“Hurry is not just a disordered schedule. Hurry is a disordered heart.” ––John Ortberg

Sometimes I find myself chasing tasks when what is needed is stillness. This stage of parenting has seemed busier than ever, not because I am constantly moving in the way I did when my children were young, but because as my children are growing into adulthood, I find my heart and mind never rest. The stage is joyful and active in an entirely different way. My teens introduce me to new music and comedians and perspectives. They help with all the housework and increasingly manage more of their own educations. They do their own laundry and run their own tiny businesses. They help make dinners and mow the lawn. But they are not yet adults. They are straddling two worlds, with changing bodies and emotions, with swelling spiritual questions and complex realities, and in the process, my inner person is rarely still. I worry and wonder and plan. I make lists and set reminders and appointments. I try to remain one step ahead of them in all of their transitions.

I am prone to lean into busyness to pacify a restless heart. Sometimes as parents we can find relief in juggling all the things; other times our efforts wear us out, possibly even exasperate us. As a younger mother, I needed physical stillness to rest my feet, to take a nap, to think. In this stage with older children and teens, stillness has become the pathway into God’s presence, toward trust, toward rest, toward joy. The physical stillness reveals my restless heart and invites me to surrender it. Again and again, much like I wrote a few years ago here.

Long road trips require a lot of sitting and stillness. They also require patience. As any parent might attest in answering the curious little person in the back––ten hours is still ten hours. You cannot hurry time. Perhaps it’s why I enjoy road trips so much. They provide a physical reality of what is always true in life: we’ll get there when we get there. The secret, as they say, is to rest and enjoy the ride.

There were so many years where our home lives and learning looked more concrete—seeing, listening, doing. I worried: Am I doing enough, will they have enough? Have we made the right choices in their education? In those years, our school table sprawled with colorful illustrations, imaginative stories, math or language manipulatives. Our sofa housed long hours of read-aloud with Legos or other handwork and hot cocoa or tea. They sound romantic now, but they were hard—my plans often wandering away to take their own form. I was learning patience in one way or another, again and again. But the funny thing is: I miss those days. I am savoring my youngest’s childhood all the more. 

Our days now feel more abstract, conversations piled one upon the other. Minus Olive’s daily practice, our work together is far less colorful and picturesque—who wants to see images of Logic proofs or Latin translations or Algebra equations—but it’s beautiful in its own way and I feel more present somehow, working out these pages with them, making cheesy jokes, seeing glimpses of the incredible humans they are becoming. 

Parenting in every stage requires our attention.  Not our hovering. Not our control. And sometimes, not even our plans. Our attention, more than the books we read or the curriculum we follow, informs them the most. It changes us. It allows us to see beyond the tantrums and scribbled walls and grumbling mornings, to see them—human, soul, developing person. Grace flows from those humble places. And by some miracle, we can look in the mirror and receive the grace for that person, too.

Some stages and phases will feel more like sweet spots for us than others. But don’t give up on the hard ones. The days or weeks or years that seem to take every part of our mind, will, and emotions—well, quite honestly, they are the ones when you and they grow the most. 

There are a million and two reasons to keep your phone tucked away and out of reach during the day, but an audiobook is not one of them. Like many of you, we listen to audiobooks in the car, in the kitchen, on the sofa or our beds, through our headphones on-the-go, and so on. They have been salvation for me during the little years, when my children would play Legos for hours on their bedroom floor or when they were too old for naps but needed rest time. They have been a gift for me too when I want to enjoy my own books on a run or while bustling about the house or while traveling. I find myself in the same place with audiobooks that I do with the books I read––there are so many good ones, it’s difficult to know which to choose.

There are so many decisions when deciding a book to read. I tend to agree with Kathleen Kelly’s character in You’ve Got Mail when she says, “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.” That said, I can argue countless ways that books change and inform me now. Written and spoken words are powerful. So how do we know which are worth our time? Often, I ask a friend.

On Instagram last week, I asked followers to share their favorite audiobooks. Here’s a list of their responses, linked for the curious, separated only by stories that seemed more suited for older listeners versus younger ones. The asterisks mark books or series that were mentioned more than once. I only added Pride and Prejudice read by Rosamund Pike since it’s my most recent one to finish and enjoy. It’s perfect for older children and teen listeners, too!  I have read or listened to several books listed but now have fresh ideas for both the kids and myself. I hope you will, too.


 

FOR YOU

Eleanor Oliphant is Fine**

Becoming**

The Book of Joy

The Girl of the Limberlost

The Gown

These is My Words

Jayber Crow

The Help**

Big Magic**

Bossypants**

Still Alice

Dare to Lead**

East of Eden

Anything by David Sedaris

Brave Learner

All the Light We Cannot See**

Liturgy of the Ordinary

Bad Blood

The Social Animal 

Love Does

The Guernsey Potato Peel Pie Society

The Power of a Habit

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn**

A Gentleman in Moscow

Anything by Timothy Keller

The Conscious Parent

Educated**

Anything by Ruta Sepetys

Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year

Bread and Wine**

The Winter Sea

A Praying Life

The Gospel Comes with a House Key

anything by Malcolm Gladwell**

Sherlock Holmes

God’s Smuggler

The Joy of Less

For the Love

The More of Less

Laurus

The Gift of Being Yourself 

Vinyl Cafe 

Better Than Before

12 Rules for Life

Becoming Mrs. Lewis

The Night Circus

All Creatures Great and Small

The Boys in the Boat

To Kill a Mockingbird

Pride and Prejudice 

 

FOR THE FAMILY

Echo**

Farmer Boy

Winnie-the-Pooh

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series

The Hobbit

Mary Poppins series**

The Wingfeather Saga**

The Roald Dahl Collection

Julia Donaldson books (for littles)

Chronicles of Narnia–Radio Theatre**

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy**

Little Britches series**

anything by GA Henty

Anne of Green Gables** 

The Saturdays

The Penderwicks series**

Paddignton Bear

Biographies by Janet + Geoff Benge**

Little Women (also the BBC Radio version)

Young Fredle

Ballet Shoes series

Green Ember series

Robinson Crusoe (also BBC Children’s Classics)

Last week, in the small space between the kitchen stove and the wood countertops, one of my children felt unloved. *He told me I had a soft-spot for the other three children and not for him. My heart cracked open. In that moment, I wanted to blurt out it’s not true, to recount love in concrete terms––held, slept, protected, fed––but they seemed so plain and empty. If love is misunderstood, do those things matter? Instead, I listened.

Through tears, she recounted the list from her head aloud, her inward rehearsals that she was somehow loved less. I wrapped my arms around her, remembering how I once held her within me, her sole source of life. Since birth we have both been learning what it means to be human. I’m sorry, I whispered. I do have a very soft spot for you. Her body began to soften, to receive my embrace.

I slowly asked question after gentle question, trying to find the path to his brokenness. Or maybe it was my brokenness? The heart is such a wayward guide. What was clear is the more these words spilled out, the lighter his face and heart became. Heartache released.

I realize, at times, in my want to fix a situation or a hurtful moment in any of my children, I rush in with words and explanation, with ideas to re-direct their pain. Yet healing is always found in the light, negative thoughts spoken aloud, released. This is easier written than practiced. Sometimes their thoughts brought into light will accuse me. Like the ones I heard in this very moment, I will hear that I am not enough, that I have failed. Maybe you have heard this lie, too? Dearest reader, this is what I know: in the work of shepherding hearts, it takes courage to silence our own insecurities and self-criticisms in order that we might hear theirs. It takes courage to listen without offense, without the need to defend our own hearts. It takes courage to create a safe space for their insecurities, their fears, their offenses. But if willing to do so, we also create space for the truth: that they are so very deeply loved, that they were created with purpose, that they are not bound by the voice in their head. This is the hardest work.

To be clear, as parents, we are not doormats. We are not powerless or without voice or defense. We are leaders of their hearts for only a brief time, showing them in such very small, plain ways how to listen, how to see. Sometimes this will happen with words about their identity––love, beautiful, you, God––and sometimes this will happen with words that instruct––honor, kindness, forgive, patience––and still other times, this will happen with only hugs and eyes that listen.

The obvious fact in homeschooling is also the hidden gift. It is that I live with my children. They see me and I see them, at our very best and our very worst. They may not remember the pages of history or literature or numbers that currently fill our days, but maybe those things are all merely fodder used to reveal one simple truth: we are spirit of God clothed in humanity. We are each imperfect and beloved, broken and rising. Perhaps our heart is not glass at all, shattering and piecing back together. Perhaps our heart is wild and alive, merely shedding skin as it rubs against another, and grows.

*For the privacy of my children, I have intentionally interchanged the pronouns here. The goal is not tell their stories for them, but to share the parts of their narrative that expose my own heart. 

Some of my favorite dates with Mark have been fairly simple ones at home. In the years when our children were really young or our budget really tight, an intentional evening at home together after tucking the kids in bed was our salvation. Some evening, it meant simply pouring a glass of wine and sitting on the sofa without phones or computers. Some nights, we waited to have our own dinner together. Either way, they were a gift for our relationship in busy years.

When Mark and I do make space, our conversation can easily slide into talk about the kids or work or about some logistical solution our home needs. Sexy, right? Wrong. Those necessary conversations are practical, helpful, and foundational for building a home, but my advice (based on experience), leave it for another time. Date nights, whether enjoyed at home or out and about, should be a respite from the logistics, a place of connection where you remember your relationship apart from the logistical juggle of parenthood or work or whatever other life circumstance. I imagine it’s natural in a lot of homes to give ourselves so fully to our work (in and out of home), that we feel too spent to connect beyond sitting in PJs and watching a show together. Or is that just us? Wink.

Whether you are staying in or going out, I will be sharing ideas here more often to help keep date nights sacred. And to keep all of us from slipping into the talk that feel comfortable (work, home life, etc), I’ll be adding a few conversation starters, too. If you all love being in the kitchen, this is one of my very favorite date night recipe and idea books. Be warned, these are not recipes to throw together at the last minute, but they are delicious and worth their time for something special.


CHARCUTERIE AT HOME

You know I love a good Charcuterie board, but they’re such an easy option for a date night at home, even at the last minute or mid-week. Although I adapt it regularly, I like to generally stick to a 4-3-2-2-1 board––4 fruits/veggies, 3 cheeses, 2 meats, 2 sauces/dips, 1 bread/cracker. If you have a luxe food market nearby, consider asking their cheese specialist or even their sommelier for a wine pairing. If that’s too complicated or over your budget, consider a simple cheeseboard or dessert instead. I love the charcuterie board because you can prepare it earlier in the day, wrap it up, and keep it in the fridge until you’re ready for it.

MOOD

In terms of mood, after the kids are tucked in bed, consider using the coffee table instead of the dining table. Spread a throw over the floor or sofa––I love something thick and cozy this time of year, like this fur throw blanket. Light a few candles nearby. Turn on a favorite playlist. Swipe on a bit of red lipstick.  Set the table with the char board and pour a glass of wine.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

Some days can be harder to make the shift from work or home life than others, so consider ways to let go and focus on one another. If it was a hard day, set a 5-10 minute timer for you both to rant and release. Then re-focus the conversation to one another. Here’s some ideas:

  • What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you?
  • What’s a memory that always makes you laugh or smile?
  • What’s your favorite part of our marriage?
  • If you had 30 more minutes in a day, what would you do?
  • What’s the sexiest thing about me?

Who knows where you’ll go, but have fun!

We mothers wear a lot of hats, and it’s no wonder that we quickly lean into multi-tasking. Sweeping a floor while taking a business call or scheduling a play date. Wiping down the bathroom counter and sink while potty training a toddler. Mentally listing and categorizing the needs around us (including our own––um, shower?) while we drive a carpool or stir a pot or push a swing. Add in homeschooling, and you may find yourself with books or art supplies or papers in any one of these scenes. There are so many things to keep up with as a mother, without considering the emotion, the tantrums, the stories and snuggles. So here is a little lesson I’ve learned in the ebb and flow of this life: efficiency and presence as a mother rarely co-exist. They can complement one another, co-exist by taking turns with the other, but rarely would I consider presence––attending to the emotional or abstract needs of the home––efficient.

This week has been a series of those days, the sort met with heavy sighs, shrugged shoulders, even groans from my children, particularly my younger ones. Why? or I don’t want to do that. or simply –– Ugggghh. The gift of walking this mothering/homeschooling journey for long enough is knowing these sort of days and attitudes do come, but unless I allow it, they do not define me or my home. Life with a three year old can be equally hilarious, delightful, and emotionally exhausting. The same is true of a thirteen year old. As one who loves the accomplishment of doing, I can assure you it is worth your time, patience, and even emotional endurance to be present with your children in the hard places of motherhood.

These hard days are a moment to pause the efficient, multi-tasking button and cast vision for your child again. You may need to step outside or shut yourself in the bathroom temporarily to breathe and encourage yourself first, but after doing so, step toward them. Step into their hard emotions to be with them and remind them who they are and where they are going. We are visionaries. We see our children uniquely. We know their quirks and idiosyncrasies. We know their soft spots emotionally and their tickle spots physically. We know their insecurities and gifts. We are uniquely positioned to speak to all of it. And while we can offer them the best music lessons or clothes or education or travel experience, learning to be present with them in the hard places is where they will grow the most. It is not efficient. It takes time, sometimes 302 times in a day! But it is worth it.

I realize this all sounds lovely written on a screen and entirely different when you’re dealing with an angry child/teen/preschooler. Or when you’re holding a hard and unwelcome no. Or when a child is firmly holding their no or weeping with hurt feelings. I promise you: I have been there. This week, when my daughter told me she didn’t like reading or want to practice reading any more, my heart felt a zing. My impulse wanted to respond, are you kidding me?! But instead I stood up and left the room to get a glass of water, took a deep breath, and returned to her and her point. We talked about some of the topics we’ve read in history together––how women didn’t always have the right to education or political/cultural voice, how it was illegal for women and men in slavery to learn to read at all, how it perpetuated systemic and social control. I asked her why? This led to a conversation about reading leading to independence and freedom to learn anything. It led to a conversation about taking initiative in your life and doing the work. It was brief, five to ten minutes, and then we finished her lesson. I commended her perseverance (and secretly my own) and we both gladly shifted to do something else. This was just one example, in one particular moment, with one particular child. This may happen with each child over a different topic, with a different emotion. With a toddler or young preschooler without much reasoning, the vision-casting may look more concrete: This is how we use our hands. This is how we use our words. This is a sign you need a nap. This is a sign you are hungry. Mothers, do you understand, why at the end of it all, the question we ask ourselves or must sometimes answer to others of what did I do today might be the wrong question altogether? If you must answer, simply tell yourself, today I refreshed our home’s vision.

Our work as mothers requires us to look a bit down the road, to gently lead. There is much meandering along the way, but our work is always to remind ourselves and our children (emotionally and physically) of where we are going, and when it is time, to let them go on their own. We are mothers, practically meeting needs and finding the ways to accomplish all the things for our homes. We are visionaries, making time for wisdom and nurturing of hearts. And just in case you’re needing the reminder, it is worth it.

I will be the first to admit, I am not always very good at protecting or preparing for dates with Mark, often finding myself at loss for ideas or in a rut or too tired to “get ready to go out” at the end of a busy day. But before we head down the list of why it can be difficult to protect this time in marriage (babysitting, exhaustion, budget, etc), let me say what we all know: life is hard. It is rewarding and beautiful and life-giving, but the work and even circumstances can be very hard.

At some point in the early years of mothering, I realized that at the end of a day of holding, nursing, rocking, swaddling, snuggling children and babies, I had little need to be touched or to touch. At the end of a day of reading aloud, or listening to child chatter or sibling squabbles or having conversations all. day. long. with our children, I sometimes had little energy to begin yet another meaningful conversation with Mark, apart from a regurgitation of the day’s events. And as a mother trying to build a business, at the end of the day, there was always a separate TO DO list waiting for attention, a feeling of incompletion inside of me, making it difficult to simply stop and be with Mark. With fatherhood and career and maintaining different details in our home, he had his own set of exhaustion making it hard to protect this time for our marriage, too. I know everyone’s specific circumstances will vary, but this is just a glimpse at some of the factors that tug at intimacy in marriage.

So how do we care for one another within our marriages (sexually and emotionally) when we’re in the thick of busy, difficult circumstances? How do we keep our marital relationship from falling flat, from feeling like another thing on the TO DO, or from being merely a logistical partnership? The answer can be complex, but I know it begins with regular date nights, or protected time for one another. Logistical connection is not the same as relational connection. Here are just a few ways to practically safeguard time together, regardless of what tugs you away from it.

HOW TO PRIORITIZE DATE NIGHTS IN MARRIAGE

Por qué no? / Why not? Pause for a moment and consider what may be specifically tugging at your martial intimacy right now. Of course, I mean sex, but I also mean emotional intimacy, too––time alone together. Don’t over analyze it. Just narrow down what factors may be working against you, so you know how to prepare in spite of them.

Keep it Simple / I know, such a cliché. But the goal is to create a habit of time together, and the only way that happens is with realistic, regular follow-through. What’s your style? What is fun for you right now (because that may change in different stages of marriage)? Don’t undermine the power of having a drink together on the porch or going for a drive out of town to eat just to have more car-time talks without kids.

Make Space in Your Budget / If you don’t have space in your monthly home budget for date nights––do it! Live within your means, but mark guilt-free money to use on time together. It pays enormous dividends. If you only have $50 available for the month, figure out the best way to use it (i.e. one dinner out with a friend to babysit, or a weekly bottle of wine together at home). You get the idea.

Alternate Going Out with Staying at Home / Mark and I have always enjoyed being home, especially in the years where our children went to bed before 7:00. So instead of committing to a weekly babysitter, we alternated weeks of staying home and going out, sometimes only going out once in a month. If you’re hiring a babysitter, it adds up quickly, so we were often able to do something that felt like more of a splurge on the nights we went out.

Freshen Up Beforehand / This is especially important for date nights at home. Mark and I have so much empathy/compassion for one another’s work. That said, changing out of the clothes we both wore all day, adding a bit of lipstick or under-eye concealer to a tired face, or even brushing our teeth or popping into a quick shower helps prepare us for a shift in roles, to put aside the the other roles for this one. It is a way we can help turn a simple glass of wine on the sofa together into focused intimacy––even if we had to stuff the unfolded clothes on the sofa into a basket and move it to the other room. Clearly, I speak from experience. Wink. Freshening up even in the smallest way helps us both let go of the day and relax into one another.

Think of One Question / Conversation can easily slide into talk about the kids or work or about some logistical solution our home needs. Sexy, right? Wrong. Those necessary conversations are practical, helpful, and foundational for building a home, but my advice (based on experience), leave it for another time. Hashing out the days’ events (especially the really hard ones) is not inspirational or sexy for either of us. Date nights, whether enjoyed at home or out and about, should be a respite from the logistics, a place of connection where you remember your relationship apart from the logistical juggle of parenthood or work or whatever other life circumstance. To avoid devolving into the parenting/work/other people’s lives conversation, have a question or two on hand ahead of time, ideally something open-ended to lead into more conversation. Some we use: What have you been dreaming about/hoping for this week? I know [insert hard circumstances] has been difficult this week, how are you doing? If you could transport us to any place right now, what would you where would we be? What would we do? 

Add Something Unexpected / Marriage can become so familiar, so comfortable that we can sometimes lose interest in one another. If your date nights feel the same as every other night (i.e. sit on the sofa with a favorite drink and watch a movie/show), it’s time to change it up! Add a surprise element––maybe something sexy, maybe something tasty, maybe an overnight date, maybe a morning date. Be creative.

Disclaimer / If your marriage is in crisis ( a good sign is not wanting to spend time together for whatever reason), I highly recommend digging into that a bit more with a trustworthy counselor. Counseling tends to have a stigma in our culture, a mark of failure or insufficiency, but in my opinion every marriage needs counseling at various points. Every marriage, even the healthiest of them, endures hard things, and counseling (for the individual or couple) can be an important to help process how we continue to grow in a healthy way regardless.

We spontaneously removed our family’s television a month ago, wrapped up it up, set it in the hall closet, and rearranged the living room. At once, we noticed a difference in the spirit of the place. Our home is not large. We have a six rooms total, including three bedrooms and three common spaces, all neatly connected to one another so that each room becomes as much a passageway as a stopping point. Our living room is a small, cozy space nestled between our kitchen, dining area, and one of the bedrooms. Naturally, this has caused design challenges, but like every space in our humble home, it is multi-purposed. Somehow our television always seemed awkward in it, a bit like an image with “find the thing that doesn’t belong.”

For most of our marriage, we didn’t have a television. Technically, we owned a small one gifted to us when we married nearly 16 years ago, but early in our marriage, we promptly moved it to an antique armoire tucked in a corner of a bedroom. In our former house, we loved raising our children without the cumbersome tele in the living room. It seemed like an afterthought. We had a weekly snuggle movie night with the kids, where we piled in our bed with the laptop. But as you can imagine, we outgrew that practice. Literally. It became difficult for all of six of us to comfortably fit on our bed any longer, let alone for 90-120 minutes for a film. And so nearly three years ago, we purchased our first television and for the most part enjoyed it.

The progression happens quickly though, doesn’t it? What had begun as a weekly film together quickly evolved when the boys purchased their first gaming system with their lawn work money. Plus, our new television was “smart” and offered us direct streaming to Netflix and Amazon. Although we still greatly limited screen time in our home to about 3 hours a week, the tug-of-war for more began to increase. The boys wanted to play 30 minutes of video games; the girls wanted to watch a show. Mark or I would want to watch something else altogether. In our small living space, tucked at the center of our home, when the television was on, it seemed as though home life abruptly paused for it.

We had experimented with various time blocks for screentime––at the end of the day after all our day’s work had been completed, only on the weekend, and so on. It didn’t matter. The change was subtle, but before long, it seemed the TV was on for one reason or another every evening. Our family read-aloud time diminished. Relational dynamics grew more tenuous, while end of day conversation became more shallow. Video game companies created more solo-play games, which meant rotations stretched longer. More bickering occurred between the kids as they wagered who had more or less screentime. And so on. Less than three years and this thing felt like the object of tug-of-war in our home. It was robbing time for us.

It may be easy for me to oversimplify, to pin every discord on the television. We removed the TV not because it was the sole source of all strife or noise in our home’s rhythm but because the television convoluted it. We needed to simplify the terms of our home life again to properly inventory the dynamics and heart of our home. The TV was simply a variable in the equation of home life. For instance, if at the end of the day, the television is a tool to unwind, what are other ways to decompress? What are the sources of stress that need undoing? Since our children are older and growing increasingly more independent, the removal was a little more layered than simply making our executive decision. It’s led to several more abstract conversations about the gift of time and our intentionality, even in reference to the common phrase “killing time.” We’ve had more conversations about consuming and producing, how does the television fit into those needs in our life? The conversations are the parent-training for adulthood when they are deciding these things for themselves.

I’m not sure how long this will occur. Our children fear it may be indefinitely. Wink. Smile. We have still watched shows or enjoyed family movie nights with the laptop, but we have also enjoyed more family game nights and read aloud, too. We allowed the boys to pull it out of the closet for a little video game time when a friend spent the night recently. This choice isn’t about the hard and fast rules; it’s about knowing our home and the needs within it. With a teenager and two more on the cusp, I am aware of both the brevity of childhood and the imminence of adulthood. These years feel so precious, and I haven’t regretted the removal once yet.

Possibly the hardest part about living, schooling, and working from home as a mother is establishing boundaries, even as they fold into one another. I am a perpetual student learning the balance. And yet balance isn’t exactly the right word––treating time as though it were a tray of poured wine glasses, a balance beam, or a ball tottering on a seal’s nose. Time is more abstract than any of those things. It is more like water, shifting in matter and motion based on its context, possibly a mountain river, a misty cloud, or an unmoved glacier. The ideal of cupping time into some sort balanced measure can feel defeating. In my experience, shifting between roles at home requires intuition, patience, and a bit of planning ahead.

We recently emptied our garage to transform it into a studio space for Mark and my brother-in-law’s creative work, and eventually a space for our family to enjoy. We found this desk in the process and set it near the window in our bedroom. I have been writing there often lately, enjoying the change of place and view. Mark spends the morning with our children, working through morning chores and math and logic lessons (thanks, Babe!) while I write blog posts/editorials, edit photos, or develop my Beautycounter business. I typically try to get out of the house to work, as I can grow easily distracted by the conversations and questions and activity of the house, and even at times, by the house’s care-taking itself. It’s never-ending, yes? But at heart, I am a homebody. I leave for the joy of returning. So it is a gift to have this little space right now, tucked in my bedroom with plenty of light and cozy privacy.  Although the shifting roles in marriage, motherhood, and self-paced work can be challenging at times, it is a gift to live with my family, to learn and work here alongside one another. And ultimately, I am relentless in tweaking routines in various seasons to make it work.

I know there are many women who work from home, and others who are interested to try. So I wrote out a brief list of lessons I’ve learned over the years of my own journey, often learned through making mistakes. Wink. Here’s a few big ones that might apply regardless of the type of work itself.

Set and Honor Work Hours / Blocking specific hours for personal work at home is imperative. Home can be a haven for work life, but it can also distract your focus when you’re trying to manage too many things at once. I know it can be humdrum to think of life in terms of hours, especially when children are involved and the days can feel different each day, but setting aside a specific time for the work you want to accomplish, whether it is starting your own business or making room for a hobby, is important. When I first began blogging, I set aside hours I knew my young children would be occupied: rest time, early morning, or after their early bedtime. Currently with Mark’s help, I am now able to work in the morning most weekdays. Yet I still have to be disciplined about honoring my allotted work hours. When time is up, I get up and walk away for the day, having to release all that is unfinished (because regularly something is unfinished).

Create a Designated Work Space / For a long time I worked at our desktop computer in the kitchen. As my children grew and our homeschool days shifted, it was helpful for me to be able to write, edit images, or email while also keeping an eye and ear on the home. In years where I have had a babysitter or now Mark’s help, I try to leave the house and set up at coffee shop corner. But I prefer the quiet, small spot in my bedroom right now.

Create Realistic, Contextual Goals / Set goals based on your personal context. Are you needing to make a certain amount of income? What time do you have available? How long will specific, regular work tasks take you? I learned many of these lessons the hard way. For instance, for months at a time, I would try to write out an editorial calendar for this space. I have always had plenty of ideas and images I want to share, but I always underestimated the amount of time it took to put it all together. I would find myself frustrated at not meeting my own agenda, but I was planning content for a pace I wasn’t able to contribute at that point. I had young children at home with me, needing my attention and eventually longer stretches of lessons and read aloud. What I needed was to keep a list of ideas and work through them at a more flexible pace. At some points, I am able to work through the list quickly, and other times I seem to move at snail pace. Part of this process is learning to receive all seasons of work and home life: the quiet, slow winter and the burgeoning spring alike.

Say No, or Protect What You Value / This is still the hardest for me. I am a yes person, a pleaser and accommodate-r, so saying no is extremely difficult. But learning to turn down opportunities (even good ones) or even limit the expectations I put on myself has been the most powerful and beneficial lesson for my work and home life. Motherhood is a gift, and having my children at home is truly only for such a short period of time. I have to protect time that I want with them, even at times when it costs me income-producing work. These are ongoing conversations in our home and will vary home to home based on what your family values. Again, trial and error have taught me so much. Sigh. But the better I am able to estimate the time it takes for various work, whether writing an editorial article, taking a call, or running an errand, the better I am about saying no and prioritizing. If you struggle with this, I highly recommend reading Essentialism––one of my favorite books of all time.

Be Patient / If you’re starting a new business from home, whether it is a blog, an online shop, direct sales or something else altogether, be patient with yourself, as you make space for it in the sphere of family and home. Some days will work smoothly and as planned, and other days will feel futile. It’s okay. Tomorrow is always fresh waiting for you again.

Ask for Help / Whether hiring a babysitter for blocks of time, getting help from a family member, or swapping childcare with a friend, ask for help as your business grows. There will be seasons where you can work during a nap-time, and other years without naps. For the latter, have a plan that fits your family budget and needs.

Let Go of the Working-Mother Shame / I recently was re-reading a section of Michael Gurian’s The Wonder of Girls and noticed this passage I had previously underlined, “Mothering is a sacred profession that has, in our day and age, been relegated to a sub-profession; hence, mothers live today in an unavoidable tension, a juggling of selves, and at times, a kind of shame.” I love my husband and family deeply, and sometimes, my work costs them something, too. There can be a shame that all mothers carry in some form, but especially ones who work, that they are not enough. I know the mothering years of small children are short, and so I look to make sure when I am with my children, I am really with them.

Make Space for Rest and Play / In the toggle between roles, it seems there is always something to do. Make sure you set aside time each week to rest and play. Although for those of you motivated by efficiency and productivity, this will feel of lesser importance, it is the glue that holds all the roles together. This is the place where connection (to self and family, spiritual and natural) is fed and grown. If you are not taking time to rest or enjoy life, you will quickly burn out.