What would you do if you had a few more hours in the day? Would you take some time for yourself? Would you tackle the ever growing to do list? Or would you just get caught up in the usual business of a busy life? The truth is we would probably use up the extra hours doing more of the same stuff.
The truth is when you become a mother there is no easy option, most of us, are trying to fit so much into a day that other important things begin to suffer. We load on the expectations and want to get everything right. I remember when my 2 girls were babies – 16 months apart. There were some days I didn’t get to brush my teeth until midday or later, if I got them both napping at the same time, I could eat. It’s hard to describe to some people but the luxury of looking after yourself goes out the window.
It really used to annoy me when you would hear people saying that you should ‘look after yourself’ and meditation or yoga in the morning is a really good way to alleviate stress or feel grounded. Or when someone’s advice was to wake up before the kids, to get your ‘me-time’.. The truth was, my husband and I were absolutely exhausted and each of our 3 darlings didn’t sleep through the night for years. We also didn’t need an alarm clock for a very long time… the thoughts of waking yourself up from what precious little sleep we were getting, was madness! And once you were woken by 5.30/6am by a crying child, it was go, go, go… all day long.
So fast forwarding now, to my children being aged 5, 9 and 10. It’s busy and stressful to juggle everything, but in a different way. We get enough sleep – and if we don’t, it’s not usually the kids that are to blame. However, our children and their needs – school, activities, play-dates, homework – still comes ahead of my own needs; to build a business and to try to look after myself. Trying to grow a business that helps kids and teens feel more confident feels ironic, when at times I feel less than adequate about how much time I spend truly present with my own (and not on my laptop or phone).
Interestingly, studies in America showed that the most stressed mothers were those with 3 kids.. expectations are still high, when you get to 4 children, the study showed the idea of perfection goes out the window. You can read more about it here.
I had to write out a to-do list recently, I was doing an exercise on time management as part of a course I was doing. The items on my very long to-do list had to be categorized into 4 sections
- High Importance: high urgency – obviously this is where you start!
- High importance: low urgency – Don’t forget about this stuff -These are the things that get neglected too much! Unless it moves to becoming more urgent.
- Low Importance: high urgency – This is what we need to limit – all the texts, emails, chats, interruptions etc
- Low importance: low urgency – this is the stuff that will never get done, but will stay on your list for a long time.
The trainer of the course was excellent, however being a working-from-home Dad, I don’t know if he had quite the same amount of interruptions and expectations on him as the daily life of a mother. Maybe it’s nothing to do with being a Mother or Father but more to do with being disciplined and saying ‘no’ to certain things, or not replying to every text or message. Anyway, I ended up feeling totally overwhelmed with this gigantic to-do list – it’s work in progress categorizing it into these 4 segments.
Here are my top tips for juggling parenting with everything else:
- Prioritize: whats important to you. Don’t be afraid to segment your time and definitely let go of some things. If its having time with kids/family put the phone away and leave the housework, enjoy that time. Remember we are our kids biggest role model. A mother once told me she makes homework time a nice experience for her kids, she gives them hot chocolate and sits down with them to see if they need help. That image stayed with me and reminded me it doesn’t have to be fight everyday, use positive re-reinforcement, and help create new habits. Another mother told me she has learnt more about her teenage son in one week, than she had the whole year, when she decided to sit down and listen to him when he came in from school, instead of doing housework/making the dinner. If you don’t get enough social time with friends or time with your partner – make a plan of action to tackle it. If you feel guilty about not volunteering for parents committee or clubs, decide if you can manage it or not. Prioritizing is hard, but worth it – what needs your attention right now? What can you let go of?
- Self care: Do whatever you have to do to look after yourself – both mentally and physically. Put the oxygen mask on yourself first and then your child… don’t forget that you can’t help anyone else if you are depleted. I work every Saturday, and Sundays are hectic enough, so I’ve started trying to take Monday mornings off from everything.. I go for a run and have a long hot bath while the kids are in school. I try not to feel guilty about anything, especially the housework.
- Time greedy: If you are time poor – become time greedy. Open your eyes to what is sucking up a lot of your time – is it social media, calls, texts or emails? Could you have a specific few times in the day to check these things. Do you get caught up in a netflix serious or box set? Give yourself this time but be conscious of how much. We are slaves to the screens, it’s an addiction (see breaking habits no.5)
- Meditation: It really is good for the soul. I’ve started to try fit in a guided meditation at night time when I need to switch off my brain – there are hundreds on you tube. I find that I’m calmer with my children trying to get us all out the door the next morning as a result.
- Habits: Our life is made up of habits – but what habits can we change to give ourselves a breather or make life easier? If you realize where you’re time is going and you know you can do something about it and make it better… then decide today to take action and start to break the habits that don’t serve you.
- Help!: If we realize where all our time is going and we can’t do anything about it for now (e.g. you have young children or a sick family member / maybe you’re juggling work and family life, it’s very tough. Let’s not forget to ask for help when we need it – we tell our children to speak up when they’re struggling, we should do the same. I have found other people so kind helping me out when I need it. But as the saying goes ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get’.
- Goals: Set yourself a goal and write it down. I try to get at least 3 things work related things done every day. What would you like to do or get done between now and the end of the year – approx 6 weeks away. Christmas is a hectic time. There are so many extra things that happen and the diary becomes unmanageable, never mind the costs. If you could choose one thing to do, that would make you feel good or mean a lot to you… what would it be. I’ll share mine with you.. I am going to make sure that I go through my daughters communion photos (from last May), make a book for her and get a canvas on the wall (same as I did for her sister). I’m also going to continue to take my half day off through those hectic December weeks.
- Independent kids: Kids who are independent can help you with your time and also your stress levels. (Some kids are naturally better at this than others) What can you realistically do to help your kids to rely on adults less, and has the added bonus of making them more independent. I shared an article this week about how kids who do chores will be more successful in life. So depending on your kids age, you can start with the essentials like brushing their teeth, washing their face, packing their lunches… moving towards earning pocket money for chores. My kids love spraying things so cleaning the windows is up on the list of things they love to do, but they only get paid if they’ve done a good job.
- Don’t beat yourself up: (Maybe this should day don’t measure yourself against your own unrealistic expectations of yourself): I remind my kids and husband regularly, ‘I’m not superwoman, I can’t do everything’, However sometimes when I’m overwhelmed, the person that needs to be reminded most of all – is myself. Maybe we need to accept that we will never feel that everything has been done, it’s a continuous cycle of life; housework, children’s issues, whatsapp messages.. the list continues! When you can’t get it all done, accept that you can’t, let stuff go.. don’t be hard on yourself and remember all the good things you are doing, such as raring children and staying sane – hopefully 😉
Caoimhe O’Grady Tegart is a life coach for children and teens. but also regularly helps adults and mothers to get perspective and look after their own needs.