I walked into the sterile room with florescent lights, and draped an extra blanket over the top of my sleeping baby’s stroller. Only four weeks old, he slept most of every day (thoughtfully preserving his strength for our midnight bonding sessions). We waited so long for the pediatrician I eventually fell asleep in the exam room’s plastic blue chair, slumped over like a worn rag doll. When the doctor walked in I startled awake and smiled awkwardly. He nodded like I wasn’t the first new mom to doze off waiting on him.
Over the next ten minutes he asked me a litany of questions about how the baby was sleeping and feeding and pooping. He worked his way through a clip-board list of details and when he finished his questions (but before rousing my baby to count his fingers and toes) he asked me two surprising questions. First, he asked me if I’d yet had a date with my husband since the birth. I said no, of course, the child was only one month old after all. So he wrote me a prescription for a date night and placed it in my hand. “Take one of these a month, once a week is even better, but in the very least once a month. I’ll check in on you at your son’s three month check up. This is for your health. It’s just one of the thing that you and your husband need to do to have a healthy marriage… therefore it’s what your son needs too. And I’m his Doctor.”
Then came the Doctor’s second question. “Did you hang a mobile over your baby’s crib?”
“Does is have bright colors, flashing lights and a happy melody?” He prodded deeper, writing down my answers.
“Yes,” I proudly nodded.
He then jotted down another note upon his prescription pad and handed it to me.
“Take down the mobile until your child is 9 months old.”
I read it then laughed aloud, surprised.
My baby’s doctor laughed with me because he was a jovial man with a loud tie, and crumbs on his mustache, then fell quiet. “Your child has had nothing exciting him for nine long months. Nothing but warm, quiet, rest. Just the right environment for a baby to grow in, don’t you agree? Then suddenly their born into the bright lights of this big world and we immediately want to stimulate and entertain them constantly. But they have their whole lives ahead of them for that. How about, instead, you just give this little guy nine more peaceful months? Just nine more months of dim lights without bells and whistles? Doesn’t that sound relaxing?”
Exhausted, I couldn’t help but agree.
A year or two later, when my first-born was still very young and his little brother was the newborn, I read an article about the benefits and dangers of TV watching for young children. The one point that stuck with me most built upon the advice of my children’s pediatrician. It spoke of over-stimulating our children’s minds. Most television shows (and gaming devices too) can over-stimulate a child because of how quick and constant the visual images change. Quick edits back and forth between scenes, color and sound flashing and popping, zooming in and zooming out, then cutting over to another exciting close-up followed by a whole new song and dance… a toddler’s eyes and brain bounce around so fast their little beings get all shook up!
And then we ask them to stay still in our laps as we read them a quiet story, sit still at the dinner table for a calm meal, remain by our side as we walk to the park, and look us in the eye when they answer our questions… but they’re still bouncing!
And we can too.
Just the way that funny old man gave me a prescription for my own health before he wrote one out for my child, I want to encourage you to protect your own body and mind from over-stimulation during this exhausting season.
Do you ever feel like your children are constantly pushing your buttons until the sirens go off and you start hollering? Their wrong behavior, constant crying, hitting, complaining, needing snacks, mess making, nap fighting… is your undoing. However, what if they’re not really trying to push your buttons at all? What if your buttons are just all stressed out because you’re over-stimulated and over-tired? Maybe your buttons are super-sensitive because they need more dark hours every day. Maybe you need some more time in a less-stimulating environment so that you can stay calm and kind and respond the right way. Maybe you’re just over-stimulated.
Some days I bounce between my never ending to-do list – dropping older children off at school, running to the library with the littles for story-hour, then to the grocery store before naps, then home to change out another load of laundry before getting lunch and tucking the baby into bed. Coming downstairs, tripping over Legos, the preschoolers and I dive into making homemade bubbles, then we trace letters together, followed by a show so I can prep dinner and fold some clothes and make a call and wake the baby to go get the big kids from school. Then off to soccer practice, and doling out snacks for the little ones while the big ones play. Hurrying home for dinner making, with the sound of the television in the background. Dinner and devotionals at the table, but everyone’s bouncing and talking and complaining and so I get angry! Exhausted physically and emotionally. But more than anything else… I’m simply over-stimulated.
So what can be done when children need to get to school and soccer practice and you have preschoolers wanting to play and a baby needing a nap and another trip to the grocery store that must be made? How do we keep ourselves resting in quiet spaces, when there aren’t any? No quiet. No space? We must make some, carve out and protect it.
Three ways to cultivate quiet hearts in the over-stimulating season of motherhood
Sound — Keep the music and the tvs turned off for most the day. That constant background hum isn’t white noise, lulling us to sleep, but a static buzz crossing our signals and keeping us agitated. Want to listen to music in the car? Go for it! Want a movie with your husband after the kids go down? Enjoy it! But don’t let the noise fill every crevice all day long. I’m exhausted just thinking of it.
Devices — Our eyes and minds can bounce and grow weary just like our children’s. Close your laptop and set down your phone. Try not to look at a screen in the first 30 minutes of waking, or for at least 30 minutes before you close your eyes for the night. The images flash and stimulate your brain… But you need deep sleep so that you can be ready to love your people again fresh tomorrow. So power off and sleep well.
Quiet Time with the Lord — Just as our children need a break from fast-paced images, the constant going, sights and sounds, entertainment and consumption, and learn to simply rest in the quiet of their rooms for a little while each day… so do we. The opposite of over-stimulated is resting. Rest. Be still and know the Prince of Peace. Peace is where a soul can grow into maturity. Therefore, daily, purposefully find time and space to meet with Him, talk with Him, and hear from Him. He brings us down, swaddles us tight, and removes the mobile from our ever moving lives.
When our children get over-stimulated they can be little terrors, no doubt. But when we are over-stimulated, agitated on the inside, we can be the most terrible of all. Therefore, we must learn to find balance in the quiet places of our faith lives, though our family lives are busy. We must learn to cultivate quiet spaces in our daily routines without the constant buzz of podcasts and Pandora. We must turn off the stimulating mobiles, ever spinning over our heads and hyping us up. Without the peace and quiet we simply continue to bounce and explode. Like bullets ricocheted between two over-stimulated toddlers. But we’re the adults, and our toddlers need us calm.
Let us learn with our children to turn off the background music, the devices, and the car… and be home… and be still… and be calm.
This blog post is part of a series written for moms who struggle with anger in their homes, with their young children. We’re currently talking our way through the most common TRIGGERS that set us off. Join the conversation on the private Facebook page, “No More Angry MOB“.