“So what’s new in your world?”

I was in my doctor’s office because the prescription for one of my antidepressants was up. I needed a med check to get another year’s prescription. I’d done the standard depression and anxiety screenings with the nurse and the numbers seemed to show the meds were doing their thing.

“Well, I started a birth photography business and just got back from a retreat with the staff of the collaborative blog I’m with, so I have writing projects coming out my ears…”

“I LOVE IT.” She went on to tell me this is the part of motherhood where she tends to see a lot of improvement in mental health—when Mom gets enough margin to start doing other things.

“There was one lady I saw when I worked in Montana who started running triathlons and it became her THING.”

“Oh. Yep. Forgot to mention that—registered for one of those, too.”

My creative world is expanding, my mental health is improving, and there seems to be a correlation. Though, as I say it, I’m not sure I can tell you one causes the other—I imagine it’s kind of an upward spiral.

We talked. My twice-daily med got switched to a once-daily version with a different release mechanism because twice a day is hard. My prescriptions are set for a year. I left feeling buoyed: maybe the worst is over and I can start getting actually better.

Later that day:

“So I need to talk to you about Brian. He needs more constant supervision… he basically gives no craps about anything, does what he wants, and your attention is pretty well consumed by whatever you’re doing.”

The prior day, I was recovering from a stomach thing and dying of a dehydration headache. Brian had apparently been climbing the bookshelves and I didn’t even notice. Andrew granted I wasn’t at my best, but we both wondered how much his shenanigans were due to my diminished abilities and how much is just the way my attention works—when I’m focused on creative pursuits, I actually don’t have a lot of awareness of the rest of life. Is this just… normal?

“I think your days would probably be a lot more successful if you were less distracted.”

He wasn’t being mean, just honest, and I agree.

But what happens when the thing that takes my attention from my children and makes me less effective as a parent is also making me more able to be a person?

The next day, I did a little experiment. It was a thing I’d tried years ago, when “present” was my word of the year, and I abandoned before the end because being one hundred percent present with my children is actually really hard on my brain. But I tried it again: no distractions, just full attention on the little people.

It worked. Parenting went much smoother. I won’t say Brian gave any more craps than he had earlier in the week, but I consistently caught him before he did anything dangerous. It was pleasant.

And I fell asleep at about 11:30 in the morning. Apparently using my brain this way is a lot of work, and the things I usually do that make me feel alive and awake were explicitly off-limits. While I slept, shenanigans resumed as usual.

It’s like leaving a car’s headlights on without the engine going. If you call the running engine a distraction and disallow it, the headlights will dim and the whole thing will die.

The same thing has happened every time I’ve tried, including today—I keep trying because I promised I would.

I don’t have a pretty bow to put on this, only just recently words to describe the struggle. The solution seems obvious enough: put structure in place to give them productive things to do so the chaos subsides and I have some space to do things as well.

But… I’ve tried. Lots of things, lots of ways, lots of times. I haven’t managed. Either I’m dumber than I look or this is harder than it looks. From this place, it’s hard to muster the creativity to make a solid routine, harder to find motivation to implement it, and, once I’ve put in the effort to accomplish those, nearly impossible to get back on track once things inevitably go off the rails.

Why am I telling you this? Partly because it’s Wednesday and I’m supposed to publish tomorrow, and this is all I’m thinking about. And also because maybe I’m not the only one. If this sounds painfully familiar…

Hey! I see you. It’s hard. I don’t have answers. There is also grace here, and I can’t wait to tell you how I find it. Just because I haven’t yet doesn’t mean I won’t—we’re going to be okay.

Published by robininalaska

Robin Chapman is a part-time writer, editor, and birth photographer and a full-time imperfect mama, wife, Jesus follower, and normalizer of failure. She’s trying hard to learn how to do this motherhood thing in a way that doesn’t land the whole family in intensive therapy. She has a heart for helping other mamas buried in the little years with hope, humor, and solidarity. You can find her hiding out in the bathroom with an iced dirty chai, writing and editing and making spreadsheets for KindredMom.com where she is a cheerleader for mamas, or online looking for grace in her mundane and weird life. She lives in Fairbanks, Alaska with her four delightful (crazy) kids—some homeschooled, some public schooled, some too young for school at all—and her ridiculously good looking husband, Andrew.

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