These days my time is ruled by school bells, and carefully coordinated timetables full of sport, playdates, music and swimming lessons. But there was a time, not so very long ago when there was no structure beyond the general sense of meal times, sleep times, bedtime, then it continued into the night with infants who woke for feeds. The afternoons used to stretch out before me like an eternity, the expectation of a returning husband to break the monotony was like a distant beacon of hope and relief.
Jane, a friend who is now one third of my prayer triplet, is right in the middle of this stage with two little boys, born rather closer together than was intended. As we share prayer points and discuss our lives, her thoughts and struggles are like a flashback to my own during those years. Here are a few things I wish a wise friend had pulled me aside and whispered in my ear (and then reminded me of often because it takes a while to sink in).
Find new ways to keep yourself spiritually fed.
During this stage there are many things that fill the time, but not your mind, such as feeding a baby or rocking a child to sleep, or the endless housework. By the end of the day you are exhausted and trying to read your Bible can seem like attempting to decipher an alien language. Listening to a sermon at church is no longer possible with constant interruptions and infants fussing, and the rare time they do sleep at the right time, that familiar fog descends on your brain and there is no hope of anything sinking in. But don’t give up. Our heavenly Father knows and loves us, and he hears every brief prayer we murmur. Keep turning to him and learn how to pray without ceasing as you go about your day.
Try other ways to hear from God’s word. There are so many good podcasts we can listen to on our phones (that can be turned on with one only one hand, and paused repeatedly). The Bible is available as an audiobook, and no one will know if you had to listen to the same passage five times. You can find Scripture passages put to music (I like Seeds Family Worship), or even just some decent Christian music in the car (if you haven’t started with Colin yet for the kids). Another valuable option is memory verses. They aren’t just for Sunday school. Choose a passage, write it out and put it around the house, type it into your phone so it’s always available and think about it in those spare moments. Your hands can sort the washing, and your mind can be memorising God’s word.
We need good friends.
Real friends who will hear the struggles, listen to the whinges (and then promptly forget them), celebrate the wins and stick with us. Mothers need other mothers. There is nothing quite like the relief of hearing that your child is not the only one with that embarrassing quirk. Yes, your husband should and hopefully will continue to be your closest ally, but we still need the support, empathy and love that only the friendship with other mothers can bring. How do you find such friends? Look to your church community. God gives us one another to encourage and spur one another on. Women are to teach each other. And even if we find little else in common, we have Jesus himself. Ask God to help you find a friend. Ask him to help you see who needs your friendship and support. Take a risk and invite someone over. You do need to be willing to open up. For those of us who feel more comfortable with structure, try forming a prayer triplet. Agree to meet for six months at weekly or fortnightly and share your hopes, struggles, joys. Praying together accelerates a friendship like little else.
Start good habits early.
I really wish someone had told me this one. Yes, your baby might not understand it when you read the Bible and pray with them at bedtime, but it is still worth it. You are developing a habit that can last a lifetime. Often we unconsciously do what our parents did with us, and replicate the same routines or habits. But it is worth thinking, is this what you want your family life to be like? Be intentional. Think about your priorities and make sure they match what you are actually doing. It is never too late to re-evaluate or to start forming good habits. But if you can, start early. You won’t always have an afternoon with seemingly endless hours to fill. Fill them with the important things first. You’ll be glad you did.
Well, if you are at that stage of life now, you’ve probably reached your limit (and probably been interrupted several times whilst reading this). Remember: you need friends, start good habits now, and keep looking to God for strength in his Word and in prayer. Take heart, and hang in there. This too will pass.