People look at my life and sometimes ask, “How do you do it all?” The easy answer is, I don’t. I don’t because I can’t. I can’t go to every high school soccer game, take my toddlers to the park every nice day we have, prepare healthy meals every night, and vacuum the house every week. I simply can’t do it all, so I have to let go of some things. In today’s activity-driven society, that may make me look like a failure, but guess what? I am a happy, peaceful “failure”. I am not stressed and anxious every day, at least not beyond what is normal for a foster mom and parent with seven children, including three toddlers and two teens at home!
What Really Matters?
Every Sunday night my husband used to groan and say, “Oh, I didn’t get anything done this weekend,” and I remind him that he did. He played with his girls, he had a date with his wife, he talked to his sons, went to church, took the family out. That’s what’s important right now. That other stuff can wait. Yes, the closet needs to be decluttered, the garage needs to be cleaned, window trim needs to be painted. Everywhere we look, there is something calling for our attention, but we need to let go. Right now, we can’t fit it all in so we spend our time just doing what really matters.
I am not so proud to admit that I have the McDonald’s McPick 2 menu memorized. It throws me off when they change the items on the 2 for $3 menu, or when they switch from 2/$3 to 2/$5. Though not proud to admit how often I drive through McDonald’s, I am okay with it for now. Some year I’ll plan and prepare and feed my family healthy, balanced meals every night (or at least many nights!). That year is not this year, and that’s okay.
The other day I brought the portable DVD player into my 3-year-old’s room and she watched videos for two hours. Why? Because her sisters were both napping and I was exhausted, so I took a nap too. After those two hours of TV, she had a happy, well-rested Mama who was at peace and was ready to play with her and read with her. She got quality time that she hadn’t had in a while. Is two hours of TV the best thing for her? No, but on this day it was, because the trade-off was positive time with Mom.
There will be seasons of life when you need to lower your expectations even more. I mean really, really low. Let go of everything that is not essential. Is everyone fed and clothed? (Wearing last night’s pjs DOES count as being clothed, by the way!) Good, then you’ve done your job today. Last spring when we took in another baby, I used this three-step plan for survival:
- Don’t get dressed unless you’re going somewhere.
- Don’t go anywhere unless you need to or want to.
- If you do need to go but don’t want to, then wait until someone else is home to stay with the kids so you can go alone. If that’s possible, it’s a wonderful thing.
And I should just add that if you’re a foster parent, you don’t need to clean your house every time the social worker is coming over for a visit. I pretty much to do nothing special when they come, mostly because my life is so crazy right now that it would add extra stress to my day that I don’t need. I just tell them when they come through the door, “What you see is what you get. This is our everyday life. We didn’t do anything special to prepare for your arrival!” They are fine with that. They are there to see that the children in my care are happy, healthy, well-fed, and thriving. And they know that the child’s overall quality of life is much better when their foster mom is not harried, stressed, and lacking peace, even if the house is messy and the dishes aren’t washed.
Learning to Let Go
Some day I will get through that pile of papers on the counter. Some day the windows will be clean. Some day our landscaping will look more like something from a magazine than something from an episode of Nightmare Backyard (if that ever becomes a show, we should be on the first episode!). For now, we will let go of those things and focus on what’s most important.
If you’re a parent who is trying to “do it all”, consider this your permission to let go. If you have lost your peace because you can’t do everything that needs to get done, it’s time to get back to the basics. Stop drowning in the sea of expectations you’ve put on yourself, or worse, expectations you’ve allowed others to place on you. Is everyone fed, clothed, and happy? Just start there. You can add the other things back in when you can. You may find yourself able to breathe again, able to look at life in a new light and enjoy your family again.
When I was a stay at home mom with just one child, my home was spotless and I felt in complete control of everything. I read to my son several times each day, we went on bike rides daily, and a home-cooked meal was on the table every night, carefully planned and prepared with foods that were purchased with coupons. I hate to admit it, but I would silently judge other moms whose homes weren’t as clean as mine. Can you believe the fingerprints on the entertainment center? I would say to myself. When was the last time those walls were wiped down? Really? Apparently that was important to me. That’s probably why God gave me twins next. I remember the moment I was sitting on the couch caring for my newborn babies, and I looked around at the mess and realized I could no longer control everything. That was over 18 years ago, but I remember it distinctly because it was a turning point in my life. I knew at that moment that my life was no longer my own. I couldn’t keep the standard I had set for myself, but needed to create a new standard, a new normal. And this new normal had nothing to do with a clean house but everything to do with creating an environment where I was at peace and my children could grow and thrive even in the mess. I learned to let go.
Maybe this is that moment for you. Give yourself permission to give it up. Trade the anxiety and stress for the peace of letting go. Create a new normal for yourself and your family. You will be glad you did!