At this point in life, I'm fairly convinced I should walk around with caution tape wrapped around me as a visible symbol to everyone I encounter:



I am extremely blessed and thankful for my family, and wouldn't trade them for anything.  Nonetheless, speaking truthfully, I have never felt so taxed as I have this last five-year period of my life. 

Granted, there are six kids running around my house, all of whom I birthed, one of whom I birthed in this very home, seven months ago. We homeschool and have moved five times (once transatlantic) in the last five years. 

You may be thinking, "Duh, Captain Obvious. Of course you're taxed!"

I can identify with Sally Clarkson when she writes, "I was living a life of ideals that most of my old friends didn’t believe in and few understood, so often loneliness and lack of support were my companions."

Though I feel alone and often feel unsupported, I'm not really alone. I think this is a particular "flash point" for homeschooling moms, for stay-home-moms of all little ones, and for anyone who goes about life with non-stop responsibilities without the "release" valve regularly being pushed.

Because I'm always "on," I find many of these things to be true:
  • I'm not acting like "myself" lately. Or, at least not the "self" I've always known. Even though I'm an extrovert, I *act* like an introvert at times when I'm out in public. (Not always, but often.  Especially for a pretty strong extrovert like me, it surprises me how little I sometimes connect when I'm out in public.) I'm not a good conversation buddy right now. My mom and I discovered this recently. She's an introvert, but is currently on medical leave from her job. Consequently, she gets oodles of time by herself, and she's acting quite extroverted right now. I, on the other hand, have a house full of people all the time, who talk to me all the time... and I'm acting introverted much of the time. We both get so much of what is our typical "need" met that at this time, we feel greater need for the opposite, in order to balance out our lives.  I have had to choose to be comfortable in my own "skin," even when it feels different than it used to.
  • It takes me a while to warm up in a crowd. Whereas I used to jump into social events ready to engage, it takes me a good 30-60 minutes after leaving our full-of-life home to mentally shift to engaging with others, and even then I often do a shoddy job of social interaction.  I am growing to accept this about myself, for this season.
  • When I *do* manage conversation in public, I often get home and find as I reanalyze the conversation that I completely misunderstood someone's meaning, or that the comment I made was unrelated to the topic at hand but somehow in my brain it made sense at the time. I don't want to overstate this as if I'm some mumbling idiot, but more often than I used to, I find that my mouth has fumbled through a conversation and I realize it after the fact.
  • I am having to ask forgiveness from people way more often than I used to. My brain is more tired, and my body is more tired. I don't know if it's that I'm sinning more, or more aware of my sin... but either way, I am being regularly humbled. That stings, but I know that this too is for my good.
  • I forget to do things that used to be natural to me, in relationship. For example, I forget to follow-up about something going on in a friend's life. In fact, sometimes my plate is so full I completely forget about an event/situation in someone else's life. (Two weeks ago, I forgot that a friend's dad had had a stroke until after I'd spoken to her at church. *Headslap!*)  Grace, grace... I need it so badly.

Years ago, a mentor of mine shared that a woman (who she'd gone to church with for a decade or more) approached her with this question: "Have I done something to offend you?"  

My friend shook her head, and answered back that she had not, asking, "Why?  Have I acted offended to you?"

The woman looked down, unsure but clearly wounded, "For years I have passed you in the halls and you always have a glassy look in your eyes, looking down as you walk, like you're deliberately avoiding looking at me.  What have I done?"

My friend (a busy mom with a large family) explained, "I'm so sorry! I can't believe it's gone on this long and you've thought I was avoiding you. When you see me running back and forth, glassy-eyed, to the nursery or to go make copies for my husband or whatever, I am mentally running through the things I have to do, the kid I need to pick up, the diaper bag I forgot in the car, the conversation I had with my preteen on the way here, the fact that I only put eyeliner on one eye, or whatever. I have absolutely not one thing against you. It just makes me sad that it took this long for me to clear it up."

I think back to that sometimes, and it gives me comfort.  Sometimes we all have times where we are off our game. 

She was in a season.  I am in a season too.  Seasons are for a time, and then they pass and give way to something new.

Well, obviously I don't handle it super-well. I'm not holding myself up as some sort of soul care guru, who has mastered the art of social interaction whilst feeling overwhelmed.

I still feel mentally preoccupied, physically touched-out, and emotionally like I have nothing much to offer, a good portion of the time. I'm still me in my head and heart, but I'm afraid that if I was to evaluate myself objectively, watching a camera reel of my social interactions with others, I would probably see a lot of holes, and what I see most likely wouldn't resemble much of the woman I am in my heart and head.

Wrapping myself in caution tape as a visual cue to everyone I meet might not be THAT bad of an idea.

But here are some ways I have handled it:
  • Stay in Scripture. I haven't done this one enough lately, and I am actively working on it. But when I'm in scripture, I am refueling spiritually, and God is faithful to teach us what we need for a given time in our lives. So even if I feel physically or emotionally depleted, my spiritual tank is full and I'm walking in the Spirit.
  • Remind myself of this (temporary) new normal. Before I go to an event, particularly if it's one I've been looking forward to, I have to dial back my expectations of myself. I used to be able to go to a church fellowship, for example, and successfully touch base with a lot of people, and walk away recharged. Now, I'm more likely to get one conversation in, and later realize I said or did something awkward. Or sometimes I get to the end of the event and realize I only interacted at surface level and wish I would have gone deeper. If I have lofty expectations of myself, I'll walk away disappointed that I didn't get to connect with people, when in reality, I did the best I could in the moment. 
  • My husband reminds me. I'm thankful that Doug is good at reminding me of this- he'll say, "Sit by someone like ______, ______, or ______ (suggesting close friends)-- take advantage of this time with them.  Have a good time!" I so appreciate those reminders because sometimes the mental fog really doesn't let me "go there" until after the fact.
  • Occasionally, remind others. I have been known to say things like, "I'm sorry, but I'm not very good for having a real conversation while my kids are running around on Sunday morning.  You're welcome to come by and chat during their naptime from 2-4 sometime this week."  Or if I feel eyes on me as I'm glazing over, walking to the nursery, I'll meet their gaze and say, "Oh! I'm in my own little world. Sorry about that! How are you?"
  • Ask for time when you need it. Sally Clarkson tweeted yesterday, "Be assertive and tell your husband your needs. He is there to do life with you." YES!!! I'm thankful for a husband who tries to care for me. Still, he's not a mind-reader. We both have to work extra for me to get some time "off," but it's worth it, so we're learning to plan for it.
  • Use recharge opportunities wisely.  When Doug makes a point to give me some time to myself, or when the opportunity comes to get together with friends, I try to be extremely selective about what I "spend" myself on.  I have less "extra" to spend than I used to have, so I have to be much more thoughtful about where it will go.  Lord willing, the day will come when the kids will be out of the house and I'll have more than ample opportunity for regular times "out and about" with friends.  But right now, I need to only do those things that will really recharge me, or in some way contribute to my emotional/spiritual/physical health.  So I have to evaluate things carefully and not expend energy in unhelpful, depleting ways.

Have you ever felt this way?

How do you (or how did you) balance these things and find ways to recharge during these busy, tired days of always-on mothering?

PLEASE share in the comments.  I want to hear from you!

Images courtesy of FrameAngel/FreeDigitalPhotos and GreenPhile/FreeDigitalPhotos


sojourner said...

I have a great friend with 6 kids; 5 home schooled and a busy toddler.

She sat me down one night of a rare tea time and said what she wished she had time for and what she actually does have time for.

This helped me immensely as I wished to spend time with her.
I knew her hearts desire for friendship and it helped me pray for her.....

I too, have a husband who helps me by reminding me, when I am spent.
He'll suggest a phone call to a friend.

Megan said...

Jess, this is so poignant, honest, and true. You have put words to a sensation I've had for a few years now, and could not really identify. I have always been a huge extrovert, but could have written this myself. Sometimes I don't recognize myself in large groups or in meeting settings! This is really encouraging for me to know that it's a season of motherhood, and something to think through and prepare for. Really great advice here! -Meg

Michelle Scarbrough said...

I am right there with you, girl, and I've only got two kids (and one on the way, I suppose) and not six! We have lived in five apartments in two countries in the last three years (and if I added in the previous two years, oh my goodness I think it's at like ten places) and I've studied one of three languages continuously. I've been pregnant twice, had a baby once, and had continual mental stress of the possibility of having to move, studying yet another language, another sleepless night due to teething/stomach flu/whatever. So yes, I think you are right that there are TONS of moms who are in the same boat as you and I are. I tested as an introvert the last time I took a personality test, and while I'm also a strong extrovert, all I usually want after a day of meeting everyone else's needs is time by myself!

For myself I have found that if I can manage to drag myself out of bed before my kids get up in the morning to have some quiet time alone (either in the Word or just reading the news, depending on how tired I am), that quiet time with nobody demanding my attention helps me get through the day. And Shannon and I are trying to start giving each other one "personal retreat day" of 3-4 hours once a month just to have time alone out of the house. I have found that while I'm hesitant to take time for myself out of the house because I feel bad leaving all my responsibilities on him, I really do need it to recharge my batteries when I'm fully awake, instead of trying to do it when I'm exhausted.

I'm trying to just remember that it's just a season, like you said, though, and to embrace the tiredness instead of wish it away. My house will be spotless and quiet soon enough. =)

Lorinda said...

Great post, Jess! I am beyond the young years (our children are 12, 13 & 14), but I still get overtaxed by too much noise, conversation, etc,especially when I am tired. In our local culture, people love to talk--often very loudly--and I have found that I need to just step outside for a few minutes of quiet when I feel the overwhelming urge to run away.
In general, though, when I am feeling worn out, I choose to avoid movies and books that might pull me in and use up my limited stores of emotional energy. I also control Facebook (especially those groups/friends who have lots of drama) and have limited or no updates from the most dramatic of my friends (You know the ones who live from crisis to crisis; they exhaust me). FB keeps me connected to family and close friends in the US, so I do look at it, but try to do it in the day time or early evening, so my mind won't be mulling over all the events/updates from my friends' lives when I should be resting.

In general, I know I have only so much energy in my "account" and that it needs to be spent like cash on my husband and children and others who are physically with me, so I try not to spend it all on EFTs (Kindle, FB, movies . . .).

Suel's in Africa said...

Great post! I can so relate (to everything but the extrovert part). Thanks for sharing your struggles and the things you are learning in the midst of them. Grace- it is a WONDERFUL thing. May you experience grace and peace as HE leads you through this season of the journey!
Much love,

Leah said...

I found your blog through diaper swappers, and the first post I happened to read was this one. God knows I needed to hear another mom speaking about exactly the way I'm feeling these days (and, I should add, years). I have 5 boys ages 5, 3, 2 year old twins, and our newest sweet babe just born in August. While I can't relate with moving so frequently, I am starting our first year of homeschooling this year and feel out of it and exhausted all the time! Thank you for being so honest...I feel sometime like I can't see the end of "the early years tunnel." They all require so much of me right now. God bless you and your sweet boys! Leah

flyinjuju said...

I'm an introvert, so it is so nice to hear that I'm not the only one struggling with this. Thanks for sharing. :)

Christy said...

Yes, yes, yes! I can identify with so much of this...not the extrovert part, though. I'm definitely an introvert, but I find that when I've been in the house all week with the kids (10, 7, 4 and 1...homeschooling here too), I need some time out and some adult conversation with someone in addition to my husband. It is an exhausting time of life with little ones and having them in the house with me all the time, but it IS just a season. And seasons can change very quickly. When the 1yo is 2yo, things will be different from what they are now. And afternoon rest time makes a huge difference in my day, too. When it doesn't happen, my day is much more challenging.

Question: How have you handled the older kids' schooling and getting things done so that you can have a little break from it in the afternoon? We're usually done by 2pm, but not always, especially if there are attitude/discipline issues arising. (Today was challenging in that respect!) I'm struggling to be sure we're doing all that I think we need to do and still be finished by early afternoon. My oldest is in 5th grade and still not so very independent.

Cat said...

YES! There right now. Different situation in some ways (five young kids so that part is similar) but just feeling overwhelmed by life and not having the mental energy to exert to be the good friend I want to be (if my closest friends hadn't all just moved anyway) or even "do life" the way I prefer to do so.

Bookworm_Wood said...

Well I have been a place like that pretty recently but now that my baby's 10 months old (I have 3 all together, so I'm not exactly where you are!!), life seems easier again. One thing I've found helpful is sometimes NOT to worry about the people OUTSIDE of the house if I'm at capacity with the people INSIDE it. Not that I don't love people when God brings the opportunity, but not feeling guilty for not having the time / emotional energy to take on more problems than I've got right now.

Also, after our kids go to bed (7:30) my husband keeps an eye on their in-bed obedience for a half hour while I go for a walk. This helps SOOO much with processing and having a little peace. I can come back and connect with him on a much better level.

I have decided it's OK for my world to contract the first six months with a baby... but then I'm an introvert so it does make it easier to accept that I just CANNOT make it work with a lot of extra relationships just then.

Jessica Connell said...

OK, I have a free minute to catch up on comments here:

I see your heart in that... it makes a difference in a friendship to have *authenticity, but also *willingness on the part of the other friend to truly "hear" the heart of the one being honest.

I'm glad it encouraged you. It's something I haven't been able to put into words before in quite this way. I was thankful to have time to process through it with my mom and realize that both of us are acting like our opposites. In fact, a friend who just met my mom in the last year or so was *shocked* to hear that my mom is an introvert. :) She is a kind, friendly person, but she definitely craves and needs that solitude & downtime.

Good advice about the "personal retreat" time. That's something Doug & I have been doing more of, lately. Since he works outside the home, I don't know that he feels the need for solitude and quiet the way I do right now (even though he's the introvert). He does get away for a movie with the guys or something once every couple or three months, but he's been good to give me time away more regularly lately.

Good point about the electronics & the way they sometimes withdraw, rather than recharge. I think that might depend on how you use it and what you're doing (I often use electronic devices to listen to sermons/audioBibles and find that it recharges me and gives me meat to chew on), but in general, I agree.

:) Glad to "see" you.

So glad it was what you needed. It is HARD in those early years, with lots of littles. The physical load grows easier around age 7-8, and then (gulp) --for me at least-- it seems that the emotional load starts getting more heavy around 10-12. Just more things to talk through, etc.

It's always nice to know other people can identify,

Interesting how you- as an introvert- feel a great need to interact with others, and I -as an extrovert- feel a great need to have time alone-- when we're in that crazy-busy-with-kids-at-home season. Just interesting to me.

Your Q- how do I handle older kids' schooling so I can have a break?

My A: I am still working on this, but we do AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE in the mornings, so that I can get little kids down for naps in the afternoons w/o having to worry about the older boys. If there are any other things for them to do, they can use afternoon, but I typically leave that for personal reading time/swimming in the swim months.

I don't know if you live in a state that requires a certain amount of hours/time, but (to me) going until 2pm with a 5th grader seems a little heavy on the schooling.

Are there things you can combine (for example, "copywork" can be for handwriting, Bible, and language arts if you choose a Bible verse that has commas before quotation marks, or whatever.)?

Are there things you're doing that are extraneous and unnecessary at this time (poetry? extensive science?).

For us, we try to streamline and make things as simple and punchy as possible-- to get as much educational "bang" for our time-expended "buck." Without knowing your children, or your curricula, or what your goals and legal requirements are, I can't advise you specifically, but I would try to get as much done as possible with each task, cut out the unnecessary, and consider allowing more independence.

I can definitely relate to not having the mental energy to exert to be a good friend. 150%.

GREAT, freeing advice! Thanks for chiming in!!

Miranda said...

This is good and encouraging - thank you for just allowing the freedom to give ourselves grace for seasons that are socially taxing. Sometimes I can just feel bad there's no way to be everything to others outside the home when you get the chance to connect. I struggle with this within the body. How to be fully engaged in small groups, friendships and go deep when possible? I see the value of a select few relationships but it can still be challenging in tiring seasons. We still love a woman who can 'do it all' within the body - lead bible studies, host functions, etc and still be all at home - I'm seeking what's a healthy balance. Sometimes my brains just tapped out but I so know I need the body! Because my hubby and children (4 almost 5 of them) get the bulk of my intentional time, I don't feel I have lots of pouring out to others time outside of that. What have you learned along the way about these 'young years' and loving the church/involvement there? I'd love to hear.....
As always - thanks for being a blessing!

Elspeth said...

"I was living a life of ideals that most of my old friends didn’t believe in and few understood, so often loneliness and lack of support were my companions."

I totally get it.

Tracy said...

You have put into words exactly what I have been feeling the past few months. Even my husband mentioned that he relies on my extroverted nature to balance our family, and now that I am pulling back more, not on the phone as much or seeking to be out as much, that we are becoming a family of recluses. He has been so good to give me quiet time away when he sees I need it so I can recharge, and that has been such a blessing. I was starting to think that maybe I was getting depressed or something, but knowing that others are right there makes me hopeful that this is a stage/season of my life, and it's OK to press in and give more to "home" and all of the souls there. Your post was very timely and helpful. Thank you.

Phyllis said...

Yes! Thank you for expressing this so well. I started out an introvert, so I probably draw into myself even more. I had never really connected the social awkwardness that I feel to the drained feeling. I'd tell myself that I really used to be able to express myself... didn't I? And wonder what happened. I am going to be rereading this often. Sadly, I don't know how to explain this to other people around me, in a way that they could understand.

Oh, and for recharging... I often feel like "if only I could just get a little quiet." But I've found that really, honestly, a little quiet doesn't help much. It's nice, and I enjoy it, but my whole life is so full right now, that an hour away now and then really doesn't make much difference. It's more about accepting that this is where I am now. At least, that's how it is for me. And I do try to maintain myself as I go.

Kondwani said...

Hi Jess - very helpful post. Just that so many of us do feel that way, and there are times when reading blogs etc can make you feel even worse (you know the ones, with the perfect looking mum with 10 perfect looking children and a schedule that starts at 04:47 every day...).

It helps to know that you also feel lonely. Not that I am glad you are lonely, but rather that it is kind of 'normal' at this phase in life. And I have also forgotten to ask friends about important things in their lives. I feel guilty I can't visit sick people very easily as I will have my children with me. I feel bad that I can't 'serve' in the ways I might were I young, free, single (except, I once was, and I probably didn't embrace the opportunities given to me then either).

Like you, I'm a great believer in nap time for the children. Oh yes... :)

Keep up your great work. May the Lord bless you, and I pray He surprises you with refreshing encouragement this week.


Catie said...

I'm in a little bit of a fog myself right now.. just had baby #3 a few days ago! :) All I wanted to say is this. is. so. good.

Jessica Connell said...

What you said is so true... seeking healthy balance. We can NOT be all things to all people.

In our years overseas, we greatly enjoyed house church & the ability to connect deeply with other believers one day/week through Bible study, worship, prayer, and a meal together.

In the US, people's schedules are busier, and people don't always have the Body as a priority... but we have enjoyed, this last 18 months or so, having a Care Group meet in our home (and now, in a friend's home) each week... with 3-7 families coming together each week. So that's a real blessing to us.

I have found for me, especially here where there are so many potential commitments, that I really have to hold back and say "no" to a lot. *CAN* I teach Sunday school, lead a Women's Bible study, host a care group, visit with a friend, sing on Sunday, etc., on and on... well, even if I technically *could*, I can't do all those things AND homeschool, AND have any semblance of relationship with my husband and sanity in my brain, LOL. So I have to be very choosy. I just can't do it all. And that's OK. I have to be OK with it.

AND THEN... there are seasons when I *do* feel up for a particular thing, and so when those seasons come, I jump on it. Last summer, I taught a ladies' Bible study. I had a 2 year old and was in a mental place where I could... the baby season had given way to some "extra," and so I did. I think we have to jump on those seasons when they pop up and take advantage of little opportunities here and there for growth and service. We can't do it all, all the time, but we can do *some* things, some of the time. When we're walking in the Spirit, and talking with our husbands, I think it's much easier to identify what things we need to be involved in and what things we don't.

I hope those random thoughts help you.

I'm glad to have had you over the years to connect with and observe. I appreciate you.

So glad it was helpful. It is wonderful to have a husband that sees those things and helps to serve the needs he sees in his wife. Sounds like you've got a good one. :)

:) I know what you mean: "I really used to be able to express myself... didn't I?" I have felt that exact same way-- so drained and awkward.

And yes-- I think maintaining as we go is so crucial... to not let ourselves get into the "red zone" where the buzzers start going off warning everyone around that things are about to explode.

HA! "10 perfect children and a schedule that starts at 04:47 every day" :)

And I totally get it... it has helped me to hear from so many of you and affirm that this IS normal. I mean, I thought it was... but it just reaffirms what is true. This is a season. A tough, tiring season... but a season.

Thank you so much for your prayer & kindness. God has been giving me so many reasons to be thankful this week. :)

CONGRATULATIONS!!! So wonderful! ANd I'm glad it was encouraging to you at such a time. Take care of you and that sweet baby. :)

Anonymous said...

I really appreciated this blog post. I can totally relate to the transition from extrovert to introvert. I say to my husband, "I used to think I was an extrovert, but now I think I've changed b/c I desire solitude and being around others often tires me out." Thanks for putting words to what so many mothers feel!

Anonymous said...

Previous comment by Elizabeth - see? My mommy brain isn't working and I forgot to sign it!

Phyllis said...

I'm still thinking about this post. I thought of another aspect of this today: do you have any advice for when we encounter someone even more deeply exhausted than we are? I ran into someone today, and I could just see it on her face. One week into a new country and language, miserably fussy little ones... tired and overwhelmed mama!

With my own current social awkwardness, I'm not sure I reached out to her well at all. The first time I completely flubbed it, because I was busy with my own fussy little one. But then I saw her again, and I overcame my usual introvertedness to run down the hall, yelling after her. Introduced myself, talked for a few minutes, offered her my phone number. But should I really just have let the poor woman go? Leave her alone in her tiredness? (I'm sure there were probably other English speakers around to help her.) Or was that okay?

Jessica Connell said...

I would love to hear from others on this question, but here are my thoughts-

I think when we see that, we listen to the Spirit to know what to do... my natural reaction (and some of this may be personality-- being more verbally expressive than some) is to reach out, try to connect, and give some small word of encouragement, along with a Scripture or biblical truth... for example, "Isaiah 40:11 has been ultra-meaningful to me when I've been worn out with little ones. It helps to know that God is gently looking at us, when we feel overwhelmed." Or a quick, "I'll be praying for you- I remember these exhausting days. God was faithful to carry us through them, and He'll be faithful to you too. Lean in to Him!"

I do think, and I haven't fleshed this out all the way for myself, but I do think that there's a reason that in Titus 2, the command is on the older woman to teach. The younger woman may not know what she needs, and may not be in a place to reach out to get it. But the older woman can see it, and offer what she has. What she has isn't always what the younger woman needs in that particular moment, but it's what she has to offer. And so she should offer it in a way that points to Christ & His sufficiency. Sometimes that happens, and time goes along, and sometimes that happens and there is a spark that awakens a more ongoing relationship between the two women.

But I do think you were right to run after her and reach out. You have been through those days, and IF SHE REALLY GETS OVERWHELMED, she has a phone number she can call to reach out. I've been there. I've been the one calling my friend saying, "did you really feel this way? Did culture shock knock you over with exhaustion, and feeling like running away from everything, and feeling completely incompetent and idiotic? Did you really feel this way?" And my friend answered, "yes"... at which point I asked, "So then how did you get through it? What do you do?"

But having the connection, and for younger women to know that we are accessible and have been in their shoes (or similar shoes/difficult shoes) can make a real difference in that moment of panic/need.

All that to say, yes, I think you did just the right thing. Reached out, as a friend... not overwhelming but in a way that showed care and accessibility.

I'm glad you're thinking these things through-- I still am too. :)