Being a mother is overwhelming . You’re constantly busy, and it frequently seems like you don’t have anything to show for it at the end of the day.
What you accomplish is more like a work in progress.
Don’t get fooled by social media. Your mom friends may look like they blissfully have it all together. But in real life, they’re running around like they’re battening down the hatches in a hurricane.
“I get overwhelmed when there’s a lot going on or a million things on my to-do list,” said one of my mom friends. “I don’t know where to start, and I start to shut down. I could work 24/7 and still not feel caught up. This makes me anxious and causes me to lose sleep.”
What makes it harder is that you’re actually the manager of your house and family. You bear the mental load, as well as the physical one. You’re the one who’s always planning how to meet all of your children’s needs for food, clothing, education, medical attention, and character growth. You’re the one organizing the family schedules and the chores and errands that need to be done.
Plus, of course, you’re actively doing all those things. Ahhhhhh! Big scream. Most of us we walk around feeling like we’re holding things together with baling wire, like we’re always putting out the latest fire or averting the next crisis. It seems impossible to get everything done, and the burden of that weighs on us.
So the theme of this blog is how to not get overwhelmed.
And to address this, I’m going to do more than talk about time management. What I really want to help you do is learn to live a life of beauty amidst the stress. My inspirational verse here is Ephesians 5:15-16, “Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”
Sister moms, it is our privilege to redeem the time. We take the jumbled collection of moments in our day and bring value to them. We look at our rowdy children and love them and believe in them. We take the shell of our home and turn it into a warm and nurturing place. We stand against evil and teach our offspring what is good and right. We take the raw material of youth and develop talent and build faith. We sit amidst the chaos and find treasures – the first smile, the humorous antics, the joy of interaction, the view of the world through their eyes, the wonder of watching them become what they were created to be.
It may feel sometimes like we’re fighting a losing battle,, but we’re not. We’re walking in the light! (I John 1:17) We’re marching in triumphant procession! (II Cor 2:14) We’re reflecting God’s glory, and being transformed into his likeness. (II Cor 3:18) Let the warmth of this envelop you, and the confidence of this empower you. Let your heart swell. Hold your head high.
And then create the moments of your life like you are creating art with God.
When seen in this light, time management is something entirely different. It’s taking the messy pieces of what you want to do, and putting them together to create the place you want to go. It’s living out what you believe most deeply. It’s knowing there is a sacred purpose. It’s finding ways to do the things you feel are most important to be done.
With this in mind, I’m offering some suggestions on how to not get overwhelmed. My mom friends gave me great input for this part, and I’ve included their advice – – which is good, because I think they are way better at this than I am! They also gave me permission to use some of their pictures, which you see scattered through this blog.
- Start with God. Jesus didn’t give us much direction on time management, but we do know that he made time to be with God. He rose early and went to a quiet place to pray. (Mark 1:35) He had a habit of going off at night to pray. (Luke 22:39) We can learn from him that spending time with God really does give you strength and grounding for your day.
- The busier you are, the more you need to pray. I remember when my third child was born, and I had just become a more committed to God. I asked for advice, “How in the world do you do everything?” I was flabbergasted at the answer: “Pray more.” What? I was expecting a great hack, not something requiring more time. But it’s true that we need God’s help to make our busy day work. As Martin Luther said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” (Well, maybe don’t pray that long!)
- Schedule a time to schedule. Several moms I surveyed said doing this is a life saver. One new mom told me, “I realized that if I didn’t become a planner we would literally never do or eat anything!!” Another friend with older kids said, “Scheduling everything in my phone calendar with alerts/reminders really helps me. It also helps that every Sunday evening we all sit down with our calendars – even the kids.” Going along with this is the next point.
- Make a list of what you need to get done, and schedule that. I know for me, what makes me overwhelmed is having all of this stuff I need to do bouncing around in my head. It really does help to write it down, and assign times to it. “Scheduling and lists have helped me the most,” said one mom. “My week/activities are generally planned out in my calendar. So I know what to do when I wake up in the morning. Then I have a cleaning schedule for nap time. For instance, Monday is kitchen, Tuesday is mop and vacuum, etc … We meal plan for the week so I know exactly what to buy at the grocery store and what I’m cooking that night. I have lists on top of lists for everything, or else I’ll forget.”
- Prioritize – When you write your schedule, start by scheduling in the most important things. This goes so much against the grain! A mom who has two little ones told me, “It seems like the most automatic way for me to prioritize is to do what needs immediate attention — cooking, caring for the kids, cleaning up messes, etc. And then I put self-care and time with God on the back burner, even though in the long run it is what is most important.” My advice is to schedule from a spiritual and relational perspective. First, schedule in devotional times and church. Next, make time for your husband by scheduling date night, intimacy, times to communicate, and/or doing that thing that he wants you to do that you keep putting off. And then, for those of you with older children, I’m going to recommend that you schedule in some one-on-one time with them. Take them out somewhere. Holding your family together through relationships is far more vital than getting a lot of the other things done.
- Be honest with yourself about what you can do. When I had a newborn and two other little wigglers, I had all of this stuff on my “to do” list. And I couldn’t get any of it crossed off. Finally, I put “get dressed” and “brush teeth” on my list. I felt such a sense of accomplishment! Of course, later I was able to schedule more things in. But it’s a good illustration of thinking realistically. Do set goals for yourself. But don’t get too ambitious. One friend told me how she’s working on being level headed. “I’m trying to get better at not overdoing and over committing,” she said.
- Consider limiting your children’s activities. Yikes! How could I suggest this? But I know how it goes. Sometimes we parents have a hard time having boundaries. We want our children to do everything. Remember that your family needs balance. Don’t let the activities dominate the family schedule. And watch out that you don’t get over involved. I remember a time when my daughter was in cross country. Things were going great until she got an injury. Somehow I found myself taking her to doctors and endless physical therapy appointments so she could get back to running. It really got out of proportion. I think it became as much about me as it did about her.
- Don’t procrastinate. This is one of our biggest problems. A friend shared, “I have tried to stop dreading things and wasting time, and just start doing them instead. Eventually, I get on a roll.” She also gave this suggestion, “One time management thing that I do now is handle things right away as they come along. For example, when I check the mail, I sort it, throw away the junk, and try to handle anything that needs a attention, like a bill. That helps me not to get overwhelmed by small tasks that really don’t take that much time in the moment, but would carry a heavy burden if I left them for later.” Here are a couple of other suggestions for fighting procrastination: start with the least enjoyable job, and divide intimidating tasks into smaller ones that you can handle.
- Beware of time vampires. Do you do have something that sneakily sucks up your schedule? You think you’ll only do it for a few minutes, and suddenly, it’s much later! It could be social media, Netflix, a DIY project, Pinterest, online shopping, or even something you need to research on the Internet. It’s not that it’s wrong to do these things. But you can’t let them sabotage your good intentions for the day, and make you feel defeated. See the next point.
- Develop self-discipline. A lot of time management is learning to say “No” to the things that aren’t what you’ve decided are best to do. Titus 2:11 tells us that the grace of God, “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions.” Are you learning to say, “No?” It can be tough to do, because we’ve hardwired ourselves to indulge in time fritterers when we’re stressed, bored or tired. Admit it. Your fingers are itching for the phone! So you may need to set specific rules for yourself. As one friend said, “I’m limiting social media. It’s a real time killer.”
- Be flexible, and schedule for flexibility. For some of us, what’s hard isn’t the self-discipline. It’s being patient when things don’t go according to our plans. “My biggest struggle is trying to be flexible with when I’m dealing with other people,” one mom admitted. The good thing is that we can look to the example of Jesus here. There were numerous times when he would let people interrupt his schedule. (Mark 5:21-24 is one example) I would be like, “Uh, no. You’re not on my agenda.” So my advice is to trust in God, and make up your mind that you’re going to be flexible. You can even make sure your schedule isn’t too tight, so you have time to deal with unexpected situations, communicate with friends when they need you, and have those talks with your children about the issues that come up.
- Take shortcuts. Years ago, I got myself tied in knots, and I saw a professional counselor for a while. I’ll never forget what he said: “You don’t get brownie points for doing things the hard way.” I had been feeling like I had to do my best at everything or I was failing. But I learned that sometimes it’s good enough to be good enough. So give yourself a break. One friend told me, “I try to cut corners wherever I can. I love the grocery pickups that Walmart and Kroger are doing.” Another said, “We finally gave in and hired someone to come in monthly to clean our house. It was so emotionally and physically draining on all of us and it has made all the difference in the world.”
- It’s okay to recharge! Another thing my psychologist told me was, “If you don’t change your oil, your engine will freeze.” We need to take care of ourselves, and not just keep going and giving. I tell you from personal experience, if you don’t pace yourself, you will hit a wall! It was wonderful for me to give myself permission to take a little time for myself. I began to realize that I was a better person for it, and my family was happier.
- Have fun! As Mary Poppins said, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Don’t think of your life as a grind. Reframe, and realize you can have a good time. Play music while you do housework. Plan meals that make you happy to cook and serve. Be silly with your family. By yourself some flowers. I know that many times I was too serious with the burden of motherhood. It’s good to remember to enjoy life with God.
In closing, I want to leave you with one of my favorite verses: “One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” Ps 27:4
In the flurry of a million schedule demands, let this one thing be your motivating factor: God is awesome! Dwell with him, be close to him. Gaze upon his beauty through the moments of your day.
Love him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Strive to give him your best and bring out the best in your children.
It won’t be perfect. You’ll often feel inadequate. But you can either focus on what still needs to be done and how your children aren’t there yet, or you can focus on uncovering the blessings you have.
Sister moms, take a deep breath. You are walking in grace. Your times are in his hands. (Ps 31:15) You can be at peace.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isa 43:2