Have you ever noticed that the more time you have, the more time you waste? Is that just my problem, or does everyone deal with that? We say that we need more time, if we just had more time we could get so much more done, but is it really true? Looking back over my life I can see that there are definitely times in my life where I had a lot of time, and I really wasn’t that productive with it. Case in point, 15 years ago, I was a newlywed, halfway through my college career. John and I lived in a little tiny two bedroom duplex on campus. We were full-time students, and yes that took quite a bit of time, but realistically I didn’t have a whole lot of other stuff to keep up with. Cooking and cleaning and laundry for two really wasn’t that big of a deal other than the fact that I was responsible for a whole household for the first time in my life. I didn’t even have facebook then, but I know that I wasted a lot of the time I did have.
Or take for instance, three years later, when we welcomed our first baby. Having a baby is hard and the amount of work involved is astronomical, and yet, two years later I did it again now with a toddler as well. And then again two years after that and again and again, each time with more kids and new responsibilities. And each time I looked back and wondered what I did with all the time I must have had and not realized it. I know part of it has to do with the learning curve, that we fit more in as we learn how to handle the new responsibilities, but there always seems to be enough time to do what has to be done, it’s those things that don’t have to be done that get pushed to the side.
There are lots of other time periods in my life that I can point to that are similar. Whatever my responsibilities at the time, they were nothing compared to what I do now, and yet I still struggled to find time to do the things I “really” wanted to do. Sometimes it was legitimately due to exhaustion. There are a lot of years of a mother’s life that really have a cloud of sleep deprivation hanging over them. And because of that, I think we have to give ourselves and others in the same situation a lot of grace. And yet, there is something else, and I think it has to do with how we fill our time.
John sometimes recommends a book for me to read and I just look at him and say, “I never have time to read.” His reply is that I don’t make time to read, and he’s right. I can find time to read if I really want to. For instance I recently bought an e-book on potty training and spent most of the afternoon reading it all in almost one whole sitting. It’s just that in most of my days, reading drops pretty low on the priority list, and if I move it up, something else has to slide down there. And so I don’t often choose to move it up. But the troubling thing I’ve discovered about myself is that I will very regularly move time-wasting activities (like facebook, logic puzzles, checking the weather for the umpteenth time, and so on and so on) to the top of my list and then complain about all the wonderful things I want to do but that I never have time for. Just making time for these activities is not always the answer because I still sometimes use the time differently than I had planned.
This became very apparent to me a few weeks ago. I was cooking breakfasts and lunches for my grandma, which takes a lot of weekly prep, but is also a very rewarding task for me. In March, I knew I was taking off from this responsibility because we were going to do rice and beans month, and my grandma didn’t really want rice and beans meals all month. I was looking forward to the break and all the extra time it would give me. March started and with it my more simplified meal planning and prep. But just a couple weeks in I found myself having a fairly extreme emotional breakdown that had been building for several days. I needed a break from responsibilities, and thankfully my husband was able to step in and give me that break. But it was odd to me that this happened during a time when I actually had fewer responsibilities. And that is when it dawned on me that it wasn’t the number of responsibilities that mattered, but that it was the quality of those responsibilities and the amount of readily apparent return on investment that affected my emotional stability. I also realized that sometimes having more time meant that I accomplished less, which then also fed into my lack of visible results to my day.
OK, before we go on, let me add a side note or disclaimer of sorts. I in no way want to devalue the work that I do as a stay-at-home mom. And I definitely do not want anyone else to think that I am devaluing it for them either. I understand that the investment I put into my kids is extremely important and that hopefully down the road I will see tons of return for that investment that will go way beyond many of the other things I spend time on. But just knowing that is not always enough to give me the emotional strength to find complete fulfillment in the present, because let’s face it, right now in the trenches, it is hard, messy, and often just not fun. And we get very little recognition for what we do each day, on the contrary, a lot of what comes out of our kids’ mouths is actually the opposite. Not all the time. There are plenty of great moments, and I do think we should try to focus on the amazing beauty in this stage of life. You can read more about that in my advent posts. So, please, please do not think that I am trying to say anything negative about the positive and important impact a mom has on her young kids. I’m not. This is about how a mom (particularly this mom) learns how to cope with the mundane while striving to impact the spectacular. Hopefully that makes sense.
So, back to my realization of the HOW I spend my time affecting the HOW I feel about life. So, I’m in this emotional breakdown of sorts, but I’m thinking quite clearly. This didn’t seem to be totally due to a hormonal surge, but rather a cumulation of circumstances, and I very deliberately figured out what I needed to make it through that day and asked for it. And, because I am so wonderfully blessed in the husband that I have, I actually got what I asked for and more. He came home early and before he released me into the freedom of a walk all by myself, he brought up the possibility of a job. Not for him this time, but for me. “Would you be interested in this,” he asked and then proceeded to describe a not terribly exciting, but very well-paying job that I could actually leave the house all by myself and do. We spent a week discussing this possibility and the logistics and trying to figure out if we could really make it work before deciding that yes, I would take the job.
Now, I know that this seems counter-intuitive. Why would I add in one more responsibility when I already have so many and am struggling to keep up with them all while keeping a positive frame of mind and a good attitude? But my hope is that by adding in something very deliberately that would provide me with very visible positive results would flow over into the rest of my life and help fill that deficiency that I feel in areas where I struggle because I am not seeing the immediate results to my actions. We’re still working out details as it is true that with school, cooking, and work I am ultra-busy now, but it is having many positive effects already. When I leave my house to go to work, the whirling to do list in my head seems to shut down immediately. I sit at my desk and I am at work. My kids are being cared for, I’m being paid to do a job, and I can focus on that. And those of you in the same life stage as I am don’t have to have me tell you how amazing it is to sit down and work on one thing, with no interruptions. I’m still getting accustomed to the “re-entry” shock when I return home, but the overall effect seems to be a good one. I also find that even though a day when I go to work will be quite full as there are still many other responsibilities to get done before and after work, I focus more and waste less time because I have less of it to waste. I don’t want that busy schedule every day, I still enjoy my days of less responsibility, but having some really busy days does make me feel pretty good about my capabilities, which adds to my confidence, which helps me in all my endeavors. There are obviously things that will have to slide down on my priority list, and some of them are things I wish I could spend more time on, but this means I have to be more intentional about it and that will hopefully lead to reorganizing things so that I am spending the time on things that really matter and less time on those things that don’t.
It’s a work in progress. I’m still figuring out how much down time I need for relaxing within my busy schedule, because I do still realize the importance of that. But I’m also realizing that there is a decent amount of satisfaction that comes with going to bed tired because of a full and productive day. It means even the emotional drain seems less because I’m being filled in a different way. And my hope is that all this will positively affect my parenting as well, since regular breaks will help me win the battle to stay consistent in the face of interminably long weeks. So hopefully, the title makes sense now. I am striving to have more of the more important and less of the less important. At this particular time in my life, this job seems to be a good step in that direction, I’ll let you know if it continues to work out that way.