Call it cabin fever, seasonal affective disorder or just feeling cooped up, caring for young children during the winter is no joke when the walls feel like they are closing in around you. On top of feeling stuck inside with your kids, it takes more effort to bundle kids up and do anything or see anyone. That means a lot of moms feel isolated during the winter.
I have not experienced this first hand, of course. The closest I have ever come to walking in your shoes was a stretch of about three days when my wife was gone at a wedding and I was home with our two girls. (I have no idea how you get anything done. Ever.) However, I sense that the experience of feeling trapped and isolated can quench your joy and challenge your faith, and that makes me want to offer help where I can. So here are a few ideas I had. I doubt that anyone will find every suggestion helpful, but hopefully at least one thing will resonate with you and you’ll be able to adapt these thoughts to your situation. My prayer is that Christ uses these reflections to spark hope and cut through some of the discouragement you’re feeling this winter.
The Details Matter
Nothing discourages like the feeling that your efforts don’t matter. By definition, motherhood is full of chores that must be endlessly repeated. Even on the best of days, moms are tempted to feel that most of what they do isn’t accomplishing much in the grand scheme. So let me encourage you. Everything you do for your children is of vital importance. I’ll prove it by taking you to a text you might not expect: the book of Judges.
At this point in Israel’s history, the Israelites have crossed into the Promised Land and everything starts off great—for a chapter. But then we read a ominous verse:
There arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work he had done for Israel. (Judges 2:10b)
The story spirals downward from there. The people fall into worse and worse trouble and sin, despite the rescuers God raises up to save them. At the end of Judges, Israel has surpassed the nations around them in doing evil, forgetting again what God did for them and turning away from him.
What does this have to do with being a mom when it’s too cold to send the kids out to play and the roads are too icy to go to play group?
Just this: Judges is telling us that nothing is more important than raising a generation to know the Lord. The whole book drives that point home. This means that every moment—from cleaning up spills, to playing make-believe, to disciplining—really does matter. Each moment is an opportunity to point to the Lord in either overt or implicit ways. The fact that Judges ends on a dark note actually underscores our need for Jesus. And the greatest goal in our parenting is for our children to grasp their need for him so that they will turn to him.
Now some of you will say, “Thanks for reminding me that I’m not only cooped up, but I’m also under the crushing weight of responsibility to make my kids into model Christians. Some help that is!” I don’t blame you. That would be my first thought, too. But remember this: there is just as much chance to raise a generation to know the Lord by being humble and repentant when you fall short as there is in loving and disciplining your children the way you intended to before they woke up this morning and things fell apart—again. And God has not dropped this job in your lap and walked away. God promises that he will seek after and take care of his sheep, you and your little lambs (Psalm 23, John 10:11–16).
So every day matters. What do you do with this? Here are two thoughts, the first for your kids’ sake and the second for yours.
Focus—very consciously—on smiling at your kids. Smile as you change diapers, play games, clean up spills, make lunch and talk to them. In Numbers 6:25–6, God instructs the high priest Aaron to tell Israel that God makes his “face shine upon you” and that he will “lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” You have the chance to be his face to your kids, to smile at them as a tiny picture of his boundless affection for his people. A simple smile that reflects the God who is kind and abundant in goodness is a powerful gift to give your children. You are his agent of blessing. Let your face shine on them today so they grow in knowing what his face toward them looks like. Who knows, maybe in the process your own heart will be reminded that he is smiling on you, too.
Get some fresh air. It’s hard to see the big picture when you’re always indoors. Being cooped up inside tends to cut you off from much of God’s creation and “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps 19:1). Being out in creation reminds us that this powerful God is up to something awesome and glorious in our lives and throughout the whole earth.
What if you used five of those precious minutes when the kids are occupied (it’s ok to put them in front of the TV for this!) to walk a circle or two around your yard or open a window and let the cold air rush in while you look out. Don’t check Facebook. Don’t think about the next thing on your to-do list. Don’t do anything. Just take in the experience of God’s world being there, declaring his glory at every second. Look up to the heavens. Notice the vastness of the sky. Let that remind you of how vast and good his plans are for you (Jer. 29:11, Rom. 8:28). Let the invigorating rush of cold air on your face remind you he refreshes and restores your soul (Ps. 23:3). Don’t look away until the world God created has re-centered you in the knowledge that his kingdom is much bigger than your living room. The living room will feel less like a prison when you are more conscious that the Living God who made the vast heavens is in the room with you.
He Knows What It’s Like
We learn in Hebrews 4 that Jesus, our Great High Priest, is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” because he shared in the trials and limitations of being human. How does he sympathize with the experience of being stuck at home all winter?
He chose to be cooped up in a body.
Think about the incarnation through the lens of your experience of not being able to “get out.” Imagine the constriction of downsizing from all of heaven to a human body, locked into time and space. Jesus entered into a world much too small for his comfort when he chose to put on human flesh. He knows the feeling of being cooped up for the sake of being with his children!
But the incarnation isn’t the whole story of his confinement. The most intense confinement comes, as we might expect, at the cross. Not only confined to a body, but confined now to an instrument of torture. Like you, he could walk away from this task. But, like you, he knew that if he did, all the beloved members of his family would suffer (and ultimately die) without his intervention.
This has two implications.
We find the first in Philippians 2:5–9. We are called to have the same attitude as Jesus, humbly giving up comfort and freedom in order to obey God and love others.
This is the second, and, for most moms, probably more comforting implication. The next chapter invites us into the “fellowship of Christ’s sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). This means that when you suffer anything on his behalf, Jesus himself treats your pains and griefs as his own!
Here are three things you might do with this:
Cry out to him. If he really does treat your sufferings as his own and you have intimate fellowship with him by sharing his sufferings, then you have a standing invitation to pour out your heart to him. He is more than a listening ear, more than a shoulder to cry on. He has been there and he understands your personal experience of discouragement and isolation. Pray to him like you would talk to your best friend.
Thank him. Whatever your particular trials are this winter, they are a mere glimpse into his experience in the incarnation and his choice to be trapped on the cross for you. This does not mean your suffering is insignificant! Instead, it is a reason to thank him. Every time you catch yourself looking at the clock or the calendar and wishing this moment or season away, let it be a reminder to thank him for his sacrificial love for you.
Pray with your kids. What if you started praying with your kids in the moment when they are experiencing some frustration of their own? When you enter their worlds and pray with them about their hardships, you are sharing fellowship in their sufferings. What better way to help them experience the reality that Christ shares in their struggles than to be his hugging arms and compassionate voice? What better way for you to see a little picture of his care for you in how you care for your kids?
See the related blog A Few More Thoughts for Moms at Home this Winter