Habits – good and bad – are the foundation of our days.
There are a thousand parenting articles and books, but sometimes what I really need is a concrete, practical way to mother right now, this minute, while the dinner is cooking, the toddler is screaming, the older kids need help with homework, and the to-do lists seem never-ending.
All the abstract ideas in the world don’t help me parent with love, and some of the wonderful but more complicated goals seem unattainable on a given day.
I had to come up with ways to show my love on those tired days, those struggling days, those overwhelming days when survival was priority and parenting with love seemed like an insurmountable goal.
I’m not a professional in this. I had no idea if these things would work, or make any difference at all. But I had to try. I know how it feels to be confused as a child, to wonder if it’s all your fault, to try so hard to fix something that you never broke. And I knew that even while I tried to survive and heal myself, my children must not pay the price.
As my depression faded with support and medicine, I realized that these habits had developed not just in my own heart, but in theirs. I saw what I could not see during those awful months – that my own hurt had not touched them.
I understood that mothering is not, and will never be, about how much we do, but how we do it.
There were days when these 5 habits were my only goals for the day. As my mind and body heal, I am once again finding joy in all the “extras” of motherhood – the activities, the holidays, the outings and events. But now I see them as extras, not essentials. Now, even on the days when I do nothing “extra,” if I’ve accomplished these 5 things, I feel sure that I have loved my children well.
1. Look in their eyes. Doesn’t it seem ridiculously basic? It makes them feel valued and quite literally seen.
2. Speak specific words of affirmation. In our family, there are certain words that are high praise. I try to use them at least once daily for each child. Thoughtful, kind, patient, helpful.
“It was thoughtful of you to pick up the baby’s toys for her.” “It’s kind of you to read to your brother.” “Thank you for being patient while I finish this.” “You were so helpful when you carried that for Mom!”
Words carry an importance that children sense, even before they fully understand the meaning. I label a positive behavior “kind,” and suddenly that child realizes that “kind” = a happy heart; that “thoughtful” has made someone smile, and that “helpful” is something to be appreciated.
3. Hug them. I don’t mean one of those half-hearted, arm draped across the shoulder hugs. I mean a scoop-them-up, snuggle in, hold them tight bear hug. My kids call them squish hugs, and we never miss a day.
Truth be told, there are many days when I feel totally and utterly touched out by all my tiny humans. For me, that usually ends up being right around dinner time. ha! But there’s something different about a real snuggle hug from the 8,001 little finger pokes, and hand pats and leg pulls of the day. Those hugs are my reminder each day of how tiny they once were, how fast they are growing (even when it doesn’t feel fast enough!), and how healing human touch can be.
4. Do something silly. I remember watching that movie “Life Is Beautiful,” that came out years ago, and the one thing that stuck in my mind was how the father, as he was being led away to his death, did a silly dance to assure his hiding child that it was all just a game.
Silly has a place in all our lives, and for my children, it has been a turning point in our day more than once. A day that starts sour can be turned around with a silly face, a knock knock joke, a goofy song with a spatula as a microphone.
It’s easy to make little ones laugh. Laughter is a memory I want in our home, and making laughter one of my mothering habits is a choice I won’t regret.
5. Say I love you – and mean it. Back in college I used to work as a host in a restaurant and more than once when I hung up the phone with a customer I absentmindedly said “Love you, bye!” #awkward 😉 That’s not the kind of “I love you” we’re talking about here.
I love you – not out of habit but because you are my child, the joy of my life.
I love you – not only because you’re here but because if you were not here, my heart would be missing a beautiful piece.
I love you – not because I must, but because I choose.
I love you – not in spite but because of every tiny part of you that makes you who you are.
I love you – for everything you do, for everything you are, for everything you will become.
I love YOU. Now, always, forever.
Parenting in this season can feel like a blur of directions, repetitions, and the quiet courage that says, “I’ll try again tomorrow.” But every now and then a glimmer of encouragement comes through, and makes it all clear just how important it all is, the habits we form, the shaping of these little hearts.
Earlier this week, I woke up and I knew before my feet hit the floor that it was going to be one of “those” mornings. One thing after another, and when I dropped the entire gallon of milk on the floor, I kind of felt like just crawling back into bed and waiting for this cloud to pass. And then they were all around me.
“It’s ok, Mom!”
“I’ll help you clean it up. We’ll do it together!”
“You were trying to be kind, I saw you.”
“You can cry if you need to, Mommy. I’ll hold your hand.”
You guys. There are days when the weight consumes me and days when I feel like I could fly. But somehow, no matter what the day, my children are learning to love, to speak kindness, to live with compassion.
If I do nothing else right in all my life, I have done that.