Let’s step back to six months ago.
I hadn’t turned yet the big 4-0; I was, like now, working full-time and trying to do my best to keep the children fed, clothed, emotionally nurtured and, most important, alive, mostly single-handedly.
If the evenings were a rush to get both fed, bathed and ready for bed before 8:30 (half because they need their sleep, half because I was so looking forward to watch the next episode of House of Cards), the mornings were a time of the day I totally dreaded.
This is how they went, typically:
Between 6:00 and 7:00 my youngest would either start calling me from his bed, or come to my bed.
I would then drag myself out of bed – I’ve never been a morning person, plus I was going to bed late, between 11:30pm and 1:00am to finish some sewing, watch TV, scroll through my Facebook feed, etc.
I would make breakfast for the little one and try to get my mini-me out of bed (my eldest who, so far, has shown she has a lot of aspects of her personality similar to mine);
20 minutes of trying to wake her up, starting with kisses and ending with yelling and, sometimes, physically dragging her out of bed;
Finally up, she also would eat her breakfast half asleep;
In the meantime, I would have a shower and get ready. They would start fighting. I would ironically shout from the shower: “Stop shouting!!”
My shower often cut short to negotiate and sort out the situation, already my blood boiling away nicely while dripping wet;
Then, in no particular order:
Putting make up on; drying my hair; choosing my outfit; choosing my children’s outfits (often picking them up from the mountain of unfolded laundry that had put down roots on the sofa); often not finding what I was looking for and settling for odd socks; chasing my little one to get his nappy changed, face washed and teeth brushed; shouting 30 times to my eldest from a room to another: “did you brush your teeth? did you get dressed? did you brush your hair?”, while she was happily playing with her dolls and ignoring me; preparing my packed lunch; preparing my eldest’s packed lunch (from scratch, sometimes making pasta or even bread!); changing clothes and nappies in my little one’s bag; putting my gym kit together from the famous clothes mountain for my lunchtime workout (and forgetting socks / knickers / pants); doing the washing up from the night before; checking my Facebook feed; checking my emails and my Whatsapp messages; making my eldest finish her homework.
At this point, already sweating and angry, I would just shout orders, causing more havoc and misbehaviour. Getting finally out of the house, with four bags, two children and my head pounding, I was desperately late, most days. The word I would repeat over and over again, was: “Quick!”
Occasionally, my youngest wouldn’t want to sit on his car seat. That would be the straw that broke the camel’s back,and I would just lose it, and shout at him and even spank him. Then, I would cry in silence while driving and feel crap for the rest of the day.
Did you feel stressed just reading this? Sounds like madness, right? Perhaps your mornings are a bit like this?
Well, if that’s the case, as you can see, you are not alone. I’ve done it literally for years, every day. In a desperate attempt to change, I went to a counselling session, during which the psychologist suggested:
Perhaps you could wake up a little earlier?
It was a slap on the face, and I felt outraged and patronised. What a silly suggestion!! I had never been able to wake up earlier, plus what difference would it make? My children misbehave and I am angry, what has that to do with waking up times?
Well, it turned out, it can have a lot to do with it, and it can make a real difference. Children are in most cases simply a mirror of the adults’ behaviour, so the easiest change you can make to see a difference in your children, is to change your own behaviour. In baby steps.
So, inspired by the urge to change things, I did put my alarm clock at 6am. The first morning I snoozed, and snoozed, until my son came to my bed as usual.
It took a few days to actually get up, without (too much) snoozing. I would then have a shower and start preparing things before they woke up.
Turned out, this wasn’t a strong enough habit, or even motivation. So, I fell back into the old me a few times. What really made a difference, was reading the article by Leo Babauta: The First Hour: Creating Powerful Mornings . Creating a few habits so that the first hour of your day is nurturing and peaceful, and sets a positive tone for the day: it resonated as a dream in my heart. Having a ‘sacred’ hour in which I would do things that are important to me, not just chores.
I had for some time felt the urge to write about my crazy life. I was feeling unfulfilled, and like I was running on a hamster wheel endlessly. Yes, I would spend my evening in blissful solitude, watching programmes I liked, and sewing or doing other crafty stuff (which helped a lot maintaining my sanity), but I was tired, sad and disappointed in myself.
So, in order to have my ‘sacred’ hour first thing in the morning, I started doing the washing up immediately after dinner. I made our packed lunches the night before. I folded the clothes after washing them. I prepared my gym kit and left it right in front of the door, so I couldn’t forget it (intentionally or not!). I reduced my wardrobe to a capsule wardrobe, so that anything I would pick would fit me perfectly, and it was easier to find. I arranged the kids clothes so they would be easy to find and all coordinated (the konmari method is the most wonderful way to do that). I went to bed early. I started setting my alarm clock for 5am, and mentally preparing for not snoozing. I started my day with a short, ten minute guided meditation, or I just meditated with a timer on Thich Nhat Hahn’s smile mantra:
Breathing in, I calm body and mind.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is the only moment.
(Since then, I found the Insight Timer app, which is truly wonderful).
After that, I would make myself an espresso, and I would write for an hour or so. Just following the flow of my thoughts, without editing (I also read a wonderful book on creative writing that inspired me to get out of bed every morning to write: Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg). Since last October, I’ve nearly written 50,000 words, doing so a little bit at the time, every morning. Not sure what they will become eventually, but writing has opened my heart and made me think about my rich life, my family, my values and much more.
Then I would have a shower and get ready, with gratitude in my heart. Prepare the kids breakfast, not touching my phone for Facebook or messages until I was in the office.
OH MY GOD, the difference the sacred hour made to my life!!
It didn’t happen overnight, but only after a few days, I already felt the difference.
I’ve got more energy, I’m happier, more compassionate, more patient, more organised, calmer. I’m not perfect, and there are mornings in which the scale still tips towards madness, but all in all, my stress levels have reduced massively, and I feel like a much better mum as well.
I try to focus and listen (actually listen, instead of nodding mindlessly while scrolling my Facebook notifications) to my children: 90% of the time this prevents tantrums and fights, plus they deserve it as human beings. When a tantrum does start, I manage most of the times to contain it by distracting them and offering an appealing alternative. In brief, I’m paying attention, and as a result, the kids are calmer, I’m calmer, and I love spending time with them, enjoying and savouring the moments like never before.
Find what makes you happy. Is that having a long bath? Reading a book? Exercising? Writing? Painting? Just set your alarm clock an hour before you are meant to start your day and do it.
It might just be the best decision of your life.