She asked, "But I just can't understand how two ideas the church advocates can coexist. How can one "fill up their own well" or "put on their own mask first" while applying the other law of "lose yourself in the service of God" and "think not of what ye shall eat or drink or what raiment you put on" and "seek the kingdom of God first". Honestly, if I took everyone's advice, and stepped back to fill up my own well and take care of me first, it would take up all of my time. There is so much I feel that I am lacking. I feel like I'd become self absorbed and selfish if I did this and that I wouldn't be "losing myself to God's work." I get the theory behind, if I take care of myself, I'll better take care of others. But right now between exercise, healthy eating, personal hygiene, meditation and spiritual feasting, creative outlets and self-fulfillment, I'd have no time to help others. What are your thoughts? I don't think I'm alone in this struggle!"
I have soooooo been there! When my five children were little and I was nursing twins, my husband left to the Iraqi war. Twice I felt like I was a breath away from having a nervous break down. Both times my home teacher came over with another man to give me a blessing so I could stop sobbing. I totally get what you're talking about. The two principles you're talking about, serving others and recharging your own batteries, do need to coexist. It's not one or the other.
Think of times when Christ took time to go to the mountains to commune with Heavenly Father and recharge His batteries. Then He was more able to give, give, give to others. There must be both - service and recharging your own batteries. Only the Spirit knows what are the most needful things on both sides and how to most effectively meet all those needs. Be prayerful and ask God to teach you.
Now I'm in a different stage of life. My baby twins are now 12 and I have a missionary and a married daughter. But I still need to be careful about not burning out. I have been homeschooling the past three years, and this year I've been teaching early morning seminary. Since starting with seminary four months ago, I kept feeling out of balance, like I was spending too much time on my calling and not enough time on my family and home. I have been praying to know how to balance this better.
The day that I taught my last seminary lesson last week I arranged with my family that I was going to spend the afternoon and evening at the library, praying, writing, setting goals, regrouping, asking God for specific guidance and writing down answers I receive. I can't tell you how much that did for my soul! I came back feeling like a new woman. I remember that my husband used to do that for me every once in a while when we just had a couple little kids. He would take them to Grandma's for Saturday and I would stay home to catch up on paperwork, pray, write in my journal, set goals, whatever I needed to reconnect with God and with the path God wanted me to be on. It's easy to get so busy treading water that we may just need a few adjustments here and there to make the difference our souls need.
The trick is, we need to make time to check in with God to be taught what those are, and to create a routine or system of meeting those needs. For example, I have struggled to say a quality morning prayer. I prayed about that, and the prompting came to make a commitment that I would leave all electronics off until after I said my morning prayer. Because that answer came from the Spirit, it also came with added power to do it. Since I made that commitment I am grateful to say that I don't think I've missed a day of saying morning prayer since then. And that had been a lifelong struggle for me. You and I both know how much difference a quality morning prayer makes when you really connect with God, and put on that armor of God, having the Spirit with you for the rest of the day. I feel more calm with my kids, I have more discipline with how I spend my time, I respond to a broken bottle of spaghetti sauce much differently than if I didn't have the Spirit.
Any investments you need to make each day and week and month to connect with God and have the Spirit more fully with you will bless every single family member more than you can imagine. I used to protect nap times as my recharge time each day, when I would pray, study scriptures, write, or work at my desk. It's easier to cook or clean with little ones around than to focus on studying scriptures. You are a much better mom when you take time to do holy habits that invite the Spirit. God bless you! We've been there, and He will help you just as He has helped me and so many others through the intense time of motherhood that you are in. It's soooo worth it!
Prayer is super important with this process of deciding what's most important. I'm reminded of a nursing school student who was a busy mother of three young children. She prayed for help to cope better, and the answer that came was to attend the temple every week. What? She couldn't figure out how that was going to give her more time to do all the things she needed to do. But she obeyed the Spirit and the blessings started to flow. She started to do better with her studies, her parenting, her marriage, every area she needed help with. This was not a logical solution. It was God's solution.
That is my advice to you. Make some time to pray and find God's solution for you. When I was struggling being a young "single" mom with nursing twins when my husband was in Iraq, one solution I needed was to let the Relief Society bring me a dinner every week. Another was to ask for more help. A sweet little grandma came over once a week to give me time for errands all by myself. And she came over on Sunday mornings to get my twins dressed so I could get my other three kids ready for church and then she sat by me at church to help. Asking for or accepting help was really hard for me, but that was what I needed to keep my head above water, and keep my mental health intact. My point is that only God knows what the specific solutions are for you at this exact stage of your life. Plead for answers from Him.
Often multi-tasking is part of the solution with meeting the needs of mom and small children. I used to exercise with twins in a stroller and chatting with a friend while we walked for an hour. I came home happier than when I left, feeling like I just got social time and therapy, being able to talk out my problems and such. I did this for years, and some of my walking partners in various homes we lived in, turned out to become some of my dearest friends. If social time with friends or sisters recharges your batteries, what can you work out that meets that need and also meets the needs of your children? Could you visit while they play? Could you have a once a month girls night out where you all bring a craft project to work on while you visit? That's another thing I've done.
Can nursing time be time to study scriptures or read uplifting magazines or books? Spending time online can sometimes recharge batteries, but sometimes it can waste time and become a distraction and addiction, so be choosy here. Can diaper changing time be turned into time singing a fun song bonding with your baby? Can carpooling time become time to sing primary songs together or practice math facts in a playful way? Like it or not, Mom's attitude -- burdened or cheery -- can make all the difference in your own happiness in your current activity, and in your children's. With the tasks that must be done anyway, if you do the best you can to have a cheery heart, those tasks won't feel as draining, and they can actually be fulfilling. I hope that made sense.
If you need date nights with your husband, could you prayerfully find a few couples to form a co-op date group? We did that when we had three little ones. We had four couples. so each of us took a turn each month being the babysitting party house while the other couples had a date night for three hours. Worked great! If reading recharges you, could you read while working out on a treadmill or elliptical machine? That works well for me. How about audio books or scriptures or conference talks while you drive, cook, clean, or exercise? How about letting your kids help you cook? I know it's more work and more mess, but you're teaching them skills, bonding, and helping pass along healthy eating habits.
Would your husband be willing to take the kids one Saturday afternoon a month, to grandma's house or the library or park, or a fast food play ground, so you can look forward to a time to regroup, catch up, write in your journal, study your scriptures, blog, scrapbook, or whatever recharges your batteries, uninterrupted? Sometimes just catching up on life to feel like your head is above water is what you need most - paying bills, organizing your home, putting away that massive pile of laundry. If you can listen to some uplifting music or a great audio book while cleaning or organizing, all the better. Maybe what is needed is investing some time to create systems so your housework and life run more smoothly. Here are some ideas for that. Having your kids do regular household duties can lighten Mom's load a lot, and arm your children with life skills that are becoming a lost art. It is absoultely worth the initial investment of time and teaching.
If your husband isn't able to help in this way, how about Grandma? Or another mom, where you could take turns babysitting and each take a few hours every other week to recharge. Linda Eyre, who has been a mothering mentor to me for years with her wonderful books and lectures, would go to a hotel once a year, I think on her birthday, all by herself. She used that time to regroup, recharge, set new goals, get her vision and direction back for where her life needed to be headed. If she had a tiny nursing baby the baby came with her, but other than that she had uninterrupted time.
I think God is fine with busy mothers taking time to recharge our batteries! As long as it is within the right balance and for the right reasons. Of course this can go overboard where a mom becomes selfish and cares more about herself and less about being a good mom. But when it's within balance and for the right motives, we moms come back happier, healthier, with renewed vision, hope, and direction, feeling empowered to be better than before. That blesses every member of the family! When my husband saw how much those days did for my soul when he took the kids to Grandma's house, he sometimes would see my stress mounting and offer without me even asking. Young motherhood is intense. You give so much all day, and sometimes all night. You must recharge your batteries so you can keep giving.
Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below about balancing serving with recharging your batteries. What works for you?