Busy Moms “Get Real” Series, Part 5: “I Can’t Get it All Done!”

Joyful summer laundry. Colorful t-shirts on a laundry line and blue sky.“Remember the principle of gardening: a lot of sweat and tears are required before the reward of harvest. It’s the same with mothering.”

A reader sent me an email that is not unlike many that I receive, so I decided to include an excerpt and answer it here in a post. I know we all struggle with many of the same things, so I hope to encourage you “in the trenches” (And, dear friend who sent the letter, I replied to you but the email delivery failed. I hope you don’t mind my posting your question here, the only way I could answer it, without your name, changing a few details for anonymity’s sake.)

A mother writes:

“I have 6 children – 3 who are homeschooled and 3 little ones (1 of those we do some preschool type things with, but not alot). Here is the problem I have: I can’t seem to get it done. We start school and generally just do the basics and school goes on all day long. There are lots of starts and stops to my time with the small children, but it is draining to continue on with school that long. Then, with school lasting so long, I struggle with the household chores. I’ve become very disorganized because I just don’t have the time. It hasn’t always been like this, but I am failing somewhere and I’m looking for some/any guidance. It has become overwhelming and while we want to continue homeschooling I am ready to give up.

Maybe it just comes down to too high of expectations on my part….I really feel like a failure.”

Dear Mother,

You are NOT a failure. It is important to remember that our enemy wants you to believe that. He wants you to give up, to be overwhelmed, he wants to destroy your optimism and ultimately your family. But here’s the good news: “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world”.

AND…we have to keep revisiting our long-term vision….keep perspective. The academic advantage is only one reason why we homeschool. Imparting our family’s values and worldviews, tying bonds of fellowship, nurturing relationships, building character–there are a myriad of other reasons that should encourage us to dig our heels in. That’s our starting point. Now take a deep breath, and let’s get practical…

Almost everything I would tell you involves “simplifying”. Everyone’s life is unique and varied; but most of us could stand to simplify.

Stuff.

The more I live the more I believe this one thing is slipping from our hands as Americans, but is vital to our “success” as families. We MUST be deliberate about simplifying our lives in every way possible. Less is almost always more. The more we own, the more we do, the more we owe, the less we have left to give each other, to invest in our relationships and practical, important things like sitting around the table at night enjoying a meal together. Take inventory and look hard. Pare down, starting with clothes in your closet. Clean out drawers, under beds, pots and pans, dishes, cabinets–with every thing you purge, the lighter you will feel. Take a weekend or two and get the whole family involved. It’s much better to enjoy owning fewer things you really love than owning a passel of so-so things that demand your precious time to keep them, organize them, clean them and maintain them.

Activities.

If you’ve read my blog long, I’ll sound like a broken record. Busy moms can’t be all they need to be with too many extras. The same simplicity principle applies here. A few activities can enrich your life. Too many will suck it out of you.

Meals

Meals can become much less stressful with a little planning and forethought. The crock pot is your best friend. Find some great recipes (there are a gazillion crock pot recipe sites) and get supper started in the morning. Making double batches of meals and freezing one for a busy night is another great way to give yourself some relief. It takes virtually the same amount of time and cleaning as one meal.

Household chores

  • Get as much off counter tops/tables, etc. as possible–it will be easier to clean surfaces.
  • Designate “clutter patrol” about twice a day…get everyone to do a quick pick up. Very little ones can help a lot with this and even think it’s fun.
  • Keep a “give it away” bag handy to toss things. As soon as it is full, put it in the car to drop off.
  • Consider designating one day for thorough cleaning. We do this on Fridays because moods are more cheerful since it is “movie night”. I also only require reading on Fridays and let them off from textbook work (we “school” year ’round). This is also the night we try to have people over-extra motivation for the cleaning.
  • Spray sinks and toilets with a bleach/water combination for a quick, clean feeling
  • Train your children to avoid putting clean clothes into the laundry hamper. Clothes can usually be worn several days before washing, especially during the winter.
  • Encourage everyone (and model it yourself) to keep clutter at bay by carrying at least one object “closer” to its destination each time you go to a different room.
  • Keep baskets to catch clutter. Baskets in the living room can catch quickly-tossed toys; baskets at the entrance can hold shoes; keep baskets handy for those items that seem to be used a lot but make a mess and need to stay close.

***I have found The Confident Mom’s Yearly Planner to be a fabulous tool for staying organized!

Homeschooling

Before we even address strategies, make sure basic obedience/character issues are being addressed. If there are problems with bad attitudes or disrespect toward Mom, the school routine needs to be laid aside until these foundational problems are solved.

After that, the”secret”, I think, is laying aside pressures and expectations, honing in on YOUR family’s definition and goals for education, and working from there. Relax. Multiple research findings conclude that a “good education” is encapsulated into “being literate, numerate, and having the ability to reason”. This does not require hours of formal instruction, but rather a casual lifestyle that facilitates a constant thirst for knowledge. Good conversation with parents in tune to asking questions and probing their children to think is more than most students get in an average day.

The importance of providing enough space for creative exploration, problem-solving and hands-on learning cannot be underestimated. Small chunks of instruction–a 15-minute lesson on the concept of multiplying, telling time or a brief overview of how weather works can be far more beneficial than two hours worth of worksheets.

“Teaching” is going on all the time. Don’t become a slave to a textbook or curriculum; use them as tools, not tyrants. (I have taught 5 children to read by phonics with no formal curriculum.) Bath time, driving time, walking together, day or night–all hours of the day provide opportunities for teaching, especially teaching little ones. As they get older, self-directed study becomes more natural because their appetites for learning have been whetted.

There is much, much more on this philosophy in my ebook, Think Outside the Classroom.

Extra tips for “finding” more time:

  • Don’t answer the telephone before noon. This has potential to revolutionize your life.
  • Multi-task. Have a child do some of his reading to you while you feed the baby or give a bath; meal plan in the car; read to the children during breakfast or lunch…etc.
  • Dictate a grocery list to a child while you drive (added spelling lesson bonus).
  • Remember to delegate chores; taking the extra time to teach little ones to help keep order is well worth it. A two year old can be expected to put his dirty clothes in the hamper, put shoes where they go, pick up toys and other similar chores with occasional reminders.

Some overwhelmed moms may need a “mommy helper”. In a day where grandmothers, aunts and sisters aren’t as readily available (or willing) to help a young mother, she should not feel ashamed if she needs an extra pair of hands. If you don’t have a community of support, you may consider hiring someone to help with basic chores, running errands, etc.

More than anything, keep it in perspective. Even the busiest, most exhausting days are fleeting. Keep a clean home but don’t obsess if it isn’t like you would prefer. Teach your children to be orderly but remember they are children. Enjoy them, capitalize on the wonders of the curious years, and find as many ways as you can to simply enjoy life where you are and the children in it. Remember the principle of gardening: a lot of sweat and tears are required before the reward of harvest. It’s the same with mothering.

(And don’t forget to run barefoot in the sunshine every now and then ;-))

Part 1:  Margins

Part 2:  Housework Again?

Part 3:  When Technology Hurts

Part 4:  Children Are More Than an Organizational Problem

__________________________________________________________________

31 Responses to “Busy Moms “Get Real” Series, Part 5: “I Can’t Get it All Done!””

  1. jen in AL says:

    wonderful post Kelly! full of great things to remember. I have to go back to these things time and again and weed out what I have let overgrow.:) love to you and the fam:) miss you! blessings, jen

  2. Sommer says:

    Thank you for posting this! It is just what I needed to hear. I think I will be bookmarking it and referring to it again and again.

    Lots of love,
    Sommer

  3. Karen Holsomback says:

    Thanks Kelly. As usual, your post are most helpful. I am having a groups of homeschool Mom’s over on Thursday night and I think I will share some of your tips with them. We have been homeschooling for many years and it is still difficult to keep it all together. We all have different things that work for us. Thanks again.

  4. Jackie says:

    I’m a grandmother, and didn’t homeschool, but your post is right on for any family. A parent is a child’s first and best teacher, and with that in mind, life is one big classroom. Thanks for the great organizational hints, too. I remember the days of having children, and now am reliving them when my grandchildren come to visit. I always remind myself that people and relationships come first, “stuff” is not important. Less is better, and leaves you more time for the people in your life.

  5. Tanya says:

    I agree w/ you Kelly. This mom is NOT a failure! “Burn-out” seems to be the #1 problem of home schooling moms. My heart goes out to this mom as I can totally relate to her situation. It’s SO easy to lose focus on what our true goal is in our home schools. Realizing that our goal was to disciple our children’s hearts for Christ helped free me up in ways that I never imagined were possible in our earlier, more rigid years of home schooling. Academics are merely a tool that God has placed in our hands. I would like to encourage this mom (& all moms everywhere) to talk to their husbands to be sure they both have the same goals & are both committed to home schooling *as a family*. I know for me, having the support of my husband helps us both overlook those dust bunnies that sometimes accumulate throughout the house when my days are extra busy! 😉

    • Kelly L says:

      Really great point about the husband being on board 100%! Sometimes I feel badly if the house doesn’t look spotless (which is somewhat possible sine I have 1 11 yr old. Not possible when she was younger!), and my husband always tells me he doesn’t care, he knows I work hard. He even tries to do the dinner dishes and tells me to sit or hits them in the morning because “You (me) have more important things to be doing than dishes.” I love that man! A husband in your corner will stave off burn out!

  6. Mrs. S says:

    Great encouraging post!

  7. Kelly L says:

    Really great post with many reminders for me. Your posts are great for 1 kid to 20! Thanks!

  8. Marnie B says:

    Thank you for your post! I have found you just recently and I have been greatly encouraged! I have 5 children ages, 11, 7, 5, 3 and 2 and one on the way in February. I can relate to feeling overwhelmed and feeling like nothing gets accomplished. A few weeks ago I cried out to the Lord for His vision for our family schooling. I realized I was trying to live up to others expectations, not even knowing who those “others” were! We were all grumpy and no one was having fun. I needed a paradigm shift! We are now in the process of living out a new life of relaxed learning and I have determined to never say I am behind again! As long as my children are being taught the Word of God from a joyful mother, and then learning to love to learn, I am feeling good about things. Like this mom, I was feeling like a failure in so many ways, but now with God’s direction and his approval knowing He doesn’t see me as a failure, we can keep going! Thank you for all the encouragement!

  9. 6 arrows says:

    Kelly: There is a lot of wisdom in your response to the mom you mention here. I especially liked that you used the Bible verse “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world”.

    To the mom Kelly mentioned: I am praying for you, sweet sister. You are in a challenging season of life, and I know that feeling overwhelmed can easily bring discouragement. Take heart! Your loving devotion to your children through the many hours you are spending with them now is paying dividends in their lives, even though it’s sometimes hard to see those results right away.

    I pray that God will bring you peace and joy in the journey as you enjoy sweet fellowship with Him, your husband and your children.

    Blessings to you and your family!

  10. Ruth Adams says:

    Thanks Kelly. I appreciated your point about not feeling guilty if you need a mommy helper. I have felt guilty feeling I should be able to do it all. I think each situation is different. In our home we have two children who are of school age and three that are preschool age. On top of that my husband has had to travel a lot with business. Having occasional help from home schooled young ladies has made a huge difference for me. I usually have someone twice a week. It gives me a few hours to instruct my older children while the younger ones are being played with, worked with on preschool activities, having snacks, etc. I do not feel guilty anymore. I see that this help is making a big difference and making our family more functional. These young ladies are godly examples to my children and sweet friends bringing encouragement to them as well.

  11. […] Busy Moms “Get Real” Series, Part 5: “I Can’t Get it All Done!” | […]

  12. Alyssa Faith says:

    A note on mommy’s helpers (because I am one!) – Don’t underestimate the blessing that it is to us single younger ladies to be allowed to ‘play house’ in your home, and get hands-on experience in a home with little ones. I learn so much from seeing how different moms work with their children and from (trying to!) help things run more smoothly. It’s the best job I could ask for.

  13. Linda says:

    You do a good job of not only encouraging, but giving overwhelmed moms a mental picture of what doing “the next thing” can look like… such an important tool for those who have never seen it modeled.
    Thank you.

  14. elizabeth says:

    excellent, encouraging post! 🙂

  15. sabina says:

    Thank you for your encouraging post. I have 6 children from 3 month to 15 years and I homeschool two of them.I have problem that I can´t simplify in homeschooling because the low in our country requires passing exams every six month.If our children are not succesful we have to finish with homeschooling.(Sorry for my English)

  16. Jane says:

    “Before we even address strategies, make sure basic obedience/character issues are being addressed. If there are problems with bad attitudes or disrespect toward Mom, the school routine needs to be laid aside until these foundational problems are solved.”

    I enjoy your blog so much. I share it with family and friends. I am enjoying your series. Could you share some insight on working on the above statement you wrote? We are struggling with these issues in our home. Thanks.

  17. Patricia says:

    Great post on a topic we can all relate to. Overwhelemed Mom, I am praying for you. Please be encouraged that I felt the same way when my children were younger, and I discovered over time that they learned in spite of me and my shortcomings!

    As our family has matured I learned to allow the older children to manage their own time (within reasonable parameters) and use me as “educational advisor” rather than primary teacher once they could read, write, and cipher. I was shocked when my 12 yr old took his 1st standardized test last spring and scored high school or college level in all subjects, except one. When given the right tools, and how to use them, our children will excel. Stick to the big picture, and the details will often work themselves out just fine.

    We also have group clean sweep a couple of times per day… the boys love the competition of who can clear the clutter the fastest! But again, it was harder in those early years, so don’t feel alone in that sentiment. Things take time, and do improve. Kelly gave some wonderful suggestions on what changes might need to be made to help your days run more smoothly. May God give you peace and wisdom in the days ahead.

  18. Ginger says:

    I put the biggest little in a high chair and give them a new toy every 10-15 minutes and the littles can play in a pack n play while I do 1:1 school.
    Do read alouds while the kids eat breakfast (you can even do an audio book or audio Bible so you can eat or feed the baby if one of the big kids can’t feed baby for you).
    Audio books, audio books, audio books.
    If you’re one of those rare breeds who have plenty of energy, school during naptime/quiet time. (I can’t do this, but I know many who do.)

  19. Tiffany says:

    Very, very good post Kelly!!!

  20. Mrs. E says:

    This is a bit off topic, but relates. I, like the writer of the letter in your post, often get overwhelmed. I feel buried by all my responsibilities…the home, child training, homeschooling and running my own very tiny home business. In my mind I tend to cast some of the blame on my husband because he works long hours-the least amount of time would be 62 hours per week, it often tops 80 hours/week. Sadly, his income is in no way related to the amount of time required by his career and we are barely making it month to month. The financial part is probably causing a large part of my tension.

    I have no idea what a “normal” amount of time a man’s career requires, perhaps 60-90 hours a week is what all men give to work. If this is normal, then I need a smack upside the head and to just roll up my sleeves and get to work.

    What does a wife do when she feels that she is in this alone?

    • Word Warrior says:

      Mrs. E.,

      Somehow I missed this comment until now. I think for a husband required to work that many hours, I would seriously try to barter some help from an older girl or mother with no littles (I have some friends who love to serve in this way)…Simply put, I don’t think it was ever meant for a father to be away from home that many hours, so your situation may call for a slightly unconventional solution.

      • Mrs. E says:

        Thank you Kelly. I have had the same thought, but work really hard to be encouraging to my husband rather than whining about the amount of time he is away. I’m not always successful and that conversation never goes well. I posted my question on a “this can’t be what God intends for our family” kind of a day. Anyone who works in athletics/recreation has the same amount of hours for relatively low pay (until you get to the Division I level…we aren’t even close to that). That field of employment could bring up a whole different discussion. I agree with Dr. Baucham on that one, but won’t nag my beloved about it.

        I’m going to have to see what I can do about getting some help. Wish I had some of your talents with which to barter :-).

        Again, thanks for the advice and the affirmation that I am not crazy for thinking that those kind of hours are not ‘the norm’.

  21. Blair says:

    Is the public school just out of the question? Not everyone is able to homeschool all of the time. If there is a quality public school available, it might be worth checking out at least for a little while. Some women may have health issues or other situations that preclude homeschooling. Although I do think parents are always the #1 educators of their children, I don’t think someone who is unable to homeschool for whatever reason should be made to feel ashamed or that they are lesser Christians (not that you were doing that). Also, if you have children who have special needs such as speech delays, or speech impediments, or other issues (not just speech), the public schools can help you with therapies even if you do not send your children to classes. The schools typically arrange transportation for these therapies as well. Just my two cents worth, and submitted in a spirit of concern and friendliness.

    • Word Warrior says:

      Blair,

      “Quality public school” is an oxymoron, by virtue of the system as it relates to Christians and the mandate they are given to “train their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” and to “not walk in the counsel of the ungodly”.

  22. Laura says:

    I can also relate!! I have four boys, ages 7, 6, 3, and 16 mos. There are days when it feels like fixing three meals, doing some laundry and homeschooling is all I can manage. When I throw in canning large quantities of produce, or sewing or other larger household job (like tearing carpet out of our bedroom due to allergy problems), I get very behind. It’s not easy to do all this, as well as things like hang all the laundry in the house because we can’t afford to run the dryer all the time. It’s tiring and my biggest fear is that the children will feel somewhat jealous as they get older since other children get to do other things…related to public school, that mine don’t. I’m afraid they will feel like we are withholding something from them…hard to balance it all. Especially when you get under the weather and still have to keep going…no chance to recuperate…it never stops. Have to be purposeful about reminding ourselves it is worth it!! And realize how materialistic we are…and fight it.

  23. “Don’t answer the phone before noon.” That’s a great tip that I must adopt. I’ve found the most helpful thing in our family life is engaging the kids in the everyday tasks. I see the twinkle of accomplishment in their eyes. They feel great when they know that they’ve helped someone or taken care of something important in that day…just like we do. Hurrying to take care of everything ourselves is exhausting and we find ourselves resentful at the end of the day. I say “spread the love”…and in the process grow strong kids! Thank you for your post.

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  25. Hollie says:

    Hi Kelly,
    This is such an encouragement to me as I feel like I’m drowning most of the time in ALL the things I want to get done. I’m not overly stressed if I don’t have a perfectly clean house, but I do like it clean! I have found it is very trying with 6 kids (10,8,7,6,3,1) and 1 on the way to do the same thing over and over and over again. I think that’s the hardest part for me. I am teaching my children at home and see fruit already and I know eventually it will pay off, but boy it is hard some days. I like reading your posts since it is difficult to find other mom’s with large families in my circle. I need to hear how others are figuring it out and enjoying this time of motherhood. Everyone looks at me like I’m amazing and must be so different then them. But the secret is, I’M NOT! I’m super normal, love to have fun and be with my family and be active outdoors, it all just takes a little more effort to get around:) Thank you for inspiring me to be a better mom and keep on keeping on!

    • Hollie,

      Yes, we’re normal! Hang in there. I’ve learned too (some days) that it’s OK to not expect a super tidy house, like, for a while. We can pick up and maintain order, but if things aren’t exactly how I like them, that’s probably the way it’s supposed to be. There will be an emptier, quiet season and I need to enjoy now, messes and all.

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