“Kelly, would you please post about how to manage life with little ones? I often feel so overwhelmed and it looks like everyone else has it all together. Will you offer some tips?”
I’ve gotten several versions of this email lately and so I thought I would answer the best I can. I think it’s important to understand that not one of us has an identical situation or is in the exact same season of life, and not one of us has it all together. We can learn from each other, but it’s fruitless to copy. We need to begin with the prayer and pursuit of maximizing our time based on our specific circumstances and adjust our expectations accordingly. We need to avoid comparing (though we all do it, don’t we?)
But practically speaking, what can a mother do to maximize her time and life with little ones?
- Multi-task. Most mothers are natural at this anyway, but sometimes a deliberate effort can “multiply” your time. For example, I may ask a child to narrate his reading to me while I wash dishes or hang up clothes in my room. I have found that stretching/exercising is a great thing to bring the little ones around for–it doubles for focused time with them, maybe while the older ones are doing their chores. Sometimes we practice math facts while running errands. I always try to do a chore if I’m talking on the phone too.
- Pare down the schedule. For us, this is a biggie. Often when people ask me, “how do you find time for A,B or C”, it becomes easier to understand when they find out we don’t have a lot of extra-curricular activities. We are blessed to have our music teacher come to our home, as well as our art teacher, which are our only “extra” things. We spend very little time driving around to this or that which allows for a lot of time for other pursuits.
- No TV. We watch movies on selected days of the week, but we don’t have the temptation of watching regular programming because we don’t have it. It’s not that I think it’s evil (well not all of it), but it would be a huge weakness for all of us if we did (we discover that on vacations), so we did away with it a long time ago. You’d be amazed at what can be accomplished without it!
- Delegating responsibilities. Don’t underestimate what your children can do, and don’t rob them of the opportunity to do it! I heard of one mom who made the bottom drawer the silverware drawer. Her 4-year-old was in charge of putting it away and setting the table with it. She felt so big to have her own job and it was one less thing for Mom. As a general rule: don’t do what a younger child can do. Also, it’s more efficient in the long run to take a little extra time now to train a child how to do a job properly. You are the manager; that doesn’t mean you do all the work.
- Maintain Realistic Expectations. I had a relative who pulled all her furniture and all her kitchen appliances out and cleaned underneath them once a week-the stove, the refrigerator, everything. That’s taking the house cleaning thing a bit too far, in my opinion, and will most likely absorb time that could be better spent elsewhere. A tidy home is good, but obsession is a problem. Choose a few times in the day where everyone tidies up and try not to stress about messes in between. Lay down some basic rules: put one group of toys away before you play with another, take your plate to the sink after meals, pick up your room before bedtime, or whatever rules work for your home. And then relax and enjoy this season with little ones, knowing one day you really will miss the Play-Doh smashed into the carpet.
- Define areas of stress and seek to change them. Noise is a big stress to me, but we have 8 children; what’s a mom to do? We continuously work on “inside voices” and calm play. This doesn’t mean they can’t laugh and have fun, but they understand there’s a difference between inside and outside. I’ve been around children who were just in the habit of yelling, screaming and running inside (and of course they carried that habit into other public places) and such behavior is only the fault of the parent who allows it. Moderation should be taught early and includes a reasonable expectation that our children know the difference in inside and outside volumes and are able to exhibit self-control. It should simply be taught as an expression of “loving your neighbor”.
Some moms get their time sucked up by chatty (but dear) friends during school hours. An older mother once told me that she absolutely didn’t answer the phone before noon, and that doing so made all the difference in her home.
Some moms find meals an especially difficult time. What are some ways you could prepare ahead to make this an easier part of the day? (Have one cooking day for the whole week? Simplify your meals for this season? Barter meals with a friend for something else?) When our dish washer was broken we mostly used paper plates at my husband’s insistence that it was worth it. Whatever works!
Identify the areas in your home that cause the most stress and ask your husband to help you find a solution.
These are just a few of the ideas I gathered from my own experience. It would be helpful if you all shared how you maximize your time and avoid “overwhelmed syndrome.”