On Monday, I fessed up to a week’s worth of mommy meltdowns. I’d shouted, I’d sought solace in the liquor cabinet (not much – I promise), I’d run away from my family, waving my arms in the air while making what my boys would likely describe as monster noises.
I was a real gem to be around, I’m telling you.
In the post, I attributed the meltdowns to my easily overstimulated/overwhelmed/distracted self. I said that I’d been failing to account for my weaknesses – parts of me that I know are there, but which I’ve tended to wish away rather than face head-on.
Since then, I’ve received welcome commiseration from fellow moms-to-littles, who say they share my struggles. And I’ve received words of comfort from more experienced moms, who remember what it felt like to be overwhelmed when they too were in these trenches.
But the best message came from my lovely sister-in-law, who posted the following video to my Facebook page:
Kid President! Who doesn’t love him?! (Thank you, Lisa, for the boost. I promise to do something fun with the boys in your honor.)
More fun than this.
In Monday’s post, I also promised a follow-up. It was supposed to be “tomorrow,” which was foolish of me to say, considering I was to be out of the house for most of the day on Tuesday and Wednesday (and I was in the middle of a miserable sort of cold). Mea culpa. Let’s just chalk this up to yet another of my weaknesses: a terrible sense of time.
Which brings me back to the follow-up post. This post. The remainder of this post is addressed to those of you who, like me, do NOT have it all together. It will be of no use to the well-organized, the efficient, the minimalist, the unflappable.
This post is for those who struggle with sensory overload, distraction, and a general inability to deal with more than one thing at a time. It’s for those of you who want to find a better way, but who keep finding your counters covered with clutter and your trash cans overflowing. It’s for those of you who only seem to remember important tasks while you shower and who never seem to be able to locate the right combination of shoes and socks to get your children out the door on time.
I’m on a journey and I want you to walk it with me.
That is, I don’t have this thing figured out. I’ve just thought about it (quite a lot), and I’ve asked myself some questions that you might consider asking yourself.
On a few counts, I feel like I’ve found solutions that work well for me. On others, I’m making progress. But there are a fair number of challenges that I continue to stew on, having not yet come up with good enough plans for addressing them. I’m working on it.
All in all, I suggest four steps for figuring out how to work with our weaknesses:
1. Go back and watch that Kid President video again.
No, seriously – take the opportunity to smile (and cry?) and remember that your children love you, distracted/disorganized brain and all. Make a mental note to be silly with them, to dance in the kitchen or sing in the driveway – or go do it right now! Allow it to give you some perspective on this whole thing.
2. Think about your own particular situation in great detail.
What are your triggers? Which small things contribute to your stress? Which parts of your home or your schedule trip you up? How do you use your physical space? Are your rooms and things arranged in such a way that they help or hinder your peace? How do your days and your weeks tend to proceed? Are you a morning person or a night person? How do you feel at different times of day? How much solitude do you need? Which of your family’s schedules – work, school, etc. are non-negotiable and which can be adjusted? Do you have a hard time remembering things? When do important ideas pop into your head?
3. Identify some potential solutions and try them out – but not all at once.
There’s no use in thinking you can devise a perfect system, let alone implement it in one fell swoop. So start small. Can you make a tiny tweak that will address one particular trigger? Go for it. Think you have a strategy for addressing a bigger issue? Try it out. But don’t bite off more than you can chew: you don’t want to feel like giving up because your plans prove to be too much for you. Small successes are still successes.
5. Adjust, add, and adjust some more. (Forever and ever, Amen.)
If a plan isn’t working out quite right, make an adjustment. When you’ve settled on one good solution, tackle another problem. When circumstances change, adjust your strategies along with them.
As far as I’m concerned, those four (well, maybe just the last three) are probably the most effective steps to making useful changes in your life: Think. Solve. Adjust.
How simple is that?
As I’ve been going about all this thinking and solving and adjusting, I’ve landed on several strategies that I’ve come to realize are essential to me. And who knows – maybe you’ll find them useful too. So here they are, along with some particular examples of what I’m doing, or what I need to do.
We have a large home. Inevitably, when we’re getting ready to rush out the door, or while I’m changing a dirty diaper, or as I’m juggling a half-dozen tasks at once in the kitchen – I realize we’re missing something. No one has socks. Shoes have gone missing. Diapers and wipes have not been replenished. The box of Kleenex is empty.
These are each small things – almost insignificant. But when they happen right in the middle of the crazy/loud/demanding hub-bub of caring for home and children, they can become the very straw that breaks the camel’s back. So as much as possible, I try to anticipate these small stumbling blocks and be strategic about avoiding them.
Now, don’t get me wrong – my house is pretty much a wreck right now – so it’s not like I do any of the below perfectly. I just try to do them well enough to prevent me from losing my mind.
The boys’ shoes are kept in a basket by the back door. Most of mine and Brennan’s sit lined-up right next to it. Their socks (as well as their underwear and pajamas, because we dress the boys for bedtime downstairs) are kept in a changing table located in the family room. (It is way easier to hop over to the family room for last-minute socks than to run all the way upstairs.)
We also keep lots of spare diapers and many, many packages of wipes in the changing tables. I keep some in my purse and more in a little back-pack, ready to grab for hours-long trips out of the house. We keep a couple boxes of Kleenex just out of sight so we don’t resort to swiping from the napkin holder until we make the next trek into the Great Upstairs.
I keep my car keys and sunglasses in the same place every day. I keep a grocery list on the fridge. I keep my drawers and cabinets orderly – all so that when I’m in a rush, I can find what I need quickly and easily.
I even keep (and this might be the idea I’m most proud of) a notepad on the master bathroom’s counter. Because wouldn’t you know it, I tend to do my best thinking and remembering while I’m brushing my teeth or taking a shower.
These are all piddly little things – but they’re real, effective solutions to problems that used to trip me up on a regular basis.
Keep to a weekly rhythm.
I’ve known for a long time that I have a laundry problem. And I’ve known for a long time that in order to make that chore less intimidating, I needed to do a little laundry each day. But it’s only been a couple of months since I’ve (finally!) landed on a strategy that works for me.
On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, I do at least one, preferably two loads of laundry per day. If I’ve got my act together, the full baskets are set in the hallway the night before and the first load goes into the washer before I’ve even gotten the baby out of his crib.
But if I don’t have my act together, it’s not such a big deal, because Wednesdays and Saturdays are for sorting and catching up.
I plan to establish a similar schedule for cleaning our home, but I’m not there yet. (Mostly because the rooms are currently too messy to clean. Crazy, right? See below.) When I do come up with a schedule, I’m going to aim for the same rhythm: schedule work for Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays; reserve Wednesdays and Saturdays for catching up. Which brings us to…
Build in opportunities for catching up.
In addition to my can’t-handle-stimulation and shuts-down-easily weaknesses, I’m also a perfectionist. So a huge stumbling block for me is that when I don’t get something quite right, or when work starts to stack up faster than I can get through it, I tend to shut down and just refuse to do anything more. This tendency has been the death knell of pretty much every schedule I ever set up in the past.
Now, I have finally hit upon the realization (HOW could this have taken me so long?!) that I need to anticipate that particular stumbling block and build its solution into my schedule. That is, catch-ups.
So far, it’s working like a charm. No one week has looked “perfect” on the laundry front, yet in the months since I began my 4 Days On / 2 Days To Catch Up schedule, the chore hasn’t once stressed me out. It’s felt consistently manageable, and (wonder of wonders) we’ve consistently had enough clean (even folded!) clothes to wear.
Reserve the right to reset.
A major problem in our household (which is also attributable to the perfectionism thing) is the glut of deep-cleaning/organizing projects awaiting my attention.
I love the idea of doing frequent touch-ups so that deep cleans are unnecessary. But that requires you to actually start from clean. We’re far from there. (Maybe some folks know how to chip away at a cleaning project bit by bit, but this perfectionist’s instinct tells her to go big or go home.)
In the course of my daily life, though, I generally don’t have time to go big. Most days, it’s all I can do to keep up with the feeding/changing/cleaning that is absolutely necessary; cleaning my bathroom tub feels like a luxury.
But do you know what’s recently occurred to me? The concept of a “reset.” Next week, I’m hiring someone to watch the boys for several hours so I can “hit reset” on some cleaning/organizing projects that have been sitting around for too long.
I reserve the right to do so again – and again and again. If I can’t get a project done in the course of my everyday life, then clearly I need to step away from my everyday responsibilities to get through it. And if I have to hire someone to take those over for me for a few hours while I work, so be it.
Set aside time for the little things.
Here’s a place where I have an idea of what I need to do, but I haven’t yet properly implemented it.
My most obvious problem (and I know I should be loathe to admit this – look away, Mom!) is our overflowing trash cans upstairs. I enter our bathroom at night to get ready for bed, and there it is: a trashcan overflowing with Kleenex and dental floss. But I’m too tired to deal with it, so I don’t. In the morning, I’m rushing to do just what I have to do, so the trashcan gets bypassed again. Then I may not return to the space until that night, so the cycle is repeated.
I know what I need to do. I need to set a particular time to walk through the house and take care of the little things: empty the trashcans, replenish the changing tables with more diapering supplies, make the boys’ beds, wipe down the counters, tidy up a bit. Not doing these little things stresses me out, yet I fail to make time for them.
I tried the walk-through thing for a short while and I loved its results (I even enjoyed the work), but it didn’t last long – I think because I chose the wrong time of day. I keep meaning to try again at another time and see if it sticks.
Protect the time for yourself.
I think this one may be the hardest. It’s certainly the one I’m worst at.
I have a pretty good idea of how I should structure my day so as to best secure my health and my peace: I should get up early. I should take a few quiet breaks during the day (and a solid, several-hour break once or twice a week). I should get our family through dinner at a reasonable time. Each evening while my husband puts the boys to bed, I should head up to our room to unwind and ready myself for the next day. I should get to bed at a decent time and get a good night’s sleep.
But it pretty much never goes this way. I tend to stay up too late, so I get up too late. I run behind on all the day’s major events and by the time I’m done with our (also late) dinner, all I want to do is sit still in front of my computer. So I stay up too late again and the cycle continues.
I need to make a better effort to change this.
But I also need to (and I think this was mostly the culprit behind last week’s meltdowns) focus on my needs for solitude and space during the day. Pretty much anything I do that requires thought (since I’m mostly incapable of focused thinking when I’m surrounded by my children) has to be done at night, when the boys are in bed. But then, not only can I barely keep my eyes open, but I feed that unhealthy cycle of staying up too late/getting up too late/etc. And if I try to fit in such things during the day when the boys are up, things tend to go badly. (See last week’s meltdowns for Exhibits A through C.)
So last weekend after the meltdowns, I talked to my husband and we agreed that I’d try to hire a mother’s helper this summer. Nothing is settled yet, but I’m hoping to get someone here one or two mornings a week to take charge of the boys and give me some (quiet!) time in which to think, write, and re-charge.
I really think it will help. I really think all of these strategies will help. I just need to keep working on them. I need to keep adding and adjusting and adding some more.
Forever and ever, Amen.