This was my afternoon the other day: the baby skipped her nap so I didn’t work like I planned to. And I definitely didn’t get to prepping dinner. So while she crawled around the house, I tended to the whining dog and started planning our meal. As I’m chopping onions I look up and see the baby pull up on the screen door and in the next moment watched her tumble out the door and down the steps.
My fellow Mamas know this story and many other variations of it.The antics get even more complicated with multiple kids who may be heading off to school and every day feels like a saga. Moms are well-known for orchestrating the many facets of life with children and babies. We plan and we schedule. We work. We make dinner and do laundry. We tend to hurt feelings. We feed our little ones. A lot. All while managing the messiness and chaos that has become our lives.
So how do we orchestrate this symphony and hold onto some sanity and semblance of ourselves? In the midst of this new life we’ve grown into it is important to find ways to make things a little easier and celebrate the small successes.
Here are some practical hacks and emotional/mindfulness techniques that can help you stay sane and not just survive the everyday cacophony but thrive and make beautiful music from the chaos!
1. Zoom Out and Look at the Big Picture
When we’re in the weeds of a stressful and disappointing day it’s hard to have a sense of humor or at least a sense of playfulness about your situation. There are absolutely moments when you will cry or yell or feel resentful. This is normal and expected. And, there are also times when you might remember how small this moment is when you take a step back. When you feel overwhelmed think of a stop light: red, yellow, green. Red is the overwhelm. Take a few breaths and stop what you are doing. Think of yellow as the place to shift your perspective in remembering you are doing your best and that you will get through it. Now that you’re not in crisis mode you can think through logistics and make decisions. Green is the time to go again. One of the hardest experiences in the moment might also be the most endearing memory you’ll have of your little one. So take each obstacle as it comes and remember that these hard moments will be a blip in your memory as the years go by.
2. Create an Intention to Live Your Life as a Creative Act
No, it’s not the same as sculpting clay or writing lyrics but orchestrating your life is a creative act. Navigating the day-to-day demands and fitting it all into an impossibly short day is an art, not a science. It requires flexible thinking, imagination, and yes, a sense of humor. The mom who makes a game out of getting dressed, encourages her baby to eat greens from the garden to get her veggies, and tickles her child with toes so she can eat with her hands is certainly using creativity as a resource for making something tedious into something enjoyable.
3. Stop Making Long To-Do Lists!
When life feels out of control we tend to go into task mode which many times means making long to-do lists. Moms love the gratification of checking off tasks like grocery shopping on Mondays, bills on Tuesdays and laundry on Wednesdays. But, for new moms or families with young children, making to-do lists can be counterproductive and can set you up for failure. It’s hard to have a set plan when every day is a new adventure with little ones around. Kids get sick. Babies have fussy days. And you can only do so much. Be realistic about how much you can accomplish in a day and prioritize what really needs doing. Ask for help when you need it and try to get comfortable with non-essential things not getting done.
4. Make it Mindful
Similar to living a creative life, this doesn’t mean meditating while sitting on a pillow in silence because that’s likely not your life right now. Practicing mindfulness during simple, everyday moments might look like noticing your anxiety rise as your toddler climbs the tallest structure in the park, or feeling the weight of your baby in your arms as you rock her to sleep, or taking in the joy and loss of seeing your eldest get on the bus for school. It’s about living in the moment instead of replaying all the things that have gone wrong in your day or listing all the things you have to get done later on. Practicing awareness of your thoughts and feelings, especially when they’re not pleasant, is like waking up. Once you’re awake, you can see things as they truly are and not as a story you play in your mind. Try writing affirmations or reminders to check-in around the house, especially places where you tend to congregate with your little ones. My personal favorite affirmation is “I’m doing my best” as it reminds me that so much is out of my control and I am doing my part in showing up. What are your favorites? Post in the comments section so we can share the love.
4. Create Space for Yourself
Most important to creating sustainability in your role as orchestrator is to create space for yourself. This means actually scheduling time in your calendar where you cannot cook, do chores, have appointments, or work. Try to do this once a week for at least an hour. You will not believe how recharged you will feel to have this time all to yourself. Setting boundaries is always a balancing act for families and many times even harder for women who tend to be “supermoms” . If it feels selfish or lazy, remember this is to prevent burnout and to sustain your ability to tend to others. If you have nothing to give then you are not of service to anyone else. Sometimes this means saying “no” to making dinner and even going out to dinners with family or friends. And, that’s ok. When life gets hectic making time to do nothing can be essential.
Last, becoming a parent is an emotional rollercoaster full of intense grief and joy and also mundane boredom and frustration. It’s important for us to process what we’re feeling, what we’re struggling with, and what we need to feel better because these little things compound over time and can become overwhelming. As an art therapist, I encourage moms to make art as a way to visually check-in because many times what you make in art is different than what you’d say or even write. Making art uses a different part of the brain and many people have experiences where they’re surprised about what they made and what they learned about themselves through the process. These art pieces can be small, quick, and are definitely not for the purpose of framing on your wall. They’re about recharging and resetting so you are better able to give and provide for your family. One art therapy directive that I turn to most frequently is a mandala (meaning sacred circle). Making art inside or outside of a circle provides some structure and containment while also giving freedom to express what you’re feeling. I like to think of mandalas as a mirror for your internal life and you may find a ritual of mandala-making helpful in containing the emotional baggage of your days.
Only a parent knows how rewarding, fulfilling, messy and hard it is to be an orchestrator. As you go through your days managing who goes where after school, and figuring out when you need to leave to get to that important appointment on time, take in the moment for what it is: a moment that will pass for better or for worse. And when things don’t go the way you thought they would, that’s ok too. As parents, we do our best with what we have while also understanding that our children are our most precious teachers who will push us beyond what we ever thought we were capable of.