Life lessons from the sandbox & my purpose in mothering

Do you ever find yourself wondering WHY you do all the daily tasks that keep you busy as a mom? Here’s what I learned about my purpose in mothering…all while digging in the sandbox.You you ever find yourself wondering WHY you do all the things you do as a mom? Here's what I learned about my purpose in mothering...all while digging in the sandbox. On summer evenings, I love to take my boys outside to play after dinner. The heat of the day starts to subside, and once the sun dips below the roof line of the house, we can venture outdoors without melting. For that little time before bed, we can kick a ball around, check the fruits of our little garden, and dig in the sandbox in our shady backyard. 

Often, I’m so tired by this time of day (who’s with me?!) that I let Daddy take over playtime, and I collapse into a chair on the patio while the boys play. It’s a good arrangement, really. As I watch my boys play happily with their dad, some of the stress and exhaustion from dealing with the day’s tasks and tantrums melts away, and I’m grateful to be their mom again.

It was in the midst of this scene a few days ago, when I—in a brief moment of energy—decided to get out of my chair and join the fun for few minutes. Little Man was absorbed in a soccer game on the grass with his dad, but Little Brother was digging quietly in the sandbox by himself.

Maybe it was the knowledge that bedtime was approaching quickly. Maybe it was a twinge of guilt/jealously that my husband was creating memories with my older son while I was not. Maybe it was knowing that my “baby” is now three years old and isn’t going to be the baby when child #3 arrives in a couple of months.

Whatever inspired me, I bent down by my son and asked, “Hey, Buddy, can Mommy play with you?”

His face lit up, and he offered me a shovel (sometimes I forget just how much our kids love when we take the time to get on their level and play with them).

“What should we do?” I asked him, wanting to let him take the lead.

“We have to dig a hole!” he replied, using his fake-deep “grown up” voice that cracks me up every time.

So we dug a hole together. And then–before we had gotten very far–he started filling back in the hole (because that’s what toddlers do).

“What are you doing?” I asked. “I thought we were digging a hole.”

Without answering with anything more than an impish giggle, he continued filling in the hole as fast as I could dig.

And I thought to myself, This is such a great metaphor for the cyclical nature of mothering. I clean, and cook, and do laundry over and over again. Tasks are undone as quickly as I can complete them, and sometimes all my efforts feel about as effective as digging this hole. 

It wasn’t a hopeless or bitter idea. I accept that the unglamorous, repetitive tasks of housekeeping make up a lot of the daily tasks of motherhood. It’s not a bad thing. I just laughed quietly to myself at the accuracy of the comparison.

But then another thought came (as I was still trying to dig faster than a two-year-old can dump sand back into a hole and starting to get a little annoyed that he kept filling it back in)…

Is your goal here to dig hole?

No.

This moment isn’t about digging a hole. The whole point of digging in the sandbox right now is to build memories with your son.

Oops.

And I wondered to myself, how often do I lose focus on the real goal in motherhood? How often do I get annoyed that my kids are making messes, when really they are playing and learning…just like little boys are supposed to do? How often do I get so wrapped up in my check-it-off-the-list mentality that I forget to enjoy living in the present?

In that moment, my son didn’t care about digging the hole. And frankly, I didn’t care about digging a hole either—but for a few moments I forgot. I thought I needed to dig a hole because that was the goal we set; I wanted the sense of accomplishment. But digging a hole wasn’t the point at all.

I didn’t get in the sandbox that night to dig a hole. I got in the sandbox for one reason: to play with my son–to give him some love and attention for a just a few minutes after a busy day of mom “getting things done”. And I almost lost my chance. I got so deeply entrenched in the habit of getting things done that I forgot that sometimes you don’t need to accomplish anything tangible. You can play just for the sake of play.

As much as I LOVE crossing things off my to-do list, I need to remember that so many of the important parts of mothering aren’t “cross-off”-able.

I took a breath. I looked up at my son’s face–still giggling at his own cleverness for beating Mommy at digging—and I smiled. I laughed, too, and tickled him.

At least for this moment, I got it right.

You you ever find yourself wondering WHY you do all the things you do as a mom? Here's what I learned about my purpose in mothering...all while digging in the sandbox.

16 thoughts on “Life lessons from the sandbox & my purpose in mothering

  1. I think my favorite part of this post was the line “I looked up at my son’s face–still giggling at his own cleverness for beating Mommy at digging” – I can just picture that precious moment 🙂

    Thanks for sharing this, it’s a really good reminder! I’m guilty of getting super annoyed with my kids when all they want is a little of my undivided attention (undivided being the key word there haha).

    1. I usually am super “divided” in my attention, too. I’m glad I’m not the only one, and it was a powerful reminder to me when I realized just how enjoyable for both of us when I focused on just playing in the moment.

  2. This was very encouraging to me! My oldest is heading into kindergarten and has really wanted my attention lately. I’m trying to worry less about the outcome or end result and simply enjoy the being!

    1. My oldest is going to kindergarten next month, too. It’s crazy to think of how fast these babies grow up! And sending him off to school has definitely made me more aware of how I’m spending the time we have left together.

  3. Love love love this! It is so easy to get caught up in the little details of every day life. I love how excited my daughter gets when I play with her, and I know someday she will be busy with her own life. I try to remember to capture all of these moments now.

    1. I hear you, Vicki. I look at my friends with older kids and sometimes wish we could find a happy medium between needy babies and heedless teens. But, it also makes me cherish more of the snuggles I’m getting now.

  4. What a great post! It’s so true. I’m constantly running around figuring out what I need to do next and rarely just stop to enjoy my daughter

    1. So many of us moms do that, Heather. And there definitely has to be a balance (I can’t realistically spend ALL day in the sandbox). But especially at the end of the day, I’m often just SO done being Mom. Still, there are special moments to be had when I carve out chunks of time to focus on my kids.

  5. It really is so hard to keep the focus on the purpose of our work when raising young children. I also get distracted by the task oriented nature of it all, keeping up the house and checking off to-do’s, instead of remembering why I wanted to be a mom in the first place.

  6. Oh my goodness, I really needed to hear this. I find throughout the busy day of just trying to “dig a hole” its nice to take a moment to just enjoy the moment. I love that your little one was able to make that possible.

  7. Oh my goodness, thank you so much for this reminder. You’re right–this is such a perfect metaphor for motherhood. I struggle with this all the time. My kids are growing up so fast and sometimes I worry that I’m missing it.

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