One of the reasons finding balance in life can be difficult, is because life is ever changing. As we grow and change, so do our interests, jobs, and priorities. When kids are introduced into the equation, finding balance becomes even more difficult. With kids in the picture, we have to find the time to fulfill all of our adult responsibilities and find the time to raise decent human beings. Young children can be especially challenging because they constantly need our time and attention. How do we find balance? One way is to look at our priorities.
A practical way to create balance in everything we have to do, is to look at our priorities. I first heard about this concept from the book “The Toddlerhood Transition”, in a Growing Kids Gods Way parenting class. If we put our priorities on a scale of importance, how would that scale look? Everyone has basic priorities; like sleeping, eating, personal hygiene, cleaning up the house, work, free time, etc. The effort put into each of those categories is different for everyone. It will depend on the stage of life, number of children, age of children, the demands of a job, or even a family budget. Everyone’s scale looks different, has different categories and different needs within each category. Getting 5 hours of sleep may be okay for me because I feel having time for myself (and time with my husband) at night after the kids are in bed is of a greater priority than sleep (sometimes, I do also REALLY love sleep). Whereas, someone else needs to make sleep a greater priority. Maybe 8 hours is needed. Something else will have to slide down the priority scale to make room for that extra sleep. You can apply this same principle to all of the important aspects of your life. Because I have a six month old baby, I often don’t have time to make a really nice dinner for my family. I still want to feed them healthy foods, I just choose meals that are simpler and quicker to prepare. I typically have frozen vegetables on hand or meals stashed in the freezer for a rainy (or just a regular, crazy) day. I put the baby above cooking more complicated meals on my priority scale.
Making a list of priorities isn’t too difficult. It’s easy to think about the overwhelming list of things I have to do. I find that the hard part is putting my priorities in order of importance. Thinking about it practically helps a bit. I try to take the emotion out of it and think about what logistically works for my family. Think about values, how should my children be raised. When there are young children in the home, building a solid foundation is of great importance. This stage of their development is the season to prioritize time with them. What areas will make the biggest long term impact in my life and the lives of my family? Then I ask why? Why is cleaning the house taking priority over going to the grocery store? Or, why is meeting a friend for coffee taking priority over spending time with my kids today? We have to figure out what makes the most sense for our families. I don’t function well in a messy house, and if I don’t get out once and awhile, I won’t be an effective mommy.
Taking the time to figure out where all of our priorities fall on a scale will help us to balance our time. If we make a physical list, we’ll know, and see what to give our time and energy to without having to scramble and worry about all of the other things. Everything will have it’s place and have it’s time. It’s important to remember that priorities change, as well as where they fall on the scale. That’s okay, good even. Be okay with the scale and that’s it’s different from everyone else’s. We’re all uniquely made. Each person, each family, each scale.
Okay, I have a list of priorities, I know which one’s are the most important down to the less important. Now, what do I do with this list?! Writing something on paper and putting ideas into action are obviously two different things. I’m by all means no expert in parenting, but I have learned a little something through trial and error.
Multitasking: I practice multitasking at home. I make a point to have conversations with my kids, husband or friends while cooking or doing dishes throughout the day and in the evenings. I have kids at home with me all the time and have them help with daily chores. I give them dust rags to help “clean”, have them help sort laundry, pull weeds, sweep floors. The big kids clean animal pens, bathrooms, windows and help take care of babies. Even my two year old likes to pretend he’s vacuuming. Spending time with my kids while teaching them valuable life skills is a wonderful way to make memories and build character. As a homeschooling mom, I’m always doing some chore, putting together snacks, feeding a baby, doing a puzzle with the toddler or sneaking in some writing in between teaching sessions. I use kid nap time to catch up on the tasks that require more of my attention. I take my kids everywhere with me and give them jobs/ responsibilities wherever we are. Car rides become social time. Grocery store trips are teaching moments. Everyone pitches in to help with evening chores. It can be fun, because we’re all together. Some things won’t get done, because they’re lower on the list of priorities and that’s okay. There’s always another day!
Delegation, Putting things on the shelf and It’s okay to say no: Sometimes I just can’t do it! There’s not enough time in the day and not enough of me to go around. The things that are lower on my list of priorities are never getting done. This is when I have to decide, are these things that I can say no to altogether, put on the shelf for this season of life, or is there someone who can help me? I’m lucky enough to have a wonderful husband to co-parent with. He helps everyday with general parenting as well as extra chores that usually get sent to the bottom of my priority scale. I’m very lucky to have someone to regularly delegate chores to (in addition to my older kids). Home repairs, yard work, vehicle maintenance, taking care of the kids alone for an evening… I know not everyone has the luxury of a husband, or older children. Maybe a parent, friend or neighbor could sometimes help. Asking for help is hard, I know. It’s definitely something to consider when difficult seasons of life arise. Even with help, I frequently have to put things on the shelf. For example, regular exercise. I still get moderate exercise, because some sort of physical activity is on the higher end of my list, but regular exercise isn’t something that fits into my life for the time being. It falls lower on my priority list. I know that I’ll get to enjoy it later, when my baby is a bit older. Putting it on the shelf just means that I’m accepting the season of life that I’m in, and I’m okay with it. There’s also the times that I just have to say no thank you. I can’t go the the birthday party, or the concert, or take on that new project, or dog-sit my friends dogs. I can only balance so much, sometimes there isn’t room for more.
Limitations and Recharging: I’m slowly learning how to recognize my limitations. My limitations, like my life and priorities are ever changing. Things that I used to be able to handle, like staying out with my kids from sunrise till sunset on adventures, I can’t seem to do anymore. While practicing patience and finding ways to create quality time with my kids through everyday moments is something I’m getting better at. Knowing what my strengths are and what my limitations are help me find balance. The things I’m better at are higher on my scale of priorities. What not play to our strengths? I also need to realize that when I’m feeling burned out, I need to recharge. I can’t just go, go, go all the time and expect to be at my best. Finding balance in the everyday life and knowing when to take a moment for myself on the extra stressful days (or seasons of life) is a must. An extra long shower after the kids go to bed, taking time to paint my nails, or having a friend watch the kids while I go to the grocery store alone for an hour are all easy ways to recharge. Usually, I doesn’t take much for me to recharge. Usually I’m running on God given mommy super powers, and just need a bit of time to myself. Occasionally though, (like once or twice a year) a longer break is needed; like an overnight with a friend, without kids. I’ll do what it takes to make it happen. Recharging is pretty high on my priority scale. Knowing my limitations is also knowing when I need to recharge. A recharged mommy, in my opinion, is a better mommy.
Prayer: A daily devotional, even if only for five minutes is the best way to start my morning. Taking time to pray in the occasional quite moments of my day, throughout my day help me stay focused. I’m constantly asking God to help me be the best mom that I can be. I’m always asking Him to point me in the right direction. Oftentimes, when I do this, I feel peace about how I prioritize things. I feel like He answers my prayers by making it easy to put things on the shelf for a season, or saying no thank you to more. He brings people into my life who help me to see things for what they are, who help me to recognize my limitations or my strengths. Reading devotions and taking time to pray help me start my day with a positive attitude. Knowing God is there, right by my side to help me if I need it brings me comfort, makes me brave and gives me strength.
The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still – Exodus 14:14
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs – Isaiah 58:11
The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace – Psalm 29:11
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer – Romans 12:12
Thinking about priorities, which ones are the most important, which ones can wait for later and which ones don’t make the list right can be a little daunting. Hopefully once it’s done, and our mindset adjusts to the realistic goals that fit in our lives right now, balance will be found. Learning to let go, realizing that we don’t have to be perfect or get it right every time. Asking for help, practicing multitasking and taking time to recharge. All of these are tools. When I feel like I’ve accomplished a well balanced day (ie. not running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off) it feels good. It makes me excited for the next day. It’s worth it! That’s why I’ll keep praying, planning and prioritizing. To find balance, everyday, always changing, balance.