I’m not necessarily someone who would be described as organized. Scattered, perhaps, would be more accurate. I am always looking for suggestions on how to better manage my family. I find that the advice of the experts on the morning television shows often leave me feeling discouraged. Is it just me or does anyone else ever wonder how many assistants these people have to help them coordinate their schedules, do their hair and makeup, cook their meals and tend to their children so they can sit on the television telling me how to find balance?

I am not an expert of anything, nor am I a complainer.  Despite having hectic school and work schedules, I try to stay at home with my children. Swim team practices, play rehearsals, and piano lessons can make this very hard! I work two part-time jobs, keep the books for our home business, volunteer for my church, help my aging parents whenever I can, and occasionally get a few minutes to exercise or clean my house. My husband works out of town for months at a time. Therefore, the bulk of the homework duty, yard work, errand running, housekeeping and day-to-day peacekeeping fall on my shoulders as well. In other words, I am busy.

In trying to manage, I am learning the hard way that life is all about being realistic in our expectations. The key to being more organized is to recognize and then manage the current motherhood phase we are experiencing. When my children were small, I found it much easier to create chore charts, meal plans, and study schedules for my family. Life was busy and chaotic then, but it was different as I could somewhat control everyone’s schedules.

I have moved into a different chapter now. While I have not given up on trying to be more organized, and I continue to make lots of lists, here are a few things I have learned that help me to be a more effective, not to mention happier, mom:

1. Motherhood is not a competition!  It doesn’t matter how clean my neighbor’s house is, how polite her children are, or how manicured her fingernails are. That perfect neighbor feels just as inadequate as I do some mornings. I am not living her life, and she is not living mine, so I try to ignore the temptation to make comparisons.

2. It is okay to be human. Moms wear a dozen different hats interchangeably. I remind myself to accept that I am NOT going to accomplish every task for every role I play every day. At the end of the day as I review my not-completed to-do list, I also make a mental list of everything I did accomplish that day. If no one else noticed, that’s okay. I can give myself a pat on the back.

3. Utilize mini-bursts of efficiency.  I have learned to take on tasks for brief intervals if I don’t have time to tackle the entire project. I am amazed at how much housework I can accomplish when I allot myself 30 minutes of committed cleaning. Then, when I’m done, I’m done. I may not have cleaned every closet, but I can take pride in the fact that I got those toilets sparkling clean. Sometimes, enough is enough.

4. Learn to relax. Sometimes the most resourceful thing moms can do is to just take a 30 minute breather to read a book, watch a mindless television show, or go for a quiet walk. Remember the advice of the flight attendants? We moms have to “save” ourselves before we can help anyone else with their oxygen masks.

5. Don’t forget serendipity. Some days it might not appear I got anything done.  But often, those are the days I was truly at my best. An hour spent listening to a teenager or a lonely friend is more important than dusting or fixing a gourmet dinner. Whenever multiple tasks are simultaneously screaming for my attention, I ask myself, “What is going to matter five years from now?”

6. Write it down. The simple act of putting the list on paper (whether it’s the shopping list, packing list, or cleaning list) helps me to unclutter my mind and regain focus when I am toiling and spinning. Having a written list relieves the pressure to remember everything and minimizes the stress level. Most of the time it doesn’t look quite so bad on a sheet of paper compared to what I had visualized inside of my head.

7. Adjust those expectations. Real children leave their shoes and backpacks on the floor and forget their homework. Real moms run out of milk on Monday mornings and have lots of unmatched socks in the laundry room. Real moms lose their patience and have to apologize. Real moms know it is okay to use paper plates.

8. Accept help. I am independent by nature and want to do it all by myself. But, the fact remains that I physically cannot be in more than once place at a time. Neighbors are more than willing to give my kids a ride now and then when I am at work. My children are usually very willing to help. Teenagers can help the younger ones with homework, fix dinner, or do the grocery shopping. Younger children can sweep floors, set the table, or color handouts for your church lesson.

9. Learn to laugh. Humor is the best tension diffuser I have found. It works with husbands, teenagers, and toddlers. The most stressful moments make the funniest stories. Sometimes, when I feel like screaming, I actually remember to grab the camera first. Stains eventually fade, two-year-old haircuts grow back, and yes, someday this will be funny.

Even having discovered these helpful strategies, the reality remains that I often find myself getting flustered and feeling overwhelmed. Every day, I have to take a step back and remind myself that motherhood is not an Olympic sport with winners and losers. It is okay to be human and to be satisfied with my best efforts. When I am beating myself up over my list of things I did not get done, I tell myself to relax a bit and enjoy the serendipitous moments of joy. I am trying to be more realistic in my personal expectations, to accept help, and to let myself giggle now and then. Most importantly, I am trying to enjoy this amazing, and yet exhausting, journey of raising kids.

QUESTION: As you look back on this crazy-busy chapter of life a few years from now, what precious moments will you want to remember? Someday, when your house is clean and quiet, will you miss the dishes in the sink, the bantering at the kitchen table and the constant running of kids from one place to the next?

CHALLENGE: Honestly evaluate your scheduled demands and be realistic in your expectations. Accept your best efforts. Do not compare yourself to anyone else and give yourself credit for successes. As you compile multiple to-do-lists, include a few minutes to spend on yourself. Find a reason to laugh and remember that being needed is a good thing. Today, just for this moment, find joy in the fact that you are needed.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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