the computer to find crafts and games. Our two favorite fun activities are heading to the park with a picnic lunch or cranking up the music in our basement for a dance party.
4) Practice "Extreme Self Care" - I learned the term "self care" from the beautiful author Cheryl Richardson in her book The Art of Extreme Self Care. Moms need to embrace extreme self care more than any other segment of the population, in my opinion, if we want to raise our children with presence, grace and true joy. A few self care suggestions: just say no to any activity or duty that adds undue stress without enough benefit; take a long bath while nibbling on dark chocolate and savoring a juicy book; get a massage; go out for a morning by yourself with no kids! You'll return to your family from any of these activities feeling much more fun, balanced, and like your very best self.
5) Treat Your Body Like a Jet Engine - My husband is a fighter pilot and I've always teased him that his body is like a jet engine -- it burns tons of fuel and requires serious maintenance and rest, but performs like no other. We should all really think of our bodies that way! Our bodies, emotional state, and cognitive skills will handle the stresses and craziness of our life if we are sure to get enough sleep and eat nourishing food.
Sure, there will be moments of weakness when the screaming baby, tantruming toddler or sassy daughter will make us want to lose our minds. Moms just need a toolbox of ideas to help us care for our bodies, our spirits and our minds to handle it all with a smile.