As a new year dawned and I planned and dreamed, I felt so inspired about what this year could hold. One of my goals for the year is to find a life-giving daily rhythm and develop life-giving routines at home. I had plans to be gentle and flexible as we go about this, slowly weaving routines into our days.
Then the doubts hit. I was reading various posts designed to inspire—posts about schedules, posts about huge goals achieved, posts that seemed to promise that with the right system, my days would be well-ordered and more productive.
I went to a dark place. I looked back over the past 5.5 years of motherhood and wondered, “Should I have done more? Shouldn’t I have our home life together by now? Shouldn’t our days be easy—full of productivity and consistency and self-discipline? What’s wrong with me?!”
Though the transition to three kids has been easier emotionally than the transition to two, it is still challenging. It’s hard to never be enough for three little people who could each demand all of a mother’s time. A sink full of dishes sounds like a poetic metaphor compared to the state of our kitchen, and as soon as we get on top of things, someone gets sick or has a rough day, and things go back to chaos. My husband’s long hours mean that we are constantly exhausted. We are happy, but our lives are very, very full (like that poetic sink!).
I woke up on my son’s half birthday, five days into the new year. It was the first sunny day in a while, and my son wanted to go hiking.
Everything in me thought we should stay home and get our lives in order. Our house was covered in post-holiday clutter and half de-decorated. I had never been hiking on the trails he wanted to try and wondered if I should attempt it with my three boys, particularly the four-month-old. Still, we abandoned our cluttered home and headed to the woods. On the drive there, I focused on all I was doing wrong, failure swirling in my head as I tried to solve all the problems of our lives.
As we started our hike, the chilly wind whispered promises of spring. We trudged through mud looking at deer tracks. We walked across a swinging bridge over a river that looked like churning chocolate milk. At my son’s insistence, we stopped and read the Cherokee name of every tree that had a marker. As the trail looped back, the boys found a huge puddle. They ran through it and got soaked from their puffy jackets down to their shoes, laughing the whole time.
At the car, I peeled off wet layers and changed them into the pjs we had brought "just in case.” I gave them snacks, changed a diaper, and tucked the baby into his car seat. We headed home for lunch and stories. I tossed two muddy jackets in the wash before settling the boys down for quiet time.
And it hit me: we were doing the best we could, and we were doing just fine!
I could easily miss my life—this life God has given me— because I’m so focused on the areas I need to improve. I could easily miss my life because of the picture in my head—a picture of well-ordered days where each son needs me enough but not too much and we all remain perpetually cheerful because I’m doing everything right.
Sometimes it feels like if I just had enough self-discipline and consistency, all our problems would be solved. In premarital counseling after we finished taking some tests, I was told, “You have very high self-discipline. You’ll have a hard time not picking up after your kids while they are playing.” I remembered these words recently and was reminded that though my house doesn’t show my rigidity, my heart does.
The times I get the angriest are when my standards aren’t met, when the house isn’t as clean as I would like or the day doesn’t go as planned despite all my attempts. Routine and order can easily be my idols—things I look to to fix all that’s wrong. But even with my best self-discipline, I run up against my own limits and those of my family members.
Maybe in this season, self-discipline looks different. The discipline right now is fighting my urge to trample everyone to get things in order. The discipline is looking into the baby’s eyes rather than quickly trying to get on with things. The discipline is fighting the condemnation in my mind that says “You are a bad mother because you can’t figure all this out.” It takes discipline to remember that we are working for eternity—shaping souls rather than just ordering days.
I’m not as inconsistent as I often believe either. What on the surface looks like inconsistency, is often flexibility, a flexibility that has kept us all sane during these years of change and sleeplessness. Being consistent in a cleaning routine isn’t always possible in these little years. But it is important to be consistent in kindness. I never regret erring on the side of kindness in how I relate to the members of my home or anyone else.
The goal of routines and discipline is to help us do the work we need to and love others well. We haven’t found perfect routines, but none of our work is wasted. I have this vision in my head of productivity based on charts and rules. But what would I accomplish that I haven’t? Our routines have ebbed and flow during these years, but our values haven’t. We have created a family culture that celebrates adventure, that loves to read and be outside. We’ve eaten mostly healthy meals, enjoyed time with friends and family, and tried to teach ourselves and our children the Gospel over and over.
We all have areas in which to grow, and one of mine is definitely efficiency when it comes to housework. I’m slowly learning how to create better routines for myself and the kids. But I don’t want to miss the work and growth that are already happening, even when I have to move piles to see it.
I can easily focus on my own inadequacy, but when I look closer, I see that this has all been God growing me right where he needs to. Maybe what I’m seeing as my failing is actually spiritual growth and a humbling invitation to keep learning. If things went according to my plans, I wouldn’t have to trust, to look to Him for strength and wisdom.
It has been hard for me to infuse my traditional, rigid self-discipline on this unruly life, and that has been for the best when I consider the state of my soul. None of it has been wasted, and we are all learning and growing more into the people God created us to be. The most important thing isn’t a well-crafted life; it’s eternal souls that know their Creator. Any routine and rhythm must start here.