Not long ago, I found myself in tears at the dinner table, on what was supposed to be a romantic date-night out. My husband and I got to talking about family and life, and by the end of one dirty martini I was pouring out all of the anxieties I had been hiding from myself and from him for months. It was honestly surprising to both of us, because I had never allowed myself to wallow in these feelings of anxiety, let alone verbalize them to my husband. Yet, even though I was trying my best not to show it, inside I was feeling like I was living day in and day out with my head above water. I felt overly busy, exhausted, and run-down.
As I struggled to explain how I was feeling, I saw the fear in his eyes begin to build. He clearly had no idea what I was talking about. I think I felt like I always had to be “on,” and if I said that I was feeling less-than, I would be letting my family down. I also feared that letting my feelings out would seem as though I was unhappy with my vocation as a wife and mom, which is not what I was feeling. I never wanted to undermine the fact that, despite my struggles, I was glad to be a stay-at-home mom and happy in my marriage. It wasn’t my husband or kids that were the cause for my anxiety, but I couldn’t quite pin down exactly what it was. As I continued trying to break it down to him, I felt incredibly defeated. It was extremely hard to explain, and I could tell at the end of our conversation that I left him feeling more confused than anything. Our date was supposed to be a good time, and we both left stunned from our conversation.
After that night, I realized that I had a lot to work on and I couldn’t keep hiding my feelings. Suppressing them was obviously weighing on me in ways I wasn’t acknowledging, and I knew that I had to do something. I started praying about it and evaluating why I was feeling the way I was, and what continued coming to mind was that I was tired. The many menial tasks and demands of being a stay-at-home-mom were piling up, and I wasn’t getting enough rest or taking care of myself properly.
I started to see that I had been excusing the exhaustion away, thinking to myself that being tired is just the lot of a mother with toddlers. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I couldn’t settle into that excuse forever. God willing, we will have more children, and my life as I know it isn’t going to be changing pace any time soon. In fact, it’s only going to get busier and more hectic. I realized that if I wanted things to change, I was going to have to put in some effort.
Part of the reason I was so tired was simply because I had been staying up too late. I have never been the kind of person to go to bed early and wake up with the sun, but always the type who squanders away the night, getting to bed at a late hour and waking only when absolutely necessary (e.g. when the kids are jumping on my head). Father Mike Schmitz helped me understand that actively avoiding rest is ultimately vanity. By staying up late and avoiding the next day’s challenges, I was saying that I didn’t trust God to take care of my needs or to give me the fuel I needed to get through my day. In evaluating my sleep habits, I realized that I was being vain. In fact, I was treating my home life as if it were my job. When my kids and my husband were around, I was “on the clock,” and when they were asleep or away I was free to “be me” (i.e. to read, relax, pray, write, etc.). This is why I would stay up so late! It sounds selfish and embarrassing to put it that way, but I honestly think that is part of why I was feeling so overwhelmed. I heard God prompting me to establish a bedtime, so for the duration of Lent, I went to bed a whole two hours earlier than I was accustomed.
Honestly, this simple act of submission began to change my outlook on my life. Catching up on much needed sleep was incredibly beneficial to me. I started to wake with a more positive attitude, and ready to tackle my day. At first it was difficult to allow God to have control over that time, but I learned quickly that the extra rest I was getting was much needed. On top of that, I also began learning to offer him the anxieties and worries I had been building up during the day. I began placing my worries at his feet, laying down my need to have everything perfect, and trusting that he would take care of the things I could not and fill me in the ways that I needed. By simply sleeping more, and allowing God into my burdens began restoring so much peace to my life.
Right after Lent was over, I began reading Holly Pierlot’s “A Mother’s Rule of Life,” which helped me further pin down why I was feeling so off-kilter. In the book, the author lays out the five essential elements of the vocation of a mom and wife, in order of importance: Prayer, Person, Partner, Parent, Provider. In reading this book, I realized I wasn’t properly balancing or ordering these five essential elements. I was living life like this: Provider, Parent, Partner, Prayer, Person. During the day, I was so focused on the work I needed to get done rather than actually enjoying my family. If the house was a mess by the end of the day, I felt like a failure; if my kids didn’t get proper attention, I felt like a bad mom; if I didn’t have it all together by the time my husband got home, I felt like I somehow wasted my day away. I felt guilty when I took time for myself, and often halfheartedly tried to squeeze in prayer when I could. Every single day was a battle against my own will to have everything perfect, and I constantly felt like I was coming up short. It was exhausting.
I realized that all the things that were building up, weren’t so much things that I needed to rid my life of, but rather re-prioritize. Though prayer was important to me, it definitely wasn’t my first priority, so this was the first thing that needed to change. How could I expect to rid myself of anxiety and frustration, if I was ignoring the true source of peace and joy?
Since I had become accustomed to going to bed earlier, I was able to easily carve out time for prayer. With my husband’s support, I started getting up a little bit earlier than my kids to pray and read scripture each day. I also realized that if I woke up an additional thirty minutes earlier, I’d have time to exercise and have a cup of coffee as well. My little morning ritual has become precious to me, because it feeds me both spiritually, physically and mentally.
I also began establishing a time and day for all the duties I had to get done in my house, and challenged myself to get them done in their allotted time. I started to see that the tasks I have to get done are necessary to have a clean and ordered home, but the primary purpose for everything that I do should be for the love of my family. With this in mind, my attitude about the tasks I had to get done started to change. I started getting to my chores faster, seeing them not as something to be done begrudgingly (because they had to be done), but as opportunities to show love to my family. Folding the laundry, cleaning the bathroom, putting away the dishes…all of these things are opportunities for me to go outside of myself and accomplish something that will make those around me happy! In that way, my work ceases to be a “to-do” list, and becomes a gift to my family!
Making it a daily priority to accomplish my tasks at home quickly and efficiently made it easy for me to weed out the things that were wasting my time (like too much internet, phone, and TV). In structuring my day so that it would be more purposeful, I started to see how many unnecessary things I was putting my attention to, which were taking away from the more valuable things in life. Cutting those things out opened up a lot of time for me to do the things that I actually love to do.
I think the most important thing that I’ve learned by all this is that I’m not “on-the-clock” as a stay-at-home mom. Rather, I’ve been given a huge opportunity and blessing to show Christ’s love to my family on a regular basis. Even now, with all the structure in my day, I find it much easier to let it go when things fall apart or I don’t have it together. When I nurture my relationship with the Lord and take care of myself, I am better equipped to live out Christ’s plan for my life. With this in mind, all of the daily struggles and duties become opportunities to respond to him with love.
If you are feeling the way that I was, I want you to know that things can change. I am far from perfect and it can still be a daily struggle to order my life according to God’s will, but what I’ve come to realize is that the path to sanctification is a lifelong process, not an over-the-night transformation. No matter the season of life that we are in, we are all called to order our live’s according to God’s will. I believe that the best place to start is by examining those five aspects of married life (Prayer, Person, Partner, Parent, Provider), and asking yourself which elements are lacking or are out of order in your life. Placing them in their proper order is key for having a balanced life, and alleviating anxiety.
Which of the five aspects of the married vocation in your life could use some nurturing or reordering? Take the time to pray about it ask yourself what two things you can do to strengthen the ones that are hurting the most.