As parents we understand the importance of our children having time to work (in their case, playing is their work a lot of the time, as they are learning about the world, but also homework and school learning apply!), rest (why can we get so worked up about their sleep?! because they need it!) and play. But we don’t always extend the same to ourselves.
Our children run around the lounge, putting little plastic cups in a line and putting trays in the oven. ‘What would you like?’ my mini waiter comes armed with a tiny notebook and takes my order. Work at this stage doesn’t seem like a chore to them, as they dress up in ‘work clothes’ and our littlest announces ‘me do work’ even though she is not quite two.
We can be busy with jobs, home, family, children, meals, cleaning, and everything in between. Some people lean towards doing a lot and never stopping- always being on the go and finding it hard to switch off mentally because they can always see their to-do list in their mind. Other times we resent our work and try to get it done as quickly as possible so that we can do other things (or for me, put off jobs I don’t like around the house!). However, work is an important and necessary part of life. When we view it with the right perspective, how we spend our time working- whether in a paid job or in the home or looking after children, our work is meaningful. We are made to work, to contribute to the world around us, to create beauty and meaning and to support others in loving community. This plays a huge part in our children’s younger years as we work to wake ourselves up in the middle of the night, work to feed them, work to provide them with entertainment and learning and growth opportunities. We live in a world of work- but we do have to be careful that work doesn’t become our identity. People love to define us by what we ‘do’, whether that’s an occupation, profession, a job you hate or being a stay at home mama. Many times we can’t categorise ourselves as clearly as others want- who want to fit us neatly inside a box. The truth is that we don’t fit into their boxes- as multi faceted women we are mothers, but also wives, friends, we may have part time work, projects at home, and often people don’t understand the depth of work that goes into being a full time mama either.
Rest, is so important to our children. We can spend time soothing them to sleep, helping them to have quiet time in the middle of the day once naps have gone, giving them opportunities to have some relaxation even when they’re not in bed. Our oldest two really needed some rest in the middle of the day once they stopped napping- and providing them with that has been some of my favourite time spent with them, resting. The three year old, sat next to me as we enjoy a film together, sometimes dozing off, or reading a stack of books on our bed and having that special time together.
Rest is important for us too- there are time when it is very difficult to get uninterrupted sleep- but we still take ourselves to bed and try to get some sleep. There are times when we stay up later than we should, and feel the effects in the morning. There are cat naps on the sofa sometimes, days when we drag our feet onto the floor in the middle of the night and feel as though our eyes are half asleep still.
Rest also encompasses not just physical rest but rest for our minds and souls. Not only do we need to think about whether we are doing what we can to get enough sleep at night- but we need to take pockets of time to be quiet, still, and to have some rest for our minds somehow. I find that the most effective ways to get my mind to rest are to be outside, to write down my thoughts or to read. Being in nature is so easily relaxing, and obviously writing and reading help my brain to download things or to stop thinking through my own everyday life. You might find a bath, music, a run, a magazine, a change of scene or something else will help you to rest. It’s so tempting to switch on a screen, or scroll the internet- but if you think about things that truly recharge and rejuvenate you, facebook is unlikely to be on your list. Take a minute to think of or write down things that fill you up and help you to rest and revive. This is perhaps the most neglected thing for many of us (and something I am learning more and more!)
We play with our children- but how do we view play as an adult? A luxury we don’t have time for? Hopefully you do have time to play- spending time with friends, going out with your spouse or doing something for you, just for fun. Play obviously looks different to us as adults, but there is not reason why life has to be all about ticking off the jobs and going to sleep just to repeat that. We have a full, abundant life available to us that we can embrace and enjoy and love together with our family and friends. Invest in those around you, invite them into your home (even if it’s a mess.) Find someone to babysit, take that class or go to that group in the evening that you’ve thought about. For so long we didn’t plan ahead to find time to go out- and we still have to be very intentional about it- but the difference it makes not being at home, even if your children are asleep and not not with you is amazing. Again, think about things you love to do, or used to do before you had children, and do them whether by yourself or as a date. We used to go to the cinema a lot before we got married- and in the little years we didn’t go hardly at all, but we have enjoyed a few films lately and remembered that time. Try something new and get your brain working in a new way- an exercise class or a painting class, a social somewhere. Relaxing on the sofa watching something can be nice- but breaking those habits every so often will be even better.
All three of these elements, work, rest, and play, are key components to us living an intentional but joyful life. When the balance between them gets shifted too far one way or the other we pay the consequences – so if you feel like something is a bit off, have a think about how these three areas are in your own life and if there is one you need to be a bit more intentional about.