Last September the third of my four children marched off to grade 1, which is the beginning of full day school here. That’s when people started with the question. “So what are you going to do this year with just Rosalie home all day?” It’s a fair question and one I’ve asked other at-home moms myself. At first I thought I was going to work part time from home for my church, but it quickly became apparent that doing so was going to involve trading a significant portion of my sanity, and by October I had to let it go. I considered putting Rosalie in preschool, thinking she’d be bored and need the socialization. That didn’t feel quite right either. Should we join a play group? Put her in a lesson or class of some kind? Join a Bible study or moms group at a church? Hmmm. I didn’t think so.
The problem was, that last September I had been a full time stay at home mom for 10 years, and I was tired. The kind of tired that you feel in every cell of your body. Exhaustion, fatigue, weariness – all of it, all at once. I had nothing left to give to anyone or anything. What energy I did have was going to Rosalie during the day when the boys were at school, and all four kids when they weren’t at school. When people asked me what I was going to do all day with just Rosalie, I couldn’t think of a single answer that involved doing anything at all. Caregiver burnout of a kind I did not know existed had fully set in and I was quite happy to not have to do anything. The concept of Sabbath for mothers is insanity. When mothers rest, the house burns down. Rest comes in seasons and I felt that this was a season I had come to, quite unexpectedly and not entirely of my own free will.
So I made the unintentional decision to just say no to almost everything. I did (almost) nothing all year from September to June. Rosalie and I spent a good majority of our mornings in bed. She’d wake up while the boys were getting ready for school with Glenn, and crawl into bed with me. While they packed lunches she’d watch Netflix or play Starfall on the iPad. I’d doze off or play on my phone. Some mornings she’d just snuggle in and go right back to sleep. The boys would come give us hugs and Glenn would bring them to school. We’d saunter on downstairs for breakfast whenever we felt like it. Or sometimes Glenn would bring her a cup of milk and granola bar in my bedroom before he left, because we were just not in a hurry to move or do anything or be anywhere.
We had some play dates, although almost all of them were initiated by other people. We ran errands. We stayed home and read books, drew pictures, cleaned the house, did nothing, went for walks, played at the park. It was the most unproductive year I’ve had in my adult life. Rosalie didn’t seem to mind. When you live in a house with this much testosterone coursing through it, the times when everything is still and quiet are rare and valuable. She’s as independent as I am and enjoyed quite a bit of alone time with her babies and teddy bears and horses and imagination. At various times over the year I thought for sure I needed to get the both of us out more, but I just could not bring myself to do it. I prayed about it even, thinking that surely God must have some kind of direction or intention for this year of my life.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Jesus, Matthew 11:28 (NIV)
That verse has come to me a lot this year. It’s difficult to submit to rest and nothingness when you are a type-A, take charge, kick ass, no mercy kind of personality. I did it though, and it was good for me, much as I am loathe to admit it. I’m not sure when it happened, maybe around the New Year, but as the time wore on in this my year of nothing, as I came to start calling it, I began to come back to life again. I had more energy. I felt less guilt over needing what felt like an excessive amount of time to myself, even for me. I was able to think through and process some of the complicated years of raising and figuring out these boys of mine. When you’re in the middle of it, you don’t think. You just do. You move forward in whatever direction you have to. You go to the assessments, you fill out paperwork and answer so very many questions, you call the ambulance while your boy turns blue, you go to a thousand doctor appointments, you get the diagnosis, you try the inhalers and meds, you go to more doctor appointments, you meet with teachers and sign IPP’s and fill out medication release forms, and you just go, go, go. There is no time to stop and that was okay. Until it wasn’t. Until I wasn’t.
Caregiver burnout is a real thing. I’m not a doctor or psychologist or professional but I am a stay at home mother and after 10 years of caring for all of my people, I burned out. And so I stopped. I stopped everything and just did nothing. I loved the time with my daughter and spent every waking moment with her for this whole year just because I could. She was my only yes all day every day. I read when I felt like reading. I wrote when I felt like writing. I purged old toys and clothes and things out of this house at a rate that almost alarmed my husband. After school we played at the park with the boys or went to the lake or for walks. Sometimes I went to church and sometimes I didn’t. I sat down and colored with my kids at the kitchen table. We went to the zoo. We watched movies. I spent time in prayer, in silence, meditating on Scripture and on the words in the songs we sing in worship to God, copying Scripture, and listening for the still, small voice of God. With His help I got myself un-burned out and didn’t feel bad for one second that the only people who got my time or energy all year were my kids and Glenn.
By spring I was applying to go back to school. Life had not slowed down but I had slowed down in the middle of it and suddenly I could think straight, see straight, and make rational decisions again. Oh this year of nothing, it was necessary and it restored me but it certainly went fast. The funny thing is that when I got my boys back at the end of June, it was them who were burned out from a long, busy, productive school year. They had as profound a need for rest and nothingness as I did last September. Rest is good, as it turns out. I learned a lot about making room for rest, and that a lot happens when you think you’re doing nothing. All of us are rested now and about ready for more.
Now the big question is what I’m going to do when Rosalie goes to kindergarten this fall. I’m taking classes. Not too many. One or two at a time, and all from home. Kindergarten is only half days, less than 3 hours actually. The part of the day when she’s home with me? We aren’t going to be doing nothing this next year. I’m done with that. Now? We’re going to be doing everything. The two of us in the morning, me alone in the afternoons, all four of my rascals the rest of the time, Glenn too when he’s not working. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s time. My Sabbath year of nothing, of rest, of giving myself time and space to breathe and answer to no one but my Maker – it restored me. As He promised.
Moving out of this year of doing (almost) nothing, it has become apparent that while the concept of Sabbath may be insane for mothers, living life without making space for some kind of Sabbath rest will about drive a mother insane. I’m not good at moderation but I’m going to give it a shot. I don’t know who is reading this, but maybe I’m not the only one who needs to intentionally make space for Sabbath rest. Perhaps I won’t get to the point of needing a year of it again, if I can make a disciplined habit of it instead.
(I’ve already tried to imagine what I’m going to do with myself when Rosalie goes to grade 1 and is at school full time like the boys. We’re over a year away from that and I can’t picture it without freaking out. That much peace and quiet is likely to be way too much me time. I’m going to need to take a lot more classes or find some time consuming hobbies or get a part time job. Funny how moderation works in both ways!)
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