I posted recently about how I felt as if the children were running rings around me and trying to get all sorts of mischief past me and how hard I had to take firms steps to take back some control. I also mentioned how exhausting I found it to continuously keep my focus on them. A sister asked a question in the comments:
… how do you do it? I mean with a small baby - diaper changes, nursing etc, how do you manage to keep your eye on the older kids and follow through with consequences? What if you're in the middle of a lengthy nursing session or changing a messy diaper so you can't possibly leave . . . and you know very well one of your other children is doing something they shouldn't - or you just have no idea at all what they are doing - how do you deal with that. Also what about if you have absolutely no help whatsoever with housework, cooking etc (and hiring is not an option) - how do you get everything done while keeping a tight rein on the children? Doesn't watching them so closely take all the time?
I thought it was a very valid question and it reminded me of a conversation I had with a colleague at work, who is also a good friend. She mentioned sisters she knew who seemed to have the perfect life – jobs in the city, dressed amazingly, great marriage, kids. They seemed to have a great social life and their Facebook and Whatsapp conversations always showed images of amazing tea parties and barbeques they hosted with numerous beautifully presented dishes and even though they work they seem to cook up elaborate meals on weekdays. She was curious as to how they did it, when the rest of us seem to stumble into work, stumble home and then try to work out what we can pass off as dinner.
My response to her was that I am not convinced at all by the beautiful images on Facebook. We all know we filter what we put out into the world whether through our conversation or social media. What I also know is that we all have the same 24 hours in a day. We all have the same need to sleep enough that we don’t get ill, we all need time to take care of our and our families needs. We all find ourselves at the mercy of unexpected events that mean all of our plans go out of the window, these sisters will be no exception.
The truth is that something always has to give – if you are doing it all then you either end up losing sleep and feeling perpetually tired and irritable, you neglect your own needs and become resentful. Perhaps you are working hard to deliver at work and are too tired to focus on your children – after all your children cannot fire you if you do a bad job, so you take short cuts like letting them play computer games all evening.
I think you can do it all – work, home, family, but I am not convinced that you can do it all well, let alone perfectly. In answer to the sisters question, you can only do one thing at a time, so you do the thing that is most pressing. When I am nursing or changing a nappy I have to be resigned to the fact that I can’t get up and stop Gorgeous from doing what he shouldn’t be (and the heck he’ll stop because anyone is telling him from across the room!). What I have had to do is be consistent about addressing something the first chance I get, rather than letting it go because it happened when I was busy. So once I have finished with the nappy change, I will call back the child I need to deal with and check in with them: have you done your homework? Why are you crying? I saw you do x how will you make up for this?
That is the best I can manage and the children know that just because I didn't do something immediately doesn't mean that there won’t be a consequence.
With regards to housework – I think that’s the something that has to give sometimes. When we have more tasks than it seems we can do in the 24 hours we have, then we have to prioritise. Allah (SWT) does not burden us with more than we can bear, yet we become so immersed in the demands and requirements of our worldly lives that we increase our workload to a ridiculous level (that is aimed at myself first and foremost. At the same time Allah (SWT) has some requirements of us. In the balance of things which things are most important? I think you have to start with being clear on the things that are not negotiable for you. For me the non-negotiables are prayer, my children’s well-being and supporting my husband.
That means in the last year since we were blessed with Baby, my house has often looked a mess, I am mortified at the thought of guests seeing my bathroom during the week, the laundry piles up. I had to give up blogging and crafts for a long time. But my non-negotiables were taken care of, until a time that I could manage things a bit better and consider taking on a bit more.
That didn't mean it was easy. I have often heard my mum and mum-in-law say that if you really want to see the quality of a woman look at the state of her kitchen and bathroom. Which would make me a poor quality woman. Except I know that I am not. I have friends who give a lot of of their time to worship and dawah and they too have less than perfect homes, yet it is very clear to me that they are women of immense quality and excellent character.
So the simple answer is, you can’t take care of your children, be consistent in your parenting whether setting ground rules for older children or taking care of the needs of babies and always stay on top of your housekeeping and make gourmet meals every day, whilst retaining your health and sanity. You have to pick the things that are most important and focus on those, whilst giving yourself some leeway on the rest.
The things that are most important also have to come from you, not external pressures from family or friends or society. So you may know that your child’s need is most pressing, but you may spend most of the day with him in front of the TV so that you can send a whole day cleaning because your mother-in-law is coming to visit and might notice the mess, or you feel the need to make a feast to impress visiting friends. Once you are clear on what is important, then you can take the next step of letting go of those things that can wait. This can sometimes push you towards making very grown up choices to stop doing things that will please and impress others and stop trying to be perfect even if you know it will lead to people thinking poorly of you – like me and my bathroom mid-week (I often think that the best kind of growing up is to stop caring what people think and do just what you want).
In reality, its still hard work. Just the work of keeping my focus on my children, following through consistently each time and negotiating through resistance can take up most of my time and leave me mentally exhausted (I have a very short concentration span and drift off all the time). But as its one of my non-negotiables and the one that has the most far-reaching consequences, I have to let other things go and focus on this.