Slower and simpler mothering
Being a mother is one of the hardest things … actually, make that the hardest thing I’ve ever done over a longer-term basis. Despite it being so, it’s also one of the best things I’ve ever been a part of. I think most moms can probably appreciate the complexity of such a statement.
Moving overseas made things a bit harder in the area of being a mom, as I explained a bit about in this post. While my philosophy behind parenting did not change when moving to Thailand, my personal stress level and amount of struggle did, as did the tools and resources with which I usually mothered. During my now almost 6 months of overseas living, I have thought much about being a mother and about the kind of mother I have been since moving here. There have been days and weeks when I have been a “worse” mom here than I was in America. (No need to comment and reassure me that I’m doing just fine as a mom – it’s not a bad thing to do some self-evaluation and see if changes need to be be made, while keeping in mind my true identity in Christ, right?) I have struggled with the same things, but to an even larger degree, that I struggled with back in the States. Things like anger, impatience, and selfishness have resulted in countless times where I have not been the mom God calls me to be.
However, at other times, I find that I’m a “better” mom than I was back in America. Now living outside my home culture, I see how easy it is for American mothers to become distracted. There are classes, co-ops, playgroups, and activity after activity to sign your child up for, no matter how young. There are numerous friends to have numerous play dates with. There are “mommy wars” and the pressure to make sure your child doesn’t miss any kind of opportunity for “growth.” (I happen to live in a city where there is a large western presence, so I face some of the same things here, but to a lesser degree.) Please hear me say that I don’t believe most of these opportunities are bad in and of themselves. However, I think it is far too easy to let them distract us from living slower and more intentional lives with our kids and family.
Since arriving here we have made some friends, whom I’m grateful for. We continue to meet more families, and we’re grateful for that as well. However, Abigail and Elijah have one consistent playmate – each other. For over 3 of the 5.5 months we’ve been here, I did not have a vehicle in which to take us places, so we have spent much more time at home, taking walks around our neighborhood, or going on outings to nearby places we could easily get to via “public transportation.” I have spent a ton of concentrated time with my kids around the home – we’ve read a lot of books, cooked together, created things out the materials we have lying around the home, and read more books. I realized that I was living a slower, simpler life with my kids one day while I was reading the book (full-length version), Dumbo, for the 2nd time in one day. This book takes 20 minutes to read from front to back with interruptions (yes, I timed it once out of curiosity). It then occurred to me that, while I did read to the kids in America, things were often done in short increments because we needed to run out the door to this or that.
This concentrated time has been great. It has also made me a little crazy at times, lest you think I’m the mom who now wants to stay home everyday and all day with my kids. Also, there have been times where I haven’t handled the concentrated time well by putting the kids in front of one too many movies, escaping to social media, or coping in other unhelpful ways.
But, this simpler life has led to good things that I cannot deny. I am learning that it’s ok to not have to be on the go all the time, that staying at home with your small children all day for multiple days each week will not kill you. Seriously, it won’t. It might be uncomfortable and you may feel that you’re losing your mind at moments, but it won’t kill you. I’ve learned to be creative with the resources I have at home. I’ve learned things about each of my kids that I may have missed if we were too busy running from this to that or always spending time with other people. I’ve been reminded over and over that it’s good for children to have alone playtime and be allowed to just be, rather than having everything scheduled or being guided toward what to do every moment of their day. I’m learning that child-paced exploration is an invaluable teacher. I am figuring out how to better love, encourage, and correct each of my children and, on the flip side, the things that I do that can easily discourage them or tear them down.
It’s good. It’s hard. I’m learning. As we get to know more people and I learn about more kid-focused opportunities here in Chiang Mai, I know I will be tempted to return to a life that is too busy, too fast-paced, and less intentional.
But, although sometimes harder, I’m finding that simpler and slower is better.
I am not against having your kids (or mine) involved in organized activities, nor do I think that particular seasons of life won’t ever be busier than others. I think it’s great if our kids have more than one friend and/or if we own vehicles (which we now do). What “slower” and “simpler” looks like for one family may be different than what it looks like for another family. I am proud to be American. I hope this clears up any misunderstandings or feelings of judgement experienced from reading this post. End of disclaimer.