I come to the same place at least a few times a day. A place where I want to temporarily ‘check out’ of my current circumstances. It’s a combination of tiredness from physically caring for my family, and of weariness from near-constant conversation with young children most of the day. I want to tune it out, forget my responsibilities just for a moment, to build up my stores of the strength and skills I need to parent well.
It must be such a common refrain among parents: I just want a break.
My all-too-typical reaction is also common: pull out my phone and start scrolling. News, articles, blogs, social media. Time passes. Usually the insanity of the house and the children goes up a notch or two as I temporarily ignore the chaos. Eventually, I put my phone away and life goes on, until I wear out again and the cycle repeats as I become more and more habituated to checking out when life feels like a bit ‘too much’.
As I’ve written before, this is a really bad way to take a break. But I realize admitting it is not the same as doing something about it. And to do something about it, we need to develop a correct view of what it means to take a break, to rest as well as practical steps to take.
We need to accept our need for a break.
Moms (and dads) do have a lot on their shoulders. For all our efficient, time-saving devices, our standards for cleanliness and hygiene have increased, just as we are less likely to have paid or family help with housekeeping our caring for our kids, as Leah at My Little Robins mentions. The saying says that in raising kids, the days are long, but the years are short. Let’s not belittle just how long those days can seem.
We need admit that we are human creatures with limited resources (physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual) for carrying out work, whether that’s in an office or at home caring for young kids. In fact, I think it’s necessary to admit that in order to rest well. We need to look for what we need in the right place: Christ offers us rest – but we aren’t likely to go to him if we’re busy on our phones.
We can take breaks well.
If you’re like me, spending time on your phone only serves to make you more impatient, more frustrated, and more distracted. Using your phone to take a break is anything but restful. There is plenty of research showing how our phones are changing us (affiliate link) (in many ways for the worse) and how it is impacting our parenting.
But if we really want to break the habit of using our phones to take a break, we need to replace the bad habit with a good one. We need rest, and we also need concrete ways to seek that rest when we need a break.
I have been guilty on offering commentary on the problem of excessive phone use without contributing much to the solution. So here I give five practical ideas for what you can do when you need a few minutes’ break – without getting out your phone.
Do absolutely nothing.
I argue that it is better to sit in a chair, close your eyes, and relax for five minutes with your own thoughts than to sift through social media on your phone. Firstly, you are far less likely to get carried away and spend too much time ‘on a break’. Secondly, quietness and contemplation are worthwhile in themselves. Peter reminds women that beauty comes from a gentle and quiet spirit, and the Psalms encourages us to be still to that we can know God. Taking time to be quiet and still cultivates a beautiful spirit and brings us closer to God.
Read Scripture and pray.
In the Schole Sisters Learning Well retreat, Cindy Rollins demonstrated that most people can read 15-20 Bible verses in one minute. (She actually had us read Scripture for a minute to make her point!) She then made the point that if you do that once a day, every day, you will read the Bible through in four years. How many times might one read through the Bible in a lifetime on this plan?
The main point in this session was to not underestimate the value of spending even a very short time in Scripture. It is food for our souls, the refreshment we need, our source of rest, encouragement and strength. Keep a Bible to hand so it is easily accessible when you need it.
In addition to reading Scripture, we can take just a few minutes to offer a prayer of worship and gratitude. Spending time in worship, even just a few minutes, is the opposite of work. It is rest itself.
Make a cup of tea or coffee (or even a snack).
We are physical creatures with physical needs! A warm drink is a great pick-me-up (and I opted-in to being British, so this isn’t just a cultural thing). And while we talk about kids struggling when their blood sugar is low, the same thing can easily happen to Mom.
While a drink or a snack is good physically, it also offers the opportunity for a refreshing ritual. There is the process of filling the kettle, getting the mug ready, steeping the tea, adding the milk. Going through a process like this, especially when undistracted by a phone, can be very calming.
It’s also a ritual that has an end, something which our Facebook feed doesn’t have. I’m able to tell my children that I’ll help them/make them a snack/read a story when my tea is finished. They can look in the mug and see it getting lower. They know that it’s a finite and relatively short amount of time to wait. As a consequence, my break is more likely to be an actual break, instead of a mere attempt punctuated by frequent interruptions from children.
Direct negative feelings towards a small and useful task.
Our desire for a restful break is quite often legitimate. However, when we need a break because we are feeling frustrated or angry, then there is a chance, depending on your personality, that time spent in quiet reflection will only result in us stewing over a situation and getting more upset.
A good option in this case is to direct our negative energy towards a small, quick job that improves our environment. How much better is it to vigorously scrub a few dishes, and actually make our surroundings just a bit nicer, than to dwell on anger.
I have a list on the wall in the kitchen called ‘Kettle’s On Jobs’. These are really quick tasks that I can do in the kitchen while I’m waiting for the kettle to boil and the tea to brew. These jobs are also perfect if I need to throw my energy towards something productive. My list includes things like putting clean dishes away, emptying the kitchen compost bin, and wiping down counters. Any thing on that list would make a quick improvement to my kitchen and leave my attitude better at the end of five minutes.
Read a living book.
A living book, a phrase so often used by Charlotte Mason, is a book that gives our minds food to grow on. It leaves us thinking and meditating over what we read. It challenges us in the best possible way, and for the purposes of taking a quick break, it serves at least two purposes.
First, when we feed on great ideas, we grow as persons. (There is a great conversation on this topic at Schole Sisters). Like with Scripture, we don’t necessarily need to read a lot. In fact, this kind of slow reading gives us more time to process and take in what we read, perfect if we are working our way through a thought provoking book. If it seems selfish to take time to read when there are a million other things to do, remember that when we grow as persons, we have more to pour out to those around us.
Second, engaging with living ideas diverts our attention from ourselves and our circumstances towards other things. Have you ever wondered how to be less self-centered or less self-pitying? Charlotte Mason had an incredibly practical perspective on this: learn to think about other things.
There are many ways of getting away from the thought of ourselves; the love and knowledge of birds and flowers, of clouds and stones, of all that nature has to show us; pictures, books, people, anything outside of us will help us to escape from the tyrant (Pride) who attacks our hearts. Ourselves.
Charlotte Mason says that this is the way of humility: not thinking little of ourselves, but not thinking of ourselves at all. Picking up a good book, learning about something new, even spending time appreciating art or music, help us to turn our thoughts away from ourselves, our exhaustion, our wish for some time off, and towards the good, true, and beautiful.
We need to get practical about how we rest.
As I created this list, I specifically chose activities that can be completed in a brief amount of time and that can be accomplished when you have kids around. We may want more than a few minutes of rest, but if that’s all we have, we should take it. The key using that opportunity to really rest, instead of restlessly surfing the internet.
In the end, though, we each have to take responsibility for putting these ideas into action in our own contexts. What is our specific action plan when we need a break and our hand itches for our phone? Is our Bible or our book at hand? Do we need a list of five minute jobs in the kitchen? Have we chosen a specific room (or even a specific chair) for quiet contemplation?
We can know all the reasons we should stay off our phones when we need a break, but we need to take practical steps to take what we know and make it what we do. The best part is that when we are faithful to seek true rest, Christ gladly gives it to us.