02 May 2013

Practical Solutions For When You're Drowning

Dear Lissy,

God has given me three opportunities over the past few weeks to listen to mommas who were in a season of life that had them overwhelmed.  One was dealing with a new babe and toddlers, one had preschoolers, and the other was moving their aging parent into an already busy house.  I admire all three of these women -- they're loving, intelligent, diligent moms and wives.  They didn't need advice, they needed someone to listen, love, and reassure them that topsy-turvy households were pretty normal for the transitions they were making.

But that got me thinking -- what advice would I give you for a time of upheaval, weariness, and a little chaos?  I've been there in spades.  We took responsibility for Daddy's grammy with Alzheimer's when you were a toddler and I had just started home schooling the boys.  Matt was diagnosed with life-threatening asthma during this time, too, and I came to know the ER staff well.   I made some good choices and some bad choices.  My home management had good days and bad days.  During the most stressful times, I let a lot go.

I've written before about a variety of ways to adjust your schedule for tough times, but sometimes life becomes so overwhelming, it's not possible to even keep a minimum level.  What do you do then?

Nurture relationships.  Period.   Even if you can't do much at home, choose the things you know nurture and build relationships.  

What are your husband's top three "must haves" for the house? This ingenious question came to me courtesy of Jennifer Lamp at Graceworks Planners.   She married a widower with 3 teenaged children and they had 3 more children in very quick succession.  Overwhelmed, she finally asked her husband, "If I can only keep up with three things in the house on a regular basis, what's most important to you?"
Daddy's top three weren't what I thought, but they've dramatically affected my "to-do" list and these letters.  
  • A clean outfit ready to go.  I knew he liked all his clothes for the week in his drawers and closet, and often ran a dedicated load to make that happen.  But his "must have" was one clean outfit he didn't have to find.
  • Homemade meals.  Because of my skill set this was an easy request, and he knew that.  More about the grocery shopping part of this equation in a minute.
  • Clutter-free lawn/entry/family room when he got home from work.  He didn't need it vacuumed, dusted, or windows squeaky-clean, he just needed the peace of neatness.
He'd still squawk about dust on top of the fridge, or toys on the stairs; but I didn't stress or react poorly if I knew his three biggies were always taken care of.  I put the offender on a list, and got to it when I could.   

Housekeeping -- homemaking --  is always, always, always about building an environment that nurtures relationships, but often I let it become a point of stress during times of stress.  Yeah, that's smart.

What additional regular household tasks would your husband, friends, and older children be willing to assume during this season?
Domestic scientists estimate that each family requires 10 hours per person per week of hands-on housework and errands.   For children under three, that estimate expands to 20 hours.  Given that number, a family of four with a five and 2-1/2 year old is about 50 hours of work.  Add in baby #3, and it's easy to see that mom is going to need some help with her 70 hour weeks!

With a baby, 2 preschoolers, and an Alzheimer's patient, grocery shopping became a living nightmare.  Daddy took over this task, and even took the boys with him.   I typed up a list organized by aisle of everything I ever bought and simply highlighted the items I wanted each week.  We lost some savings because he didn't have the time to shop all three grocery stores and the salvage like I had been doing; but it gave me back half a day of time and only cost him an hour after prayer meeting on Wednesday nights.  This was a great lesson for me that it doesn't have to be done my way, it just needs to be done!

Sometimes instead of paying for help, giving up a part-time job or a luxury like cable T.V. can provide extra time or funds.  Home schoolers may find that an online course or review games that will relieve mom of several hours worth of work a week.

Show gratitude in fun ways and on a regular basis for the tasks others take off your list.  Got a preteen doing laundry?  Leave a $5 bill in the pocket of your jeans with a note that says, "Thanks!"  Hubby grocery shopping?  Put his favorite candy bar on the list.  Did your friend start picking your kids up and bringing them home after 4-H for you?  Give her a $10 gas card once in a while.
What responsibilities could you drop during this season?
Give a hard look at everything extra on your schedule.  We've had a "one extra-curricular activity per person" rule since you were little that's served us well.  With church and school, that's about the max we can handle without going balmy.   When you're drowning, don't expect others to pick up your schedule and run with it:  cut back.

Also, take a look at simplifying the items your hubby chose as priorities.  I worked on a number of things during those years.
  • I learned to cook from a pantry without recipes.  That eliminated menu planning, and I could put together a meal in under 20 minutes most days.
  • I used paper plates for lunch and for the kids at dinner most nights.  I cooked one-skillet meals, and served onto plates instead of using serving dishes.
  • I put every bill I could on auto-pay.  I opened and paid the other bills the day they arrived instead of hanging on to them until the due date.  It may take you a month or two of frugal living to get caught up to that point, but it saves a ton of time and trouble.
  • I got a laundry basket just for "pick-up" time in the living areas.  I put up labeled hooks and a shoe organizer to hold mittens, water bottles, sunscreen, bugspray, and other loose items in the entryway.   A little wagon was great for yard pick-up time.
  • If laundry was running behind, I set out an outfit for Dad before I went to bed.  More than once I had to run a small load to get something ready, but at least I had a few hours to make the magic happen.
Sooner or later, God is going to give you a season of illness or poverty or stress when you can't do anything.  I've been in all of those seasons, and they're very, very difficult.

Remember:  it's about relationships.  

When your in so much pain you can't even squeak out a single load of laundry or a meal, keep a sweet spirit and help instruct those who can.  If all you can afford for dinner is rice and beans, put a candle and some wildflowers on the table, fold napkins into pretty shapes, and make it special.  When you've been up nights for 6 weeks straight with that new little one, don't bite the head off your rambunctious toddler in the morning.  Relax into the new normal.  Keep your husband priority #1, and he'll walk barefoot to Alaska for you if you just ask.  Keep a sweet spirit with your kids, and stay as consistent as possible with their training.  You may not have the ability to go for a run with your girlfriend, but drop her a note in the mail with a pair of funky shoelaces tucked into the envelope.  Keep the relationships running smoothly, and the chores will sort themselves.  Notice how many "keeps" I typed in this letter? This is soldier work -- I could have just as easily used the word "guard."

When you're reading this, I wish I could just hug you, snug you, and make you dinner while you take a nap,


P.S.  I'll write again soon about the spiritual lessons God teaches us in the drowning.  He always has a bigger purpose for our lives:  a relationship with Him.  (See?  It's still all about relationships!)

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