Last week, I received an email from a sweet reader asking how I manage to do it all and make it look so easy–“I’m not even homeschooling and I can barely hold it all together,” she added. From where I read her words I surveyed the mess around me–my unfolded laundry still sitting in the basket, our books and notebooks scattered across the table and chairs and floor. In that moment, I might have spouted a whole series of unfinished TO DOs, everything from meal-planning and some sort of exercise with the kids to finishing a writing piece, calling a friend, paying a bill, or arranging an overdue date night. When had my floors last been swept and wasn’t there something my husband asked me to do on his way out this door? I might have actually laughed out loud at myself. For anyone who has ever asked me this question, I can only ever respond, “I really don’t.”
For those of us who really long to parent well–the majority of you reading this, I imagine–it is that word well that can often result in our trying to do everything in the first place. We want to raise well-adjusted, well-educated, well-dressed, well-informed, well-liked, well-prepared, well-[whatever other goals you may have] children and yet remain well ourselves. We want to look and feel well. We want to perform well in our work in and outside of the home. We want to eat well, read well, pray well, and of course rest well. We want to take care of the of earth well, take care of those outside our homes well–and of course, our homes, too! It sounds ridiculous written out like this, yes? Yet we try. And then we scroll through our media feeds and other online communities, where we all share our beautiful [homes, travels, children, partners, friends, meals, work, etc.] and it appears as though other parents are actually doing it! We have somehow missed some well-known secret or truth to meeting all of our goals–or maybe that’s just me.
The truth is my house is not always clean. Our meals are not always gourmet. I sometimes wear sweatpants all day or let my kids play and draw/paint instead of doing their “school” work (ahem–like right now). I am sometimes grumpy with my family and often forget to brush my own or my girls’ hair. For every beautiful moment or thought I write here or elsewhere, there are other potentially beautiful things I am not doing. It’s the nature of living with limitations of time and our humanity. They force us to choose. Although I have no magical secrets, I do have a few things I’ve learned in my journey of motherhood and home-education that help me choose well for myself and my family. Here’s a few, just in case you’re interested:
let go of perfectionism // You cannot give 100 percent of yourself to everything. Something will always give. If you tend to be a perfectionist (ding, ding, right here), as a parent, it will serve you well to learn and practice the phrase “well enough” and to see each piece of your life in the context of the whole. Perfectionism can be valuable at time, but it can also waste time.
do what you (and your family) love // Each family will value something a bit different, and it’s good to know what those values are. Many times in parenthood, instead of choosing between good and bad, we’re forced to choose between two good options, two things we want. In those times, my husband and I begin to assess which option more closely aligns with what our family values as a whole. Sometimes this can help us choose spending money on travel or a new home project. Other times it can be making a decision about our extra activities.
evaluate how you use your time // This seems perhaps the most obvious, but spend a week recording how you use your time–and be honest. (There are several apps to help with this if that’s easier.) How does your time match up with your values? For instance, I really value writing and photographing, which can sometimes compete with time I need to spend with the kids in our school routine. Each morning I wake up at 5 am to write/work until 7 when I force myself to stop and switch gears to our usual routine. If I need to resume working, I’ll do so in the afternoon when possible. Although these are two things I value, I have to choose how to prioritize my time.
say “no” confidently // For some of you, this will sound ridiculous, but I actually have a hard time telling people no. I want to support what others are doing and honestly I’m a bit of a people-pleaser. There’s simply not enough of any of us to say “yes” to everything. Don’t feel guilty for turning opportunities down, even good ones. Also, there are certain seasons in motherhood that require us to say “no” more often. If you’re in one of those seasons, enjoy it. Those seasons can be some of the sweetest times, and they’re sure not to last forever.