What is mental space in motherhood?
Mental space in the middle of motherhood can seem unachievable, or elusive. Having some space to think and process motherhood- time to yourself- can seem like a luxury when there are many needs, jobs and people vying for your attention. Taking time to decompress before getting that much longed for sleep, taking some time to enjoy something you love doing just because, or stopping long enough to plan and focus on ways to approach things differently, these are all great ways we could use some mental space. It’s ultimately about giving yourself permission to stop doing and being productive, and have a little break that refreshes and equips you for the days of motherhood ahead.
Mental space and motherhood, or peace and quiet don’t often go together (not least in waking hours!). In those younger years it can be hard to go to the toilet alone never mind sit uninterrupted. But however you find it, whether it’s five minutes before your eyes close, waking five minutes before them or going to a different room whilst they watch a television program (I am looking at you, Peppa Pig), it is important to find little chunks of solitude and mental breathing room.
I know that because I have been through lots of seasons of not prioritising or recognising the need to do that. Going from thing to thing, fighting fires and meeting needs and getting them to sleep and feeding them, perhaps zoning out with technology and crashing in bed myself before waking up feeling that the sleep I had got wasn’t enough. Daily life and daily responsibilities of small people underfoot can easily take over, with the crumbs and the schedules, things to remember and places to be. Finally in the middle of the overwhelm that came with three children who were 3 and under, I realised how much weight I was putting on my mind to carry all my thoughts, dreams, struggles and many other things about motherhood. So many of them I had pushed aside to make room for other things and so I was losing sight of the bigger picture of motherhood as well as failing to enjoy everyday life as well as I could.
The effect of not doing anything that filled me up, or taking much time to reflect on that season or plan forward meant that I was always drained, always feeling pulled in lots of different directions and often unprepared. That season was definitely extreme, in terms of sleep deprivation and lots of needs that were around me, but even as they have got older I’ve had to be very intentional about making sure I do let myself have some mental space somewhere within what could turn into a very busy day. It is so easy for our schedules, our children or our phones to take over and before we know it weeks have passed and we feel worn out.
What does mental space practically look like?
Just taking five minutes to do something enjoyable, and have some unproductive alone time can make the biggest difference. Five minutes alone in the knowledge that it is self indulgent time, is the best time. And the key comes in recognising it- consciously choosing to put that time in, knowing that you’ve spent five minutes doing something you enjoy just for the purpose of filling your tank. Then we are able to hold onto that whilst we spend the rest of our minutes meeting others’ needs and pouring out. Spending five minutes lying on the bed looking at the ceiling, five minutes scrawling down on paper everything that you’re holding in your mind that’s filling up your brain. Five minutes reading a fiction book, having a cup of tea in peace whilst flipping a magazine or doing star jumps. It’s doing anything that helps, that you enjoy and that recharges you quickly. For me the best way to switch off my brain is to read fiction, and the best way to let my mind mull subconsciously is to have a shower.
There is mental space that fills you up so you can give out again, and there’s also mental space that prepares you for the next hour/ day/ week of motherhood. Time to process the day, to think about joys and wonderful memories you’ve made and also think on challenges from the week. But also the bigger, dreamier things. Remembering what your passions are and thinking of ways to include them in your life with you children. Thinking about your expectations of being a mother were, hoping about dreams for the future and writing down things you always wanted to do when you had children. Mental space that helps you to separate those tasks of feeding and taking and teaching from the reasons why we do those things, and marry them back up again in a way that helps you to remember your purpose and your unique ability to mother your children, in your way. We try to let our minds do so many things at once and have so many ‘tabs open’ that it’s really helpful to let it switch off or to physically write things down and ‘download’ them and sift through them so that we can focus on doing the things that matter in the way we want to do them.
It could be five minutes twice a day, or twenty minutes a day or a couple of hours a week, but finding a rhythm and a use of your time that is the most beneficial to you as a mama is so life-giving.
Finding mental space in motherhood is never going to be easy, especially not if you have little ones underfoot. Rather than waiting for them to grow older and life become ‘easier’, we need to find ways to embrace our season and pick ways and times that work for us to get some breathing room. Choosing not to automatically pick up social media, turn on netflix or any other ‘easy’ activity when we do have the chance can be hard but worthwhile. Going to bed five minutes earlier to reflect on your day, putting your phone out of reach or asking someone to watch the little ones for ten minutes (even if it’s a cartoon) to take some intentional time is always going to be worth the extra effort. Perhaps the biggest influence on our ability to find mental space is ourselves, and our own attitudes towards it. Often we push it off until later, think of something that is productive that we do enjoy but fail to remember that if we want to love those around us best, we need to take care of ourselves too, even in the smallest ways.