Four Tips to Avoid the Winter Blues

Wrestling a toddler into a car seat is not fun. Doing it when the icy wind is whipping around me, freezing my extremities in seconds, is a level of torture I never dreamed of as a pregnant mother. When I combine this reality with living in the country, the snow drifts across our driveway blocking me in, and nowhere we had to go when the kids were little, I spent a lot of their winters as little kids at home. It might sound nice and cozy to be in the warm house, it was easy to get depressed stuck in the same four walls with no view of anything (our old frosted windows kept me from seeing anything outside during the cold months).

I began to dread winter long before it came to pass in those years. With the first sight of a leaf changing color or the chill in the air, great fear hit my heart as I anticipated months stuck inside the house with little kids. I loved fall for years, but it quickly turned to a season that just signaled the beginning of winter to me. And winter was as dead for my heart as it was for the lilacs in my front yard.

I worked at home for a couple of years when Isabella was little. Then when Jack was born, I knew I could not do that job with two little ones, so we worked to pay off our vehicle loan and be able to live on one income. It would be a few years before Isabella started preschool, so we didn’t have a lot of activity filling our lives. I tend to be a homebody anyway, so the idea of staying home in the winter and not dragging the kids out of the house definitely appealed to me. I failed to recognize the toll it was taking on my mental health, unfortunately.

I did not learn this lesson as early as I wish I did, but I hope I can help some moms to keep this in mind when the kids are little. These are my four tips to help moms avoid the winter blues.

1. Leave the house! I know it’s hard, but even putting the kids in car seats for a nap or a movie while I drive around and drink a coffee gives you a little break from the norm, some sunshine (hopefully), and the opportunity to look at something other than the same four walls.

2. Have a play date. It doesn’t sound fun to bundle up the kids just to listen to them whine at someone else’s house. I get it. But the chance to get together with another mom friend is worth the effort. You can even read a chapter of the Bible or a book together and talk about it. We have a gym that opens to parents and kids with some fun activities and just space to run around, and we met there a few times as well.

3. Serve someone else. Sometimes you can’t take on one more thing without losing your mind, but other times you might be wondering what a mom with little kids can do when she’s stuck at home. Make a meal for someone who is sick or in a tough stage of life. Write cards. Help the kids draw pictures and write cards to mail. Visit an older person who doesn’t get out much.

4. Take a break! This is much easier said than done. However, any time I make the effort to arrange child care so I could do something that feeds my soul, I have never regretted it once. It can be a couple hours or a couple nights, but taking the time to get away in the winter months is a great reminder that life is short, the season will not last forever, and you will be refreshed and ready to keep going.

The older my kids get, the less daunting the winter season feels to me. They can put on their own coats and boots, buckle their seat belts, and play in the snow without my help to bundle up. It is hard to believe in the little years, but they do grow up. It gets easier and harder all at the same time.

Give Me a Break!

My mom came to help for a week when my kids were born. I remember when my oldest was born, she told us we should go get dinner for our anniversary coming up, and she would stay with Isabella. I will never forget driving back home from that dinner and sobbing to Matt. I cried, “I wish we could drive away and never go back!” Of course, we know postpartum hormones are some crazy things, but the reality of the all-consuming responsibility of being a mother was all around me, and it was much more demanding than I expected.

I don’t know if it’s just the introverts among us who need the alone time to recharge, but I learned from very early on that breaks from motherhood would be necessary for maintaining my sanity. There have been seasons where breaks were very hard or impossible to arrange, and I paid the price (as did my family) with depression and all manner of unkindness when I did not find the space to recharge.

I really want to encourage you moms who have little ones at home all day. I honestly stay up pretty late into the night because that time of quiet and alone (or with my husband around) is helpful for daily recharging. I have heard moms say they fall asleep with their kids, and I cannot fathom that lifestyle. I would feel imprisoned if I didn’t get to enjoy a couple of non-kid hours most evenings.

In addition to daily time, I am blessed to work a part time job where I can take a day off each week to spend time with friends and talk about the Bible my ladies group at church, run errands, and do what I want to do for a few hours. I feel a little guilty saying that it’s probably my favorite day of the week.

Matt and I have always loved to travel together, and we have typically done our best to take a couple of weekend trips without the kids each year. However, the mess of 2020 and 2021 has thrown off our rhythm. I have also taken trips alone and with my mom or other friends that have been amazing opportunities to recharge and refresh.

Maybe you think this is unachievable. “Who am I going to get to watch my kids?” Listen, when we went from two to three children, we drastically decreased the number of people willing and length of time they were willing to watch our children. So now I work on splitting them up at different places or, for a longer trip, have someone for a couple days and someone else for the last few days. It is a lot of work to arrange it all, but the benefits are worth it for me.

If you can’t afford to take a trip but you know you need the break, can you stay home and get someone to keep the kids for a few days? Or maybe visit a family member or friend for a cheaper way to get out of town? Sometimes when I take the kids for a couple days to visit my parents, my mom will tell me to go do something and she will hang out with the kids.

I wanted to write about this today because it’s one of the things that keeps me sane in the little years and even now in the elementary school years of motherhood. I was not sure if I wanted to be a stay at home mom before I had kids. I loved my ministry, and my pastor always told me he would have a job for me even when I had children. But things don’t always work out as we expect, and I ended up being a stay at home mom for about ten years. I loved things about it, but I desperately missed the adult interaction, the sense of accomplishment that comes from knowing what to do and checking off a to-do list, and the feedback from others on a job well done.

I hope you take time for the things that recharge your mind, body, and soul. If you need some help figuring it out, send me a message! I would love to help you with it.

Things Hoped for but Not Seen

“Time flies when you’re having fun.”

Time also flies when you are having no fun at all. I have had no idea what to say here for the past month, so I have said nothing at all. I believe I am rather transparent about my life and it’s challenges, but I also have a pretty consistent pattern of clamming up when life gets really tough. I go to my closest friends in those times, but I am not comfortable letting loose with the deepest hurt and pain of life as it is happening. I’m not sure that a lot of people are, really.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about the past month because I could write for much longer than anyone wants to read. One of the things I don’t like to admit about having a strong-willed, difficult child is that it brings me face to face with my own shortcomings in a hurry. I say it regularly, but I am so glad Isabella was born first. I heard on a Dr. James Dobson podcast series recently that many parents have an easy first child, convincing themselves that they have this parenting thing down and can easily handle another one. Number two comes along and blows them away with a much different, stronger personality that challenges them at every turn.

This is not how it worked out for us, and I am very glad. It would have been VERY easy for me to convince myself I was an incredible mom if Jack was my first child. It was very difficult to have Isabella first in many ways, but I am so glad God chose to do it that way. I am much more grateful for Jack’s personality and easygoing nature than I would have been if I thought that’s how all children are. (Now that he is 2 1/2, he is picking up more of Isabella’s stubbornness than I hoped for, but it’s still completely different and not even close to what we have faced with his sister.)

The past month has been incredibly challenging for this mother, and pregnancy hormones are in full effect for me, which means I am easily frustrated, easily brought to tears, and overall feel much less equipped to deal with the challenges Isabella brings. I feel very inadequate for this task right now. I know we all have those moments, but when day after day adds up to week after week of incredibly challenging days with nary a break in the stress, it takes its toll on me. I have been thinking about some of the challenges she presents in her attitude and behavior and what God wants to teach me through it. Today I read a quote that summed it up so nicely (and painfully) for me:

“It is no abstract thing – the state of your heart is the state of your home. You cannot harbor resentment secretly toward your children and expect their hearts to be submissive and tender. Uou cannot be greedy with your time and expect them to share their toys. And perhaps most importantly, you cannot resist your opportunities to be corrected by God and expect them to receive correction from you.” (Rachel Jankovic, Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches)

This is what I have been thinking about this week, but she wrote it so eloquently. God wanted to speak to me about a few things, and I was not really interested in listening. A couple of days ago, I finally heard what He was saying and was convicted that I had been pretty much choosing not to slow down and listen to Him. Reading this today put two and two together for me.

I am well aware that much of my child’s behavior is her own choice. I am amazed that I can ask her to do something on different days, same tone of voice and the same situation, and she will respond in wildly different ways depending on…her. On Thursday, I said, “Isabella, please come here so I can finish doing your hair.” She screamed and called me a name. On Friday, I made the same statement, and her response included no screaming or names and she made her way to me after finishing something she was doing. I work hard at not blaming myself for the days when she has a terrible attitude, sassy mouth, and all that goes with it. But I would be lying if I did not admit that I fail at this all the time and deep down, something in me believes I should be able to “change” or fix her. This small passage was so helpful in that it helps me to realize what I can control, my own attitude and my own response to God, can in fact help set the right tone in my home to foster cooperation and obedience in my children. I can in no way control my child, but I can allow God to work in my heart and pray that He would do the same in hers.

It takes a lot of faith to believe in something you cannot see at all. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV) Some days I struggle with hope. Other days, I get a glimpse of something that gives me a surge of hope. Then there are the days when all hope is gone and I turn to despair. I first heard Matt Chandler speak of this passage with the great reminder that we don’t need hope if we can see something. Faith is only necessary when things are not able to be seen. What kind of faith does it take to believe God will provide when you hold the miracle check in your hands? It sure takes a lot of faith to trust in His provision when you hold all the bills and have no idea how they will get paid.

Isabella had a few great days this week. It was refreshing for this mama. I have struggled to enjoy the good when it feels like the bad is coming right around the corner. I am getting better. My focus in prayer is that God would change her heart and use her incredible personality for His glory. I don’t see the finish line yet. I have faith but no idea how He will get us there. I do know that He is faithful beyond what I can imagine.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)