{Tipsy Thursdays} – Motherhood: Tricks of the Trade

“We think that if we were doing motherhood right, then it wouldn’t be this hard. Of course there are a lot of ways to improve what we do, to make things easier. But that’s like improving a runner’s form. You still have to run, and it still won’t be easy…you aren’t ever going to take the running out of the running.” – Rachel Jankovic, “Fit to Burst”

I’m kind of embarrassed. (Kind-of embarrassed, because I honestly don’t know that I know what it really feels like to be embarrassed. I don’t get embarrassed very easily.)  But yeah, there was a time that I could have fit into the category of people that believed that motherhood didn’t have to be hard. (This belief definitely had to do with believing something along the lines of, “If women would just do it [a certain way]…”)

I am a mom now. I have eaten my naively spoken words more than once. The truth is that there is more than one way of doing motherhood right, and the other {more significant} truth is that the responsibility of nurturing little souls and cultivating little people is always hard.

Some stages are easier by far, but every stage is fraught with messiness of one kind or another because life and people are complicated and messy. The truth is? “You aren’t ever going to take the running out of the running.” {Think of your life as a mom and re-read that last sentence, ok?}

All of that said, I do think there are lots of things we could do to simplify our lives and keep them from getting unnecessarily complicated. (As Rachel Jankovic put-it in her quote above, “there are a lot of ways to improve what we do, to make things easier.”)

As you read over my list of tips and tricks, tried-and-true by moms like you, please remember that you are not Renee or Shaunda or anyone else. You are you! I don’t think I have ever been able to take someone else’s idea for preserving personal sanity or maintaining household order and duplicate it in my life without tweaking it to fit my life. Saying this brings me to share the first of several –


Food for thought, before we get started…

 You’ll go completely insane if you try to make your life look like mine. Your kid is not my kid, your husband (thank God!) is not my husband, your life is not my life. Bear this in mind as you consider if and how these tips might work for you. If something shared feels burdensome or complicated, forget it! Trying to carry out something that feels like more work is a burden and a hindrance, not a help.

Preserving Your Sanity, Staying Alive

 1) Light a Candle. Myquillyn Smith, in her beautiful book, “The Nesting Place” said, “Never lighting your candles is like setting out cupcakes and then not eating one.” That made me laugh out loud. Myquillyn goes on to say, “The beautiful things in your home are there for you to enjoy.” You aren’t too busy to light a candle…it takes less than 15 seconds. A nice-smelling candle brings warmth, fragrance and comfort – especially on a gray day. We need all the cheer we can get, right?

2) Create a Playlist. This is the Day 1 suggestion of The Inspired Room ‘s Falling in Love with Your Home series. A soundtrack for cleaning, a soundtrack for relaxing, a soundtrack for quiet time, a soundtrack for celebrating, etc. Pandora is great, but using Spotify or GrooveShark will help you choose, organize and mainstream your playlist to set the mood for your activities. Background music has brought me hope and encouragement or given me the push I needed to git’er done more times than I can count. Don’t be discouraged if it takes you awhile to get some playlists together…I haven’t even started mine yet.

3) Thirty-second pause. I am telling you. Make this a habit. You know that moment you think you are finally getting a handle on the day (forget getting ahead) and you discover that the baby pooped through her clothes at the same moment the toddler is crying screaming to get out of his food-smeared high chair. Popcorn litters the kitchen floor (from making cell group snack), dishes stacked high, supper is calling for attention from the stove, your feet hurt and your lunch is getting cold. It’s time for the thirty-second pause. Stop for a moment and breathe without doing anything. Smile at your little boy and look into the baby’s eyes and let your heartbeat slow. You’re going to make it.

4) Find Your Space. I don’t care how many kids you have and what ages they are. I don’t care how many hats you wear and how many roles you fill. If you are a person, you need space. It is completely useless to argue with me; I’m convinced. There are three parts to this tip:

  1. Daily Space. I don’t know when it works for you and it will probably require some sacrifice, but it must happen! Morning, noon or night – find a manageable slot of time that works for your life. (Mom of six-and-counting, don’t write me off on this one just because I only have one kid. If nannying counts, I have had two kids the entire time I have had one kid, the majority of my motherhood years and I totally believe you when you say that every child adds a new dimension to busyness. I am still convinced. How you get your space will change, but the need for space remains the same. Fifteen minutes counts, ladies.                                                                                                                                                          My non-negotiable space happens in the morning and it means that I have to sacrifice some sleep, but the sacrifice of sleep enables me to exercise and have a quiet quiet-time. My son Leo usually naps three hours (I have to say this here. My son Leo usually naps three hours now. Once-upon-a-time, this was not so. I know what it’s like for your kid to not nap.), so I can often get some space in the afternoons as well. I usually need to use some of that time for preparing supper, working on a house project or finishing my morning work, but I also try to preserve a slot of that timeframe for doing something creative that I love – blogging, making a phone call, reading, or sleeping!
  2. A Date with Space. No, I’m not talking about a date with Jupiter or the moon! I’m talking about a date with time, with silence, with solitude. Some people crave this more than others, so how often you make time for a date with space is up to you, but chances are…the biggest socialite still needs an occasional date with a set-apart time of solitude. Talk to your man and set-it up ladies! (Or your friends…there is this cool  thing called “trading babysitting”. It’s about the best thing since coffee.) We all need a moment to recuperate from the adrenalin rush of motherhood, so we can re-enter with gladness and energy. This could  mean anything from making it work to go grocery-shopping alone to arranging an hour of time to journal in a coffee-shop to locking the bathroom door and soaking in the tub with good music and a pair of ear buds. You know what you like.
  3. Space to Share. I’m in a ladies group of friends. We have met for almost five years and we’ve gone from two kids to nine kids-and-counting. There are more kids than women now, so what we do and how we do it keeps on morphing with the growth of our clan. We all laughed recently when we realized how our talking and sharing has changed. We have gone from sharing the snuggles of two sleeping babies while quietly sipping tea or coffee, to hollering at each other from across the noise (while usually refereeing squabbles, bouncing a babe or cleaning up who-knows-what). It’s hilarious, it really is, and mommy friends?

It is an absolute chaotic, crazy disaster that has breathed life and spirit into my weary heart countless times. Everyone needs a friend. If you don’t have one (or two or three or four), go find one, go be one, and make the space to share a part of your pace as a mom. 

Preserving Your Sanity, Getting Ahead of the Rush

I am very cautious to even broach the subject of organizational tips for two reasons. 1) Organization comes naturally for me. (In other words, what may feel like work to you is playtime for me.) And, 2) Contrary to popular belief, I do know what a messy house is and my house does get both messy and dirty. Once again, comparison has to go if we’re going to learn from each other. You don’t have to do anything I suggest and I won’t notice if you do or don’t.

Bringing some healthy organization to my life helps me stay ahead of the rush a lot (not all) of the time and has enabled me to do more than I thought I could as a mom, not less.

1) Establish systems. This idea was introduced to me via Leslie Ludy a couple years back. The very notion overwhelmed me. It sounded way too complicated. Establish systems? Seriously? I just want to live life, lady! As I toyed with the idea, I realized a couple of things… 1) I already operate “under” some systems in my life, and 2) the systems I operate “under” let me live a little more and a little better! I have no idea what “systems” would work for you, but set aside some time to think a little bit… could establishing a few systems simplify your life?

Let’s put this idea in context with a word from Webster. The definition of System is, “a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized scheme or method.”

I’ll briefly share a few of the systems that work well for me…

  1. Keeping my laundry sorted. My mom did this and it works just as well for me as it did for her. Forget hampers all over the house. If you sort your laundry like I do (darks, lights, whites), you need three tall plastic laundry baskets next to your washer and dryer. At the end (or beginning, whichever you prefer) of the day, gather your dirty laundry wherever it collects (mine is usually in a pile at the top of the stairs), bring it to your laundry room and sort it right away. Sorting my dirty laundry everyday takes me a couple minutes and keeps me from gallivanting all over the house to collect dirty laundry stashes on laundry days.
  2. Planning a menu.  My mom also did this (thanks, Mom!) and it also works well for me. I have tried implementing menu-planning into my life several different ways (once-a-week, monthly, twice-a-week, never) and the most do-able method (at my current stage of life) is planning a two-week menu. This usually takes me between 30-60 minutes (never longer) and requires a pen, my shopping list paper, my planner calendar and my favorite cookbooks. I plan breakfasts, lunches and suppers.                      I know that sounds crazy, but before you tune me out, lunch almost always says “leftovers” and I rotate about 3 different breakfast meals twice-a-week with one morning (usually Saturday) reserved for a special breakfast. I make my grocery shopping list at the same time as my menu so I can check if I have the food to make the meal I am writing in my calendar slot. This is very, very important. There is nothing so frustrating as planning a menu and then not having the right ingredients on hand. I hate cooking and planning a menu has freed me from dreading mealtimes. When I know what I am making and I know I have the ingredients to make it, I get the job of cooking done a lot faster and with a lot less frustration. 

2) Develop a weekly game-plan [for chores]. This is my latest “system strategy”. I know how it sounds…totally obsessive compulsive. A system for your week? Now I really need to get a life right? Just stick with me for a minute…my weekly game-plan is super simple and as long as I treat it as though it is my servant, not my master, it is also totally flexible.

We all have chores that need to happen on a regular basis, right? Having a strategy for how this gets done has been the difference between feeling bogged-down and over-wrought to feeling relaxed and available. I am reticent to share my actual game-plan because I have a hunch that what is important to me will not be what is important to you and I’d hate to see you compare or try to just adopt my game plan. I think I will, however, for the sake of illustrating to you what a weekly game-plan could look like.

  1. Monday – clean house (dusting & sweeping; I mop my hardwood twice a month), water plants
  2. Tuesday – clean the bathroom (I don’t like cleaning the bathroom the same day as I clean the rest of my house), laundry
  3. Wednesday – mirrors & appliances (The stove gets deep-cleaned around once-a-month, give or take. Weekly, I just wash the stove surfaces down. The microwave, fridge and fridge freezer get done every week. My fridge literally takes me five minutes to clean if I stay on top of wiping it out every week. “Mirrors” includes the bathroom, hall and bedroom mirrors, as well as the panes of my front door that Leo wipes his hands liberally on.)
  4. Thursday – is open. I used my Thursday the last couple of spring months, to work on spring-cleaning. If I have any work projects I want to tackle, I save them for Thursday.
  5. Friday – laundry, general clean-up. (General clean-up consists of surface cleaning whatever desperately needs attention, vacuuming out my sofa and love seat and sweeping all of the downstairs floors. It takes me about 30 uninterrupted minutes.)

And now to the best part of my post… hearing from some of the more experienced moms in my life.

A Community of Moms Speak

Carla says, “Things go much better for me if I make lists. Even if the list just says: laundry, lunch, supper; I have something to scratch off at the end of the day. This matters because I can feel like I was busy all day and yet got nothing done.

I often divide the list in to categories: house, desk, children, errands, etc.

I also keep lists of longer term projects. For example, Monday I made a list of “Things That Are Hanging over My Head”. It includes items such as “fridge needs deep cleaning, curtains for Lisa’s room, etc. This helps me see what is frustrating me. As a result I can focus and make a plan for actually accomplishing them.

Crying child, gotta go.” (Carla is the mommy to four children, six and younger. She is full of energy and genuine love for Jesus and others. How’s that for a real-life conclusion?)

Shaunda says, “I love this kind of thing….the only problem is that I’m much better at coming up with great tips/shortcuts than actually making them part of my daily life.

1. The number one sanity saver in my life has been rising early before my kids wake up. I’m living proof that you really can train your body to wake up early and enjoy mornings. I would not have considered myself a morning person at all before I became a mom.
The early morning hours are used to first spend time with Jesus and then to come up with a simple plan for getting through the day. In the warmer months I like to take a walk during this time if my husband is at home. The exercise of these disciplines opens my heart to the grace of Jesus and brings me energy and focus for the day.
This is free, extra advice here to go along with rising early. 🙂 I think moms today here the message too often to “take it easy on yourself”, “don’t expect to be able to have quiet times with the Lord”, blah blah blah…. I think that there is truth there, but I think those times of “snacking spiritually” must be only for very short lived seasons of your life. We all prioritize our lives and make adjustments with each child that becomes a part of our family. I eventually figured out a plan for preparing healthy meals for my family after baby #5 joined us. Even so, I think that if my relationship with Jesus is truly as important as what I claim it is, I will figure out a way to spend time with Him and in His Word. I will get up earlier. I will make fewer social commitments, etc. I simply feel like it’s an area of life that moms lay down too quickly and the expense is devastating over time. I have personally experienced this and I am now willing to fight like mad for this important time of cultivating my relationship with Jesus. On the heels of that, as a mom flexibility in this area is a must and there are days that I am called to simply walk with Him moment by moment and learn from Him as I care for my family.
2. Incorporate fun activities in your day 🙂
Motherhood is full of routines and duties that I often dread. One of the perks of being a SAHM is the flexibility I have within a day for work and play.  A huge motivator for me is to have a few fun plans sprinkled throughout the week to look forward to. This also motivates my kids to get their work done as well. A few of our favorite things to do: meet friends at the park for a few hours,  go to McDonalds for a short ice cream break,  go biking, go to Lake Erie, go yardsaling. I have found these activities to be ones that the kids and I both equally enjoy, especially when we invite friends to join us.”
 (Shaunda is one of the most hospitable, spontaneous and fun moms I know. She’s got five kids (going on six) to boot.)
Shari says, “Well, my life is not my own right now. [Yesterday, at noon, they welcomed twin foster girls into their home. The darling one-year-old girls joined their special needs foster son and three biological children]. I don’t know if this is too late to submit or not, but these are the thoughts I was thinking last night as I lay awake, too excited to sleep.

1. Streamline mealtimes. Have everything ready before the family joins you at the table. In the toddler years, this may even involve having everyone’s food already on their plate. Think ahead—what condiments will you need? Is the salt on the table? Does everyone have a cup of water? In busy seasons, or for certain meals, consider using paper plates to reduce clean-up.

2. Clean up before sleeping. I have a rule of thumb that every time my children rest, we clean up toys first—before afternoon quiet times, and evening bedtimes. It doesn’t take long when everyone chips in, and Mommy is not left with a houseful of shrapnel.

3. Use your children’s nap time. Catch a few winks yourself, sit down for a rejuvenating cup of tea, or use the chance to do some power cleaning. Plan these moments carefully, and your own sense of health and energy will get a huge boost.

4. When you start feeling overwhelmed, reach for change. Light a candle in your kitchen, sit down for a few minutes of storytime and cuddles with the children (no matter what the house looks like!), or call your mom for five minutes to debrief, cry, and plug back in again.

The baby just tumbled off the couch. Gotta run. Thanks for this fun chance to share!”

(Shari and her husband live with their three children in a beautiful old house they have opened up to share with foster children in need. Shari is giving, thoughtful and creative.)

There you have it, ladies.

Take it or leave it, and be of good cheer! You are meant to be you!

Happy Mother’s Day!


2 thoughts on “{Tipsy Thursdays} – Motherhood: Tricks of the Trade

  1. These tips are great. I still have a lot of growing to do in the creating and sticking to a good systems. I know that well created and customized systems can be liberating as wife/mom/homemaker. The ideas you shared are fantastic.

    I would give a loud amen to Shari’s tip on cleaning up before sleep. Yes! It’s worth a million bucks to me to rise early to cleaned up house!!!

    Happy Mother’s Day to you, Renee! Many blessings and much grace to you as you care for and nurture your little man!

  2. I’ve been a “lurker” around your site for over a year and come away encouraged, inspired and challenged. Thank you for so honestly sharing your heart! and I love these tips – though not a mother at this time, alot of these are just good habits to use as a wife and in the home! Thank you for sharing!

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