***This post is republished with permission from Power of Moms. The author of this article is my amazing sister, Rachel Nielson. 🙂 I am excited to be sharing it as part of a special weeklong series of essays leading up to Mother’s Day.***
Last night was one of those nights. You know the kind of night I’m talking about, don’t you, mamas?
My eight-month-old baby girl has a bad cough and was up multiple times needing to be rocked and soothed; when she wasn’t awake, my three-year-old son was—wailing because his nose is stuffy, wailing because the hallway light wasn’t on, wailing because he couldn’t find the blue Lego in his bed. (Yes, the blue Lego. Clearly this is an emergency worth waking up your mother at 3 a.m.)
Fortunately, nights like this are fairly uncommon for me—both of my kids are generally pretty good sleepers—but I will admit that when my son came wandering into my room at 6:15 this morning to inform me that he had wet the bed (because obviously that would happen after the night we’d had!), I felt utterly defeated…especially when I remembered that our dryer is broken and the new one hasn’t shipped yet.
Motherhood is full of nights and days like this—unexpected illnesses, accidents, changes in routine, and breakdowns (of appliances and people!).
It is in moments like these that I remember the wise words of Saren Loosli, co-director of Power of Moms: “In motherhood, the hard moments sometimes outnumber the beautiful moments, but the beautiful moments always outweigh the hard moments.”
This advice has stayed with me because I have seen time and again that it is true. Even at the end of that night of disasters, when my son climbed up into the rocking chair with me and his sister (damp pants and all), and I had both of my groggy babies in my arms, I felt inexplicably content and peaceful. One lovely moment somehow outweighed the series of hard moments that had preceded it.
Since hearing Saren’s profound advice a few years ago, I have developed a few strategies to give the rare, perfect moments in motherhood even more weight so they can anchor me through the numerous difficult moments I face every day. Here are two of my best ideas:
1. Use your five senses to savor a beautiful moment.
When I am in the midst of a perfect moment with my children, I try to notice. I try to stop time and breathe in—breathe everything in.
When my sister had severe postpartum depression, her counselor advised her to utilize her five senses as much as possible during good moments with her kids. She told her to examine her baby’s face as she was rocking her to sleep—to notice her long eyelashes and tiny fingers, to feel the weight of her little body against her chest, to smell the perfection of baby skin, and to listen to the sound of her contented breathing. (She didn’t mention tasting the baby’s chubby cheeks, but in our family, a little baby munching always does our hearts good!)
My sister said that activating her five senses helped her endure her depression. As she soaked in the little details and sensations all around her, she felt that she could get through the next hard moment if she remembered this perfect one.
Whatever your method for being present in a great moment, consciously utilize it. Put down your phone, your work—whatever is pulling at your attention—and for a few minutes, just give weight to a rare moment with your children.
2. Use writing or sharing to relive a beautiful moment.
The perfect moments in life often feel so fleeting that I sometimes wish I could live them twice.
Interestingly, current research in positive psychology has found that when we write or talk about our treasured experiences, not just listing them but actually capturing the details of those moments, our bodies and minds experience the positive effects of those experiences a second time. It’s as if we are reliving the moment as we remember it, record it, and give thanks for it.
I have always loved to write, so I have made it a habit in recent years to keep a gratitude journal. I don’t have a fancy notebook or lovely handwriting. A couple of times a month, I simply get out a sheet of blank typing paper and write “Moments I’ve Been Grateful For Lately” at the top, along with the date. And then I start writing.
Just as my sister utilized her five senses while savoring a great moment with her children, I try to include sensory details as I journal. I don’t worry about my words being polished or perfectly adequate—I often don’t even use complete sentences—but I always include specifics: my son’s wild hair when he wakes up from a nap and comes running into my room for a hug, my baby’s gummy smile when I catch her eye across the room, the sound of my son shouting phrases in Spanish at the iPad when he watches “Diego.”
If you are not a writer and the idea of keeping a gratitude journal does not appeal to you, you could experience the same benefits of reliving beautiful moments if you simply tell someone about them. Perhaps at the end of the night, you could make it a habit to share the highlight of the day with your spouse or a trusted friend—and don’t forget to include those sensory details and specifics!
However you choose to do it, revisiting beautiful moments can give those rare times more weight to anchor you through the frequent frustrations of parenting.
Flecks of Gold
A few years ago, I heard a religious leader tell the story of a young miner during the California gold rush who became discouraged when, day after day, he dipped his pan into the river but found only dull rocks instead of dazzling gold nuggets.
Feeling defeated, the young miner asked a successful elderly prospector why there was no gold to be found in that river. The old man looked at the pile of rocks next to the young man and said, “There is gold there, all right. You just have to know where to find it.” He cracked open a rock and revealed a few glimmering particles of gold.
Unconvinced, the young miner eyed the heavy pouch that was hanging from the prospector’s belt and said, “But I’m looking for big nuggets of gold like the ones in your pouch, not just tiny flecks!”
When the old man opened his pouch, the miner was stunned to see that the weight of the pouch was not from large nuggets—but instead from the accumulation of thousands of small flecks of gold.
My experience as a young mother seems very similar to that of the inexperienced miner. Sometimes I expect to have frequent, dazzling moments of joy with my children and I am disappointed when life just feels rocky and hard. But as I’ve learned to collect those rare flecks of gold—to really notice, savor, relive, and give thanks for them—I have found that those small moments do indeed anchor me through all of the frustrations of motherhood, especially when I truly give them the weight that they deserve.
For more posts from Rachel see Motherhood: Worth Fighting For! and The Best Year of My Life? On Becoming a Mother . . .