I stumbled down the stairs in an early Monday morning stupor. Mornings aren’t my strong suit, and it takes time for me to feel lucid. I closed the bathroom door for my first trip of the morning, only to hear my teenage daughter yell up the stairs, “Mom, did you wash my gym clothes?”
Within seconds, I heard her brother bellow, “Mom, if you are picking me up early today, I need a note.” I’d only been in the bathroom for a minute before 8-year-old Erica was knocking on the door announcing that her 2-year-old brother was awake and had produced a very dirty diaper sometime during the night.
I closed my eyes. Can’t I just have two minutes alone in the bathroom?
To parents, it sometimes feels like there’s just not enough of us to go around. Parenting is nonstop. Not only that, it seems that just when we get a routine figured out, our kids hit a new phase, and we have to re-strategize all over again. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, anxious and just plain worn out. There’s just no time to do it all.
In all my years of parenting, I’ve found that while the family landscape changes as the kids change, there are some unchanging principles that help us manage our time and energy well. They move us from reactive to proactive. From anxious to calm. From drowning to swimming. These strategies were game-changers for me:
Change the schedule
Kids take time. Babies blow out their diaper just as you’re buckling them in their car seat. Toddlers can’t find their shoes. Grade school kids forget that today is show and tell. Teens and preteens spend more time in front of the mirror getting ready to go. Instead of expecting everyone to fit into the schedule you’re used to, be adaptable and proactive, adjusting your morning as often as necessary to accommodate the reality of your family’s stage of life. Double your prep time and give “getting out the door” a bigger window.
Margin is the unscheduled white space in our lives. Margin is the space between our load and our limits. Just like the white space in the margin of a book, our lives need margin. Margin allows us to respond calmly, rather than reacting. Margin allows for the time to understand what’s going on in our child’s world rather than demand they fit into ours. Margin helps us to slow down, find balance, and lead well. To achieve margin, choose to schedule fewer events in your family’s already busy life.
Choose only one major and one minor outside commitment
My friend Janine was 10 years ahead of me on the mothering journey. One sunny Tuesday morning, we were talking about balance.
“Jill, you’re capable of a lot of things, but are you called to them all?” she asked. Nobody had ever asked me that question. “I want to challenge you,” she said, “to commit to no more than one major and one minor responsibility outside of your home and family.”
Janine explained that a major commitment requires a regular obligation, such as teaching Sunday school every Sunday or leading a small group every week. Full-time employment is considered a major. A minor commitment is something we do occasionally, such as serving as a substitute Sunday school teacher or hosting a small group every other month in our home. As I began to implement the “one major, one minor” principle, I recognized that I could only accept a new major opportunity if I let the current one go. The minors changed all the time, but I found I couldn’t pile them on top of each other. For instance, I couldn’t provide snacks for the soccer team the same week I was hosting small group in our home. This principle restored much-needed balance to my life.
Choose your majors and minors carefully
If you choose to do one major and one minor, and a new opportunity doesn’t fit, then “no” is the needed answer. Yes, you’re capable and will likely be asked to do a lot of things. However, you are the only one who can see the big picture and take into consideration the physical and emotional needs of your family.
Ask yourself: Will saying yes to this require me to say no to my family in some way? If so, then “no” is the answer. When you say no, don’t feel like you have to give a specific reason or defend your answer. Simply respond with, “I can’t participate right now, but thank you for thinking of me.”
Give yourself grace
You like to serve well-balanced, carefully thought-out, home-cooked meals, but there are some nights that fish sticks and carrots will be just fine. You usually manage your kids’ screens well, but when you’ve had a hard day, then it’s OK for them to watch a few extra videos or have a little more time with the video game console.
Most of us would claim we don’t expect ourselves to be perfect. However, when imperfect shows up, we usually don’t handle it well. That’s our first clue that we are struggling with unrealistic expectations of ourselves. We unfairly compare ourselves to others. Giving ourselves a little grace and not always chasing perfection will reduce our stress.
Prioritize what’s truly important
People are more important than tasks. The more we learn to quickly identify what is most important, the less we’ll feel pulled in two different directions.
- If I’m reading my child a book and the phone rings, I need to recognize that reading to my child is more important than answering the phone. (That’s why voicemail exists.)
- If I’m talking with my teenager and a text arrives, giving my full attention to my teen is important, and the text can wait.
With the invention of the smartphone we’re more accessible to the world than ever before. Using different notification sounds for family calls and texts can also help us quickly discern between a world screaming for our attention versus what’s truly important and waiting for our full focus.
Find rest for your soul
Our relationship with God often gets squeezed out when life seems out of control. When Jesus lived on this world, He had so many demands upon His time. However, He showed us that spending time with God was the key to being able to serve others, such as our kids, well.
- Get up a little earlier or carve out some time in the evening to open God’s Word and talk to Him about your day.
- Put a Bible in every bathroom of your house to shore up your soul even in that quick moment alone.
- Make the extra minutes count. Choose to read the book of Philippians while you wait in the carpool line or the book of James while your preteen is taking his piano lesson.
Most importantly, give God the worry — the restlessness — you’re carrying over your children. Place them in His hands over and over again. This is when we live out Matthew 11:28-29: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”