Every few months something sends a shock through our household that throws us into survival mode. It can be something as huge and long-term as a grueling pregnancy or as small and short term as my husband having to work a string of night shifts.
Because I’m often parenting solo because of my husband’s schedule, I’ve had to get good at dealing with change and challenges on my own. (And, just FYI–I am not naturally good at change and flexibility. So if I can do this, so can you!)
Survival mode is a normal part of parenting! While your day-to-day routine may look different than mine, we all feel unsteadied when our version of “normal” gets shaken up. And that’s okay. Here’s what I do to stay prepared for those survival mode parenting moments:
1. Stock up on paper & plastic dinnerware.
This sounds so simple, but having a stack of paper plates, bowls, cups on hand saves my sanity when things get nuts. With five of us eating meals, getting snacks, and sipping liquids, the kitchen is hard enough to maintain on a normal day. Any added life-chaos means it’s almost always the first place to descend into a pit of messiness!
Paper goods mean simple cleanup with no washing or drying–which keeps the kitchen cleaner AND gives me more time to focus on the things that really matter.
2. Enlist the kids.
I try to get my kids to contribute around the house anyway, but when I’ve been down with the flu or the hubs has been working a lot of shifts, I need those extra pairs of hands.
Find things your kids can help with, and encourage them to pitch in. Make it fun. Turn on music, play a favorite TV show, or make it into a game. When we fold laundry together, we love to have a sock-ball fight when we finish. It lightens the mood, motivates them to help, and gets the work done.
3. Have an exit strategy.
In tough times, it is more important than ever for you to take good care of yourself. If you need a date night, some time to take a nap, or even just the chance to walk the aisles of Target alone, find a way to get it.
You can hire a babysitter, find a local “Mom’s Morning Out” offering (our YMCA does them every Wednesday morning), or swap with another mom. But make it happen!
I usually just ask a friend to come sit downstairs after all the kids are in bed–that way its zero work for her, and I get a break from being “in charge” for an hour or two. This time recharges me so I can go full-force again when I get back!
4. Choose three things (and only three things).
I know your to-do list is full to the brim. You’re a mom. It goes with the territory.
But the real truth is, when you’ve got the weight of life bearing down on you, it can feel like it takes ten times the effort to get something done.
So when you’re feeling trapped, choose three things. Three things that need to get done that day, and no more. And just work on those. The rest of the list will still be there when you’re back on your feet.
Already squirming at the idea of neglecting items from your to-do list? Look it over again. I know it feels like everything has to fall to you–but does it?
Can you send your husband on the diaper run?
Can you postpone your son’s playdate for a week or two?
Can you pick up a rotisserie chicken at the store instead of cooking dinner tonight?
Can your oldest read to the baby while you get baths ready?
It is hard to give up responsibility and feel like you’re letting someone down. But in times like this, our focus needs to be on the places where we can make the most impact. For me, that is my health and the well-being of my family.
Even though it’s hard to bow out of a commitment–no matter how small–I’ve found that I’m at my “survival mode” best when I can focus on self-care and the intentional care of my family.
6. Find your focus.
What does it take for YOU to feel like your kids have what they really need?
For me, if my kids are fed, clean, and feel loved, I’ve given them the things they need most.
Yes, it feels awesome to have a sparkling-clean house and a home-cooked dinner. It is fantastic to spend individual time with each child, make crafts and teach them to read. But some days we just can’t do even one of those things, much less all of them.
When you find yourself feeling out of control, cranky, and just generally like the “worst mom ever” find your focus. Think about what your kids need most right now–I’ll give you a hint. It’s probably one of the three things I listed already. 😉
7. Make the last ten minutes of the day count.
Life with kids is hard.
Even when things are going well it’s chaotic:
- My toddler is a walking tornado, spreading everything in her reach all over the floor. (Right now, from where I’m sitting I can see a cube of peanut-butter sandwich, the charm from an Elsa necklace, a horse magnet, a green crayon, her water bottle, a muffin tin, and three sheets of blank paper.)
- My four-year-old averages two meltdowns a day–usually over things he already knows how to do but doesn’t want to follow through on. He also asks about 14 million questions.
- And my six-year-old is a creative, which means we are inundated with loving artwork, craft supply explosions, and demands that we “look at this!” from dawn until dusk.
But when something throws “normal” off, you can go from feeling a little frazzled to simply drowning in the pressure of it all.
We snap at our kids. We nag our husbands. We break down in tears in the bedroom closet. (Unless… wait. Is that one only me?)
But the last ten minutes of the day can be healing.
In fact, even the last three minutes of the day can help your children bond deeply with you.
So no matter what the day has wrought, gather those last 10 minutes before bedtime into your hands. Use the best of what you’ve got left after a day of mothering. Remember the tiny miracles these people spark in your life. And know that it doesn’t take much to fill up little hearts (or big ones, for that matter):
- Sing a song.
- Ruffle their hair.
- Pray together–for help and peace, and with gratitude for all the good that comes with the bad.
- Give a back scratch.
- Read a book.
You can pick one or three or take a half an hour and do them all. But even one will suffice, if it is done with love. It’s all about love.
Carry on, mama.
You’ve got this.
Top photo by Jordan Sanchez
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