Becoming a Better Nurterer
By LESLIE LUDY
I am a big fan of efficiency. Ever since the days when our four kids were all age four and under, I have worked hard to efficiently manage the daily logistics that come with small kids. For many years, Eric and I had bath time down to a science. When our three youngest were all toddlers at the same time, it was a two person job. One of us would stay in the bathroom and attempt to keep the bathwater from splashing all over the floor, the shampoo from being dumped into the toilet, or the soap ending up in someone’s eye, while the other would set up the “assembly line” of towels, pajamas, baby powder, diapers, etc, in the bedroom. Then, one by one, the bathtub attendant would pass one wet and wiggling child off at a time to the “assembly line” attendant, who was waiting with all the supplies. Soon all three kids would be laying side-by-side on the bedroom floor, wrapped up like burritos in their bath-towels, while both of us worked at a feverish pace to get the powder, diapers, and pjs onto three squirming kids before one of them had a meltdown or managed to escape and take off running naked down the hall.
Even though my kids are a little older now, having so many young children very close in age is always forcing me to come up with fast, efficient ways to get things done. However, I have found that whenever I become overly focused on managing my motherhood tasks efficiently, I often fail to slow down long enough to adequately nurture my kids. For example, there are two ways that I can approach bedtime. If I am only concerned with getting my kids to bed in a timely manner, I miss valuable opportunities to rock them, read to them, cuddle with them, sing to them, pray for them, and comfort them. But to nurture my children as God desires me to, I must approach bedtime as an opportunity to build stronger relationships with my kids, not merely as a task to check off my evening “to do” list.
The same is true for our morning routine. If I am only concerned with the mechanics of getting my kids dressed, fed, and out the door on time, I will miss out on the opportunity to pray with them, anticipate the day with them, laugh with them, and remind them of my love for them as the day begins.
Often, the difference between being a nurturing mother and a task-oriented one comes down to a few simple choices. When my four-year-old gets out of the bath, she is often cold and shivering. If the house is a mess and I only want to get her dressed quickly and move on with my tasks, I will hurriedly dry her off with a towel and quickly put on her pjs, telling her to grab a sweatshirt from the mudroom if she’s still feeling cold. This scenario usually leads to a lot of fussing and complaining when it’s time to get out of the tub. But if I take a few extra minutes to heat up her pjs in the dryer, get her fuzzy bathrobe ready and waiting, and help her get cozy on the couch with a book and warm blanket after her bath, her entire perspective on post-bath logistics changes from one of drudgery to one of delight.
When my nine-year-old son gets home from school, I can either ask him a few hurried questions about his day as I’m rushing to clean up the kitchen, or I can take a few extra minutes to make him a cup of hot chocolate (or other fun drink), sit down with him and show genuine interest in all that happened throughout his time at school.
In most of my mothering scenarios, just few simple, easy steps can transform me from an impersonal task-manager to a nurturing mother. But for some reason, this is easier said than done!
Though I love to nurture and comfort my kids, my love for efficiency can easily get in the way. But I’ve learned that taking the “quick and efficient” route doesn’t always help me get more done. This is because when I fail to slow down and nurture my kids, I end up spending a lot more time dealing with their whining, complaining, and ploys for attention — simply because their needs for comfort and nurturing aren’t being fully met.
Of course, there are moments in every day when it’s important to get things done quickly, and taking extra time for “nurturing activities” isn’t realistic or necessary. But there are a lot of times throughout the day when simply taking an extra five or ten minutes to comfort, cuddle, and care for my kids in an extra special way can make the difference between a magical mothering moment or a mundane one.
A study of the Proverbs 31 woman shows that she is a thoughtful and nurturing mother. She faithfully meets the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of her children, and as a result they “rise up and call her blessed.” As I said in Set Apart Motherhood, I don’t want my children to look back in twenty years and remember a mother who ran an efficient household but never spent time building relationships with them. So it is my desire, by God’s grace, to set aside my love for efficiency in order to make ample room for nurturing my children!
Here are some practical ways that I’ve been putting this principle into practice lately.
1. Create a “Comfort Kit”
Bedtime seems to be a consistent time of day when my children need a bit of extra comfort, cuddles, nurturing, and various expressions of “Mama-love”. When I’m helping the kids get settled for the night, I often start to hear a chorus of complaints about various aches, pains, and ailments. Whether it is a painful tummy-ache or a barely-visible red “dot” on a pinky finger that suddenly hurts, I have found that taking a few extra minutes to kiss owwies, soothe upset tummies, and rub backs can have a tremendous impact upon helping my kids settle down for the night. (Of course, there are times when my kids purposefully come up with imaginary ailments for the sole purpose of procrastinating when it is time for bed, so I am always on the lookout for the tell-tale signs of bedtime manipulation — whining, exaggerating, slowness to obey, etc, which is handled a bit differently!)
Whether my kids are feeling a little under the weather, or are just tired and in need of some extra comfort and tending-to, I’ve found that having a few simple items on hand can make a world of difference in my ability to quickly and easily attend to their needs. If I can’t quickly find things like itch-cream or chap stick, I’m prone to simply tell them, “You’ll be fine, just go to sleep!” rather than taking an extra few minutes to provide a comforting solution for whatever issue they are dealing with.
So not long ago, I decided to put together a “comfort kit” that I can easily reach for whenever my kiddos have a minor physical ailment that they need help with, such as a tummy ache, sleeplessness, a mysterious itchy “bump” on their arm, chapped lips or noses, dry skin, sore muscles, growing pains, minor headaches, and so on. Here’s what’s included in my “kit”:
-Lavender Essential Oil (I mix a couple of drops of this oil with unscented lotion or coconut oil, and rub their backs with the mixture to help them fall asleep)
-Coconut oil (I use a small dab to soothe dry lips and noses)
-Evian mist, or small spray bottle filled with cool water (I spray a very light mist onto their faces to cool them off when they are overheated or feverish)
-Little Noses Simply Saline spray (I use this whenever their noses are a little stuffy!)
-Chewable stomach-comfort pills for upset tummies (My kids love the Nature’s Sunshine brand).
-Microwave heating pack for soothing sore muscles (I like the rice-filled ones which are soft and don’t get too hot when heated.)
-Arnica gel for calming “bumps and bruises” (whether real or imagined) on knees and elbows.
-Peppermint Essential oil (if they have a headache, I let them take a few sniffs of the oil which really helps clear their head!)
-Chamomile tea, drops, or liquid (this helps my kids settle down and get to sleep when they are restless)
-Calming worship music (this one isn’t exactly in my ‘kit’ but is ready on my playlist, so that I can quickly to put it on in the background whenever I need to create a calm and soothing atmosphere.)
2. Purposeful Snack Times
Late-afternoon is a time of day when my kids often feel hungry, bored, and restless. I’m generally trying to get things done around the house in this time, so it can be tempting to hurriedly plop a plate of muffins or fruit on the table to keep hunger-whines at bay while I’m running back and forth between the laundry room and the kitchen. However, I have found that taking a few extra minutes to make their snack “extra special” and sitting down with them while they eat can turn an ordinary snack time into a highlight of the day. It might be adding a fun twisty straw to their smoothie, arranging their food to look like a smiley-face on their plate, or using an animal shaped cookie cutter to make their peanut-butter-and-honey sandwich into a fun shape. These are simple touches that don’t take much time, but they remind my kids that I love them and want to go the extra mile to bring joy to their little hearts. I also try to sit down with them and ask them conversation-stimulating questions while they are eating their snack, such as “what’s the funniest thing that happened to you today?” or “what are you most excited about this week?” Slowing down for a few minutes to ask them intentional questions and listen to their answers with genuine interest makes something as simple as late-afternoon snack time a much-anticipated and special part of our day!
3. Purposeful Cuddle Times
Young children loved to be cuddled by Mama. But when you have many little ones like I do, it’s easy to cut the cuddling short because there simply does not seem like there are enough “Mommy arms” to go around! No sooner do I sit down on the couch than I’m swarmed by two or three little munchkins attempting to climb onto my lap. The bigger my kids get, the more uncomfortable this is, not to mention that it can get a bit territorial! I’ve found that when I take time each day to cuddle with my children individually, they are a lot less “needy” and argumentative over who gets to sit on Mommy’s lap first. Whether it’s taking a few moments to snuggle with my daughter when she first wakes up in the morning, rocking and singing to my son before bed at night, or cuddling and reading to my pre-schooler before nap-time, finding those strategic moments to cuddle with each of my children throughout the day has proven invaluable. It gives them great security when they have gotten individual attention and nurturing from Mama, and it makes them far more willing to “share” me with their siblings throughout the day!
For most busy mothers, taking time to slow down and nurture our children is often the last thing we feel we have time for. Yet, as a poignant quote I once read reminds us, “My children do not distract me from my work. My children are my work.” In twenty years, what will matter more: a checked-off task list, or moments spent in the rocking chair with our little ones? Let us not overlook the nurturing opportunities God has given us in each day!