Guest Post – Sarah Smith from TheLinesArePleasant.com

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I always thought mothering would be an organized activity. I once saw an idea in Martha Stewart magazine that I loved: a different tote bag for each day of the week, filled with whatever items each day/kid would require, prepped on Sunday night, and lined up by the front door. It made perfect sense to me. Surely this was how busy moms kept all their ducks in a row. But this was before I was married. Or had kids. Or even had a real job. Now I’m lucky if I can remember to toss a half-eaten bag of goldfish in my purse before scrambling off to a swim lesson for which we’re already 10 minutes late.

And then there’s dinnertime. I had grand visions of blissfully cooking dinner, ALONE, a glass of wine on the counter while music hummed softly in the background, the children playing out in the yard. But let me tell you - 6pm more often resembles a mad scientist’s lab than a Williams-Sonoma cooking display. It’s when the day’s optimism morphs into defeatism. All my goals and ambitions for that day collide with the symphony of reality: cranky, hungry children; no dinner anywhere in sight (because I had forgotten to defrost the meat that I was supposed to start cooking 30 minutes ago); a multitude of unchecked items on my to-do-list; and the guilt over all these (seemingly avoidable) perceived failings, that only makes the noise more deafening and disorienting.

And I just keep telling myself that if I was better at BALANCING it all, I wouldn’t feel like this at the end of the day. If I had a better PLAN, everything would get done, and I’d actually be able to sit down and read my beloved Martha Stewart magazines with all their ingenious day-of-the-week-tote-bag ideas.

Balance. I find it to be one of the most elusive states of being; I’m always chasing it, usually with only one shoe on. And then there are the times I stop chasing it and give up altogether, rather dramatically too, I’m sad to say. How are we supposed to get it all done? There are so many plates to spin: spouse, children, friends, family, church, work, exercise, home, rest & leisure. I know I usually drop at least a few plates a day.

When Melissa asked me what I wanted to write about, she said it could be something that I’m currently learning, and I’m grateful for the chance to write “from the trenches.” I am still figuring out what a balancing act looks like; I’m writing not from a place of arrival, but rather from the road. I’ve talked to a lot of moms who feel the weight of juggling it all, so I hope that some of this encourages you if you’re one of them.

There are two points in particular that I find very helpful in working towards balance: mindset and method. And the first must inform the second. I have found that so much power lies in the state of one’s mind and emotions, and it can either enable or cripple motivation. On the one hand, I firmly believe that we need to know our limits and not try to be superwomen – heroes to everyone, everybody, everywhere. But the other side of that pendulum is underestimating our capacity. Everyone’s is different, but it’s important to figure out what we are truly gifted to handle. There have been so many things I haven’t even attempted because I just gave into despair; I capitulated at the first sign that effort might be required. And I’m not talking huge projects here - I’m talking dishes at the end of the day, to give an example. For whatever reason, starting the day with a clean kitchen really helps me hit the ground running. It’s almost like the lack of physical clutter translates to less mental clutter, but I don’t know, maybe that’s just me. Recently my husband, Mike, was traveling for work, and I was tired, as is usually the case when flying solo for a week. The last thing I wanted to do was clean up after dinner. And while I often do leave the dishes until the next morning when I’m rested (nothing wrong with that!), I decided to tackle it one night and time myself. I wanted to know if it would really be as horrendous as I expected. The dishwasher was clean so it had to be unloaded, then dirty dishes needed to be loaded, and then all the pots and pans needed hand washing. In my mind I envisioned an hour of cleanup when all I wanted to do was go to bed. Do you know how long it took? Fifteen minutes. I couldn’t believe it. My imagination had lied to me. Fifteen minutes at the end of a long day ended up being well worth it (to me) in order to wake up to a clean kitchen the next day. So maybe try challenging yourself – ask if that task that you don’t want to do will really be as bad as you’re dreading. Sometimes it might be, and in that case just go to bed and get some rest; but sometimes readjusting your outlook might keep you on track with only a little more effort and maximum payoff.

And sometimes you have to change your mindset depending on what season you’re in. I like to finish projects in one fell swoop; none of this stop and go business. But currently, I’m in a season where that’s the only way I’m going to get anything done. I started making market totes for fun a few years ago, and when my oldest was a baby (and an only child) I had plenty of time to sew whenever I wanted, for as long as I wanted. Now I’ve started selling my totes, but I don’t have the same freedom with my time. I have to fit it in when I can; I have to put it down and come back to it later. That’s just life with a four-year-old and a two-year-old, and it’s ok – they’re my biggest priority anyways. I need to remind myself that this is the season I’m in, and it can work if I surrender to it instead of fight it.

As for the method, here are just a few practical steps to consider. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but they’re things that have helped me, and hopefully they help you too! I also find them much easier to implement when my mind is in the right place, aware of both my limitations and my capacity.

1)Make a schedule/daily to-do-list. Sure, lists can be counter-productive at times, but it can be really helpful to know what things NEED to get done on a certain day. And when things are written out, it’s a little easier to see if your priorities are properly balanced. The Little Otsu Annual Weekly Planner is my favorite if you’re looking for a good (and pretty) paper planner.

2)Speaking of priorities – identify them, along with any distractions that are keeping you from fulfilling them. I often ask myself, “What is my job RIGHT NOW?” because timing makes all the difference. The other night it was dinnertime, and I needed to start cooking if I didn’t want my sweet princesses to turn into ravenous hyenas. But what I really wanted to do was break into the trampoline box that UPS had just delivered and start assembling it. Because assembling a potentially life-ending piece of equipment (if done incorrectly) on an empty stomach is 100% smart. But that wasn’t my job at that moment; dinner was. Knowing which things need to be done now and which can wait until later is key to maintaining balance.

3)Set aside time just for your kids. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s a principle of which I have to repeatedly remind myself. Our kids need love and attention; not the hovering, constantly-entertaining kind, but the kind that lets them know we care about them. And it doesn’t need to be extravagant. Now that the weather is nice we’ve simply been going to a lot of parks and playgrounds, and they love it. It’s been good to just set aside time to be with them and do what makes their little hearts happy. It can feel like a sacrifice at times if what you really want to be doing doesn’t involve them, but it’s so worth it. It builds them up, and anything worth building will always involve some form of sacrifice.

4)Trust God for the things that don’t get done. The truth is we just can’t do it all. Some people will tell you that’s wrong; I just think it’s reality. Nobody is infinite in their abilities. Mike often reminds me at the end of the day that I accomplished everything God wanted me to accomplish for that day. It doesn’t mean I can’t try harder tomorrow, but it does mean that I don’t need to fret over things not solved today. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do NOT lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

I hope some of this has been helpful. None of it is earth shattering – just a few thoughts from a road that we’re all traveling. And if, like me, you find it a battle to stay steady on the balance beam at times, remember you can always get back up and try again. Practice makes perfect, and I think that as we keep on striving to bring balance to the many responsibilities in our lives, we’ll find it’s not as impossible as we imagined. I hope and pray that we will have wisdom to know which things to let go and which to keep pursuing.

Little Otsu link: http://www.littleotsu.com/collections/calendars/products/little-otsu-annual-vol-8-weekly-planner

Jules & Belle Go To Market link: http://instagram.com/julesandbellegotomarket

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