I can hear folk who have known me since childhood rolling on the floor laughing at the title of this post… me get my act together enough to encourage others. This post is not for them!!! This post is really for the so many moms who ask me: “How do you do it?” Now I could reply and say… actually I am raising eight spirited kids and I am not getting anything done, but that isn’t the answer that most mom’s want to hear. Most folk think that with eight kids my life must oscillate somewhere between total chaos or regimented military routine. Of course we live somewhere between those two extremes.
This started as a really practical post all about doing laundry and running errands and homeschooling a couple of different grades and living life, but it quickly evolved into a post on getting your head into gear, to tackle the day after day-ness of life with a couple of kids. While I have posted photographs of mountains of laundry and piles of dishes occasionally, I don’t actually want to scare all our readers away. That being said… there are things that folk can do to make “your everyday” slightly less dystopian and a whole lot more utopian.
Se7en + 1 Ways to Get Your Mind into Gear
- Figure out Your Season: Loving my husband and kids is a given of course. Otherwise right now my season in life is to school my kids, get meals on the table and do the laundry. I cannot demand more from myself, though I do (!), but I needn’t expect more from myself. This is not my season for sitting on the couch with a newborn while the dishes pile up, this is not my season for spoiling grandchildren with special outings. You may be in that season, that’s the thing – we are all in our own season. This is my season to get up in the morning and enabling my kids to learn, getting breakfast and hanging out the laundry. And the end of the day is pretty much all of that in reverse. That’s it. That doesn’t mean I don’t do other things at all… we go on outings, we clean our house you know other things, but I only have three main priorities. That doesn’t mean that I am in the rut of despair of cooking and laundry. What it does mean is that when folk say: “I am starting a new Bible Study on Tuesday mornings and we would like you to lead it.” I can decline gracefully, knowing full well that that is not part of my season right now. I have my list of things I can do and certain things are not on it.
- Say Yes to the Things that Count: This follows on from the previous point. It is so easy to lose our balance and get this wrong, folks say no to so many things in an effort to live a simpler life… but really there is time to say yes to the things that count. Remember we are living in the age of feverish business, somehow if you aren’t getting through your day frantically then you have failed. Next time you have a mountain of phone-calls to get through think about how essential they really are? If you left those calls for a day or two would you still need to make them? Very often those time-consuming calls are just that – time consuming. Similarly with emails, I have mountains of it… I flag the ones I want to attend to and leave the rest. I would much rather email a friend and say have a fab day than attend to twenty folk asking if they can share their products on our site (they can’t!!!). And while I will often say no to having our day disrupted by a morning event that is touted as perfect for “mother’s with eight kids,” there are a lot of things that are important that I want to say yes too.
- Remove the Unnecessary Decisions: We live in a culture beset with decisions. We call them opportunities, we call them choices, but honestly decisions take up so much energy that it is better to do away with them. It is crazy… When you go to the store for shampoo in Lesotho they have two bottles on the shelf in the local SPAR. Not two types of shampoo… two bottles of the same shampoo. In the city we have an aisle devoted to just shampoo. By the time you have figured out your hair-type you have used up all your decision energy for the day and I bet you have more things to buy on a trip to the store than shampoo. Here is an example, I have a rough idea of what we will be eating over the period of a week and while we don’t meal plan exactly, I don’t have to think, “What’s for breakfast, lunch or dinner,” each day. We have a rough schedule… we go to the library on certain days and we go to the beach on others… we don’t have to decide what to do on a day, we already know it is most likely a beach day, that decision is made. Make a conscious look at where you are spending too much energy on making decisions and get rid of some of them.
- Work With What You’ve Got: How often I have made the mistake of not starting our art project for the day, because I didn’t have exactly the right paints for the project – it’s art folks!!! What am I thinking… replace paints with pastels and keep on going. If you haven’t got the ingredients for the dinner you had planned… then now is not the time to fall apart or dash to the store during crisis hour… work with what you have. Trust me your kids will revel in a dinner that is a picnic of whatever you could find in your fridge. If you haven’t had the sleep you need because you were up with a teething toddler… then a tired mama is the best you have got today. It isn’t the end of the world. Not every day can be totally awesome and even so, it is unlikely that everyday, forever is going to be stacked against you… it is easy to sink into that, but realistically a lot more goes right than goes wrong. A really tired mom who spends most of the day recovering on the couch can still be a good mom… you don’t always have to be the life of the party. This leads to the next point…
- Be the Mom, not the Entertainment: It is not the season of my life to be scooting cars or playing with lego. I may join my children from time to time – but actually it is their season for that. I am in quite another season. When your children arrived, without a manual, mind you… there was not a little sticker on their forehead saying: “And henceforth parents will be the entertainment…” you have actually been sold that idea by terribly clever toy manufacturers that provide flimsy toys that only a grown-up could actually play with, or the health and safety “police” that terrify you into thinking your children are not safe if they do not have an adult glued to their sides 24/7. Enable your children to get on with the busy-ness of childhood, while you are busy with parenting. You do not have to provide activities between meals, you do not have to set up hours of scheduled opportunities… and if your children have friends over you don’t actually have to provide crafty activities for them to pass the time. You do not have to fill every moment of every day with scheduled events… if it is exhausting for you, and you can not keep up… imagine what it is like for your kids. Really you can get rid of a whole lot of things that are deemed essential to modern, first world living… that really are about “keeping up with the parenting-Jones'” or “getting ahead” rather than essential. I know kids love their activities, and their coaches, teachers, leaders are fantastic… but I haven’t met a four year old, and I have known a few, who didn’t like to dress up and chase a ball around the driveway… you don’t actually have to turn that into to two practices a week and a match on Saturday, all in the “name of love” and busy-ness.
- Finish What you Start: Often times I just get nothing done… I have found myself saying – there isn’t time to start that project because I should be making dinner and then I finally get round to dinner at nine-o-clock and the project hasn’t been done either… where did the time go? We have been sold the lie of “multi-tasking”… multi-tasking is just a fancy word for “getting totally nothing done.” Often times I can get the end of the day and sit on the edge of the bed and stair into space, rather too tired to do anything and kind of hoping all my sweet children will fall into bed… instead they run wilder wilder in circles around me until I say,”Why aren’t you all in bed already?” But then I kind of continue to stare. I’ll tell you why, it is overwhelming to think of all the things I still need to do before heading for bed… so I grind to a halt. If I just focus on one thing, getting them to bed, then guess what… they get to bed more or less happily. I have been known to panic on Monday, because on the following Saturday we are having ten folk over for breakfast, and twelve more round for dinner… I have learnt, leave Saturday’s worries for Saturday and focus on the what you are meant to be doing. It is not good time-management to prepare for days ahead if the day you are in is falling apart. Focus on one thing, finish it and then move on.
- Excuse Yourself from All Unnecessary Deadlines: There is one thing that sets my entire family into a panic, well two – I digress, a drop of rain can send eight kids screaming in terror, “It is raining.” I know, I don’t know how they have lived this long without melting – one of life’s great mysteries!!! Back to the first reason for panic: Getting anywhere at a precise time… if you have one child and they trip over their shoelaces and you are five minutes late for an appointment nobody notices, with eight kids, just no. I am very aware of being timeous. To that end we have eliminated nearly all dead-lines in our week and the only specified timed event is getting to church on time and since my kids help in the service we have to get their a lot earlier than the start time. By shifting the deadline and moving the goal posts so much earlier, we have essentially removed the panic. My self-imposed deadlines can be far more pressurising than any that other’s would presume to impose. If you drop those pesky deadlines one by one you will see the difference.
- Embrace “It’s the Least I can Do”: In a world where everyone must play their part… and in a marriage each partner must do exactly half of the work… just helping folk in their day with a mindset of “It’s the least I can do…” will stand you in much better stead than “I am the slave of the world” attitude. When your husband arrives home at the end of the day… I know all you want to do is, say, “So glad you are here…” and collapse on the couch while he brings you a cup of tea. Trust me your life will go a lot smoother if you make a cup of tea for both of you and sit down for fifteen minutes together. The world will not end, supper can wait a few minutes and the laundry probably won’t get folded while you are sitting there (one can dream). You never know you may rewarded with a cup of coffee in the morning when you need it most. Just do something nice, and think, “It’s the least I can do,” will go a long way to getting the help you need from folk around your house. I know that when I wear the cloak of “I do all the work around here… I am the slave of the world,” it is liable to send my entire family into hiding, not to mention it isn’t very pretty. However, when I say, can I carry your towel home from the beach, can I pick up your dirty laundry off the floor (that may have been there rather long!), it is the least I can do for the people I love. It is a much better mind-set for yourself, it is a better attitude and I prefer to model an attitude that I want my kids to have. I don’t have to say anything. It is so much harder to teach a good attitude to your kids if you are modelling a bad attitude, I just can’t be the grump and expect them to be lovely.
And the Se7en +_ 1th Thing…
Someone has to be the Grown-Up
And finally here is the truth… somebody has to be the grown-up… this is my season for that. Much as I would like a lazy day, lying around day… the laundry still has to be done, the meals still have to land on the table. It doesn’t matter how you school your children and it doesn’t matter what you believe – parenting in general requires lots of discipline. Somebody has to be the grown-up. I would love to declare endless couch days with cocoa… but somebody has to make the cocoa…
There are many days when I want to declare a “reading on the couch day” that sounds wonderful doesn’t it!!! But what it means is everyone except myself gets to lie on the couch and read – because somebody has to do the work behind the engine… someone has to think: if we lie on the couch all day, “What will we have for dinner?” Because, trust me round about 5:30 the wheels are going to fall off and everyone who was on the couch is going to demand dinner. They aren’t being selfish, and imposing on your couch time… they are being kids and saying “the end of the day is near, can you help us get to bed.” I think this might be why the holiday season is so hard for us… I want to wake up in the morning to a fabulous breakfast and have a long lazy day with movies maybe or friends coming over… the truth is I am the grown-up and I have to make that happen. Through the eyes of a child, parenting looks effortless, holidays are magical, and daily meals an essential interruption to their play. It is my turn, my season, to be the grown-up, I am still working on the effortlessness part of it all!!!
And yes I still have a practical post, filled with “how we… do laundry, dishes and school… it’s a draft… and it will arrive hopefully sometime towards the end of next week.