A freshly-cleaned house. All clothes folded and put away. Dinner in the oven (or crockpot or Instapot). All bills paid and all the shopping for the week done.
Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? That’s how most of my life looked prior to juggling children and a career. It was nice while it lasted, and in many ways, it fueled my black-and-white thinking. Now it’s not practical, but it’s taken me a while to realize that.
I essentially started to realize that having everything in perfect order is not a practical view of the world within about a year of my first son being born. I found myself becoming irritated that I couldn’t keep things in line with my standards—mostly the cleaning and laundry. I knew that I needed to figure out a way to be okay with things being undone and messy, but I didn’t want to completely let my standards go to the point where I consider my home always messy. I was struggling with finding a balance, and it was stressing me out.
You don't have to have a kid to experience a shakeup from your former ways of orderliness. Illness, loss of employment, or care for a loved one are just a few of the many possible disruptions that can force us to adjust our priorities. Here are a few things I learned during my struggle about how to stay afloat while going with the flow.
Identify the problem
Gradually I realized that I was stressed out because my standards had not changed but my life priorities had drastically changed. I stepped back and observed that I could not maintain a home, a career, and a baby holding myself to the same standards I had without those three things. And I also realized I needed to be more intentional to spend time with my husband since it wasn’t just the two of us anymore.
As I examined my standards, I began to wrestle with how to adapt my standards to my new life without feeling that I was lowering my standards. What is that supposed to look like? More on that in a minute.
Live in the gray area
It was a bit of a relief to know that my standards were good ones, but impractical with my life changes. I began to think about how to adjust without giving up on trying at all, but how to live in the middle, so to speak, of identifying how to prioritize managing the home as well as spending quality time with my family.
Let me tell you, it was really hard for me at first. By nature, I’m hard on myself and consider myself a recovering perfectionist, especially when it comes to cleaning and planning ahead. I’m learning to remind myself that I can set aside the need to clean or do laundry until after I’m able to play with my boys. The dirty floor will still be there, but they grow so fast, and I want to take as much of it in as I can. Giving myself permission to decide what my priorities are at that moment really helps me avoid guilt about not getting certain things done as quickly as I would like.
It’s uncomfortable to not know what to do if you like a plan. That’s so much of what being a mother is, and each child is so different that you are learning a different way to parent with each child. Many times, I don’t know what to do and I’m not sure how to proceed, so I feel like I am living in a gray area since there is no roadmap. I’m making it up as I go based on what seems appropriate in each situation. That’s certainly a shift from how I am used to operating—with a plan.
The joke that each kid does not come with an instruction manual is so true. Being able to pivot is a learned skill, and I’ve had to slowly improve in this area.
Be confident in your choices
I’ve struggled with confidence for a long time, and only in the past few years now in my late thirties have I slowly started to feel more confident with my choices.
What’s helped me be more confident now than in my twenties is having a bit of life experience behind me, having grown in identifying my opinions, and knowing that I will learn something if the choice turns out not to be a great one. I’ve been able to discover so much about myself, develop my resiliency, and learn how to forgive myself along the way. All we can do is make the best decisions possible with the knowledge and resources we have available to us at that time. I’m thankful that my life experience has taught me this and that I’ve been open to learning this lesson.
Growing and adapting are uncomfortable
Remaining the same (static) eventually works against us because the world is always changing. Learning to adapt with the changing times means being able to evaluate our priorities and adapt accordingly. I’ve found this often means grieving that I need to change something that has worked for me because it stopped working. It’s healthy to identify your natural feelings about change and acknowledge that it might feel uncomfortable to learn a new way of doing something.
It can feel awkward as you figure out a new path forward, in whatever part of your life that may be. For me, acknowledging this awkwardness about the process is very helpful, as I am not ignoring the discomfort, but seeing it and knowing that eventually my resiliency skills will help me find a new normal. Since learning about your emotions and how to manage them well is associated with positive well-being, being honest about the struggle can help us move forward with accepting opposing feelings even when we know that accepting change is necessary.