We were sitting in the teacher’s lounge, day four of my very first week of teaching. I was chatting with Paula, a third grade teacher, who’d been in the business for 20 years. She had three teenage boys at home.
“Oh, I remember when all my boys were little,” she told me. “I would drive home after a full day of teaching and pull into our driveway. I’d put my head down on the steering wheel, just feeling totally spent. Then … take a deep breath, get out of my car and start second shift.”
I’d never heard Motherhood described like a job before. Now that I have two kids of my own, I completely understand that there are endless tasks associated with raising babies and running a household. During the eight years I worked as a teacher, I learned some tips and tricks to work efficiently and effectively. These same principles can be applied to the tasks of Motherhood!
Your to-do list is so long, it can be downright overwhelming. In the short term, take some time to determine which tasks are the most essential. Look at what is scheduled for the day ahead. What are three “Musts” critical for running the household smoothly? At the end of the day, even if several items on your to-do list remain untouched, you can feel a sense of accomplishment in crossing off your top three must-dos. In teaching, as in Motherhood, I had short periods to get things done without kids around, and it was always too easy to waste this precious time on the non-essentials. Consider your child’s nap time. Identify the most important thing for you to accomplish, and be sure to tackle your to-do list in the order of most to least important. If nap time ends disastrously early, you will have at least accomplished a Must. Long-term prioritization is similar. Create a roadmap by which you can evaluate opportunities and make decisions that make sense for your family. How? Answer these key questions: What are your family’s core values? What do you want your family culture to be like? What do you want your kids to remember about their childhood? What character traits are important to mold? Your daily Musts should flow naturally from here.
When I was a teacher, I developed a system of habits that made my day-to-day life run smoothly. Every weeknight, I set out my entire outfit for the next day before going to sleep, and every Sunday I prepared a week’s worth of lunches. Establishing similar habits and routines as a Mom made my life more automatic and less effortful. For me, it was gathering everyone’s shoes and setting them by the front door at the end of the day and setting up a snack basket so I wouldn’t feel constantly interrupted by shoeless, hungry children. What can you prepare ahead of time to make your days run smoothly?
I couldn’t have been a good teacher without June, July and August. Without that built-in rest, I wouldn’t have had the energy to give my best to my classroom. Likewise, your work as a mom will suffer if you are running on empty.
If you have a newborn, this feels like impossible advice. Do you what you can to get your sleep, whether that means getting baby on a schedule, co-sleeping, enlisting help from your husband, sleeping through nap time or hiring a baby sleep professional. For moms with older kids, it gets better, but I can be my own worst enemy when it comes to sleep. It’s too easy to crave me-time after the kids are asleep. Don’t fall into that trap! Part of your ability to do the work of motherhood well depends on this important aspect of self-care: Go to sleep.
In my first year of teaching, I quickly learned that the tasks were never-ending. For my sanity and my marriage, I left work at five o’clock. Whatever didn’t get done by then would have to wait for another day, no exceptions. This helped me focus my attention on what I absolutely had to do. Are there areas in need of boundaries in your life? The tasks of motherhood are never ending. Make sure you stop at some point after your kids go to bed and claim rest for yourself.
When I had a baby at home, I was desperate for any reason to get out of the house with him: library story time, play dates at the park, walks at the mall. Anything outside the house was a great way to fight my own boredom, and keep him entertained until his next nap time. At some point after the second baby, our lives became busy and packed with activities. Leaving the house became stressful and exhausting. Have you overscheduled yourself and your kids too? Take a step back and evaluate which outings are worth the hassle. Consider carving out one day a week where everyone stays home, and you aren’t rushing to get the kids in the car.
Let’s treat motherhood as the important job it is and apply these principles to our everyday tasks!
Sarah Butterfield is mom to two boys and enjoys leading her MOPS groups in San Diego. In her free time, you can find her thrift store shopping, eating a sweet treat or writing for her blog www.notablysarah.wordpress.com.