Motherhood

Create a Sustainable Schedule

Welcome friends.

This is day 25 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The series can be found here, and I hope you find it enriching and encouraging. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Today, I have gathered 8 tips for creating a sustainable schedule.

1—Identify the underlying purpose behind what you commit to, and if something no longer serves it’s intended purpose, don’t be afraid to let it go. If you are asking yourself, “What is the point of this?” you will have a hard time following through on a commitment as soon  as you have some resistance or challenges come up. If you have already identified the purpose of an event on your calendar, you can put your heart into preparing, getting there, and engaging in whatever it is.

2—Honor the rhythms and limitations of your family without apology. You know better than anyone else what things will and won’t work for your family. Sometimes other people will try to make you feel guilty or otherwise pressure you to add something to your schedule, but you do not have to explain why you choose not to commit to them. Make the best decisions you can and stand by them.

3—Be protective of your family’s top priorities. Maybe you love travel? Guard your budget and time off to be able to invest in that. Maybe you love making memories together? Schedule in your family adventures so they don’t get pushed out by urgent unimportant things. Maybe you value having dinner around the table together? Plan your meals ahead and get your kids in the kitchen with you to bring it together every night. Whatever your priorities may be, it is important to keep them in mind when making decisions about your calendar.

4—Keep in mind that your schedule should be serving you, and if it isn’t, make some changes. It is easy to feel like we are at the mercy of our schedules and that we have no choice  but to do this or do that. We always have choices. That doesn’t mean they are easy choices, but there are ways to simplify, alter, and organize our lives to create a weekly rhythm that works for everyone in the household.

5—Simplify home and household systems so you can get through necessary tasks without wasting excess energy. There are many tasks that are necessary to keep a home together and moving forward, but that doesn’t mean that you should have to expend all the energy you have on those things. Look for ways to clear out what you don’t need and streamline tasks that you can’t get out of so they’re not so overwhelming when you get to them.

6—Develop a vision for your week ahead, or take a moment to plan just one day ahead. If you can see what is happening next, you can communicate with your family about what they might need to do to prepare. If you have a list of things that need to be tackled, you can stay focused and get those items knocked out.

7—Commit to things you can joyfully give your time to. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be things that are sometimes a stretch or a struggle, but you will be happier if you only commit to things you are excited about, or at minimum, able to show up with a willing heart to.

8—Keep an eye on margin and flexibility. Let’s face it. These two things are sustainable-schedule essentials.

“Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayer offered in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that My name may be there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually.” 2 Chronicles 7:15-16

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

 

Celebrate Small Victories

Welcome friends.

This is day 24 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The series can be found here, and I hope you find it enriching and encouraging. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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It is easy to get caught in a cycle of looking ahead to what might be in the future, or looking behind and dwelling on everything that happened in the past, but never really owning the space we fill in the present. It is good to dream and cast vision for what is ahead, and it is good to reflect on experiences and lessons learned to process how we feel about them and how we have been shaped by them.

It is also good to find joy in the small place of this present moment, which might feel ordinary and like nothing special.

Let me tell you, today is special, and it holds unique opportunities for you. Maybe it’s not a terribly exciting day, and maybe you’re not doing terribly exciting things, but it is my guess that even if it’s just an ordinary day, you are pressing forward with all the courage you’ve got, attempting to do whatever is in front of you to the best of your ability.

Maybe you are gaining ground, little by little, and while your accomplishments for the day may not be garnering public attention and praise, you are taking steps forward from where you are. You may be inching along, or you may be sprinting to the finish line of a goal, but in either case, today I want to ask you to celebrate your small victories.

When you celebrate small victories, you acknowledge that the beauty of life is not only about big milestones, but also includes the in-between choices to be faithful in small things that turn out to be not so small after all.

An abundant life comes about because of seemingly insignificant choices to be faithful in everyday, ordinary tasks. These choices are not insignificant. They are the very things that build memories, build character, build a family, and ultimately build our lives. We look back on the highlights of our lives and can easily forget about all the living we did between the milestones. The interesting part is that the choices we make between milestones make a far bigger impact on the way our lives unfold.

The small choices you make matter. The choices you make to do the next right thing—to engage hurts and troubles, to invest in others, to connect, to create, and respond with love—build on each other and lead to bigger victories in life.

I see it like adding dry beans to a scale. Each little bean seems rather insignificant on its own, but as you add one after another, at some point, the scales are going to tip and you are going to recognize the greater accomplishment of what you have produced with your daily efforts.

Every step toward simplicity, toward wholeness, adds up. I’m comforted by this reality because there are so many days that are hard for one reason or another, but celebrating my small victories makes encouragement the force behind the momentum I have to continue forward. Whether you are gaining ground by inches or miles, the point is, you’re gaining ground.

Celebrating the small victories of my children are the very things that shape their character. Sure, there have to be limits and boundaries and lessons, but children are most motivated to do what they believe will be valued and celebrated. For this reason, I give high praise for the times they display servant-heartedness toward others in our family because that makes them interested and willing to serve in the future, knowing that their contributions and attitudes really make a difference for everyone.

I think the acknowledgment of small victories brings about affirmation that we are doing well. So often we want praise from others, but we can be encouraged in the quiet of our hearts by recognizing what we have accomplished in the small spaces of life and celebrating those efforts in our own ways.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Prioritize Rest

Welcome friends.

This is day 23 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The series can be found here, and I hope you find it enriching and encouraging. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Soulful simplicity is ultimately about ordering your life in such a way that you have time, space, and energy enough to nurture relationships, establish a peaceful home culture, and let your soul breathe in the midst of your everyday life demands.

I have learned that it is not possible for me to do any of these things well if I am starting off the day exhausted, or if I’m trying to push myself too far beyond my physical limits.

Our limitations can be frustrating, but they’re also important. Limits help us keep a measure of balance in our lives…sometimes against our wishes.

It might sound weird to say, but when I was considerably younger, I often thought to myself, “Why do I even need sleep? If I could just keep going without having to stop for that, I’d get so much more done.”

True, I would, but that statement reveals a bit about what was most important to me in that stage of my life. It also reveals how little I understood my need for adequate and restorative rest. I valued productivity over all other things. Now, I still love productivity—very much—but I also see that living whole-heartedly is about so much more than having a list of accomplishments to show for my time spent.

I still struggle with this aspect of soulful simplicity. I am not good at resting, but I have experienced first-hand that when I prioritize rest and intentionally make it part of my life in different ways, it provides so many benefits that I can’t ignore it.

If you feel constantly exhausted, I would encourage you to build rest and refreshment into your week. To help you think about ways you can begin or improve your intention for rest in your life, I am listing some of the ways I prioritize rest in mine.

10 Ways I Prioritize Rest

1—I set early bedtimes for the kids, even our older ones, so that my evenings are typically an open space for me to tend my soul through writing, meeting up with a friend, studying the Bible or doing a creative project.

2—On the days we are home in the afternoons, I have everyone do quiet/rest times to recuperate from our morning activities. The little ones take naps and the older ones read or play quietly in their beds.

3—I schedule a “rest” day on my weekly calendar where I plan a little ahead so I have at least a small reprieve from the constant household tasks (meal-making, laundry, cleaning, etc). Sometimes I am only able to do it for half the day, but I find the intention to give myself that space helps me tackle those tasks with more diligence at other times during the week.

4—I consolidate as many tasks as I can in order to “gain” time later. This refers to creating household systems that allow me to give consistent effort in the same direction to what needs to be done, so that when I set them down for a stretch, I don’t feel like I’m stuck behind the curve.

5—I communicate with my family about what I need from them in order for our home care to be shared among all of us. I still do a majority of home tasks, but having help from the others encourages me a lot and helps me get through tasks more quickly.

6—I try to make time monthly or quarterly for a quiet retreat to re-group. For me, this is typically a simple date alone at a coffee shop for some hours to myself, but it could easily be an actual getaway to be refreshed.

7—I re-evaluate my schedule every so often and simplify my commitments, so I can be sure that everything I’m giving my time to is something I am able to joyfully give my time to.

8—For my heart, I thoughtfully disengage from social media for a periods of time so that I am not overwhelmed with all that input.

9—I have found that I really enjoy contemplative prayer and reflective writing. Both help me to clear my mind of all the things that cause anxiety and help me to find my center.

10—For me, time conversing with a friend (in person or on the phone) is incredibly life-giving. I could be dragging along all day and then share a bit of time talking with someone I care about and I am re-energized and ready to face the rest of my day.

What would you add to this list? How do you prioritize rest?

“For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.” Hebrews 10:36

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Friendship in the Motherhood Season

Welcome friends.

This is day 20 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The series can be found here, and I hope you find it enriching and encouraging. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

P.S. If you’ve been following along in real time, you’ll notice I’m a few days behind. I will be catching up over the next few days. Thanks for your encouragement as I keep this slightly-crazy writing schedule during the 31 Days Challenge. I really would love to know if/how this series has helped you.

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When you become a mother, friendship is no longer just about hanging out. Friendship becomes a lifeline for mamas to keep hold of perspective that can be easily lost in the exhaustion, self-sacrifice, and relational disconnection that can come along with the season of caring for young children.

Loneliness, discouragement, anxiety, and sleep deprivation are just a few of the things that can land on a mother’s plate in the early years, and solid friendships can make a huge difference in her resilience through those challenges. Friendship can help keep loneliness at bay, put reality in perspective, and provide a mama with the support she needs while navigating the trials of motherhood.

The catch: Forming and maintaining friendships in the motherhood season poses new, unique challenges that can be a big struggle for many women.

This has, at times, been a struggle for me—mostly because my desire to connect far outweighs  my ability to make it happen the way I envision and as often as I’d like. I am very fortunate to have many incredible women in my life, and honestly, I have never been without a few solid friends to help me through, but I did notice a shift in the way I needed to approach friendship after my children arrived on the scene.

No one ever tells you, “When your baby arrives, be prepared to encounter weirdly cavernous loneliness while simultaneously wondering if you will have any privacy or your own body-space to yourself ever again.”  That’s not one of the things people talk about at baby showers or when they come to visit and bring you a meal, and yet, it is an experience I have heard countless women describe.

The truth is, once you become a mother, you don’t have the same energy, time, resources, or ability to tend to friendships in the same way you once did. Even if you want to, you just can’t have the same social life you once enjoyed. It doesn’t mean that you will not have friends or fun ever again, but it does mean that it is most likely going to look different. On the flip side, meaningful friendships in this season are needed more acutely than ever before. For this reason, I think it is important to see friendship through the lens of simplicity—go back to the basics and figure out how to make it work for this new season of life.

How does one navigate nurturing friendships in motherhood?

In my opinion, friendship in the motherhood season is about one thing: Grace.

If you are able to have grace for yourself, and grace for the mamas in your life, you have the best shot at meaningful connection with them. I’m sure there are many more things that could be said, but I’ve put together a short list of things that may help you experience meaningful friendships in motherhood.

Make peace with the mess (and the noise and the interruptions).
Gone are the days of being able to have uninterrupted conversations for hours. If you’re hoping to get some real chatting in, you have to arrange care for your kids and go out without them. For me, this is not often a reasonable option, so I have perfected the art of tuning them out (while still keeping an eye on them) during phone conversations (something I still enjoy with far-away friends in spite of the newer texting culture), and employing a variety of techniques to keep the kids busy and out of trouble if someone happens to be visiting face-to-face, allowing me to carry on a sort-of-normal conversation.

Understand that whatever time or attention another mama gives you is a precious gift.
Caring for the needs of children is no small task, and if another mama makes the effort to connect with you, it means she cares about you, and cares about connecting enough to risk a toddler meltdown, or a messy house, and she is most likely putting off other important tasks that she could be doing in order to give you her attention…all things she is willing to risk for tending to a friendship.

Vulnerability is a more effective way to make friends than being the ‘perfectly-put-together’ mom.
I’ve never met a mom who doesn’t have at least a few deep insecurities about herself or her mothering, but I’ve also never seen meaningful relationships form without at least a bit of vulnerability. I would encourage moms who are longing for connection to be real about where they are at instead of feeling the need to be put together at all times. Hopefully the “me, too’s” from the other side of the table will strengthen your mom-friend connection.

Quality beats quantity regarding time together or thoughtful gestures.
It is easy for moms to begin feeling a little invisible in the early years of motherhood, but small things can go a long way to warm a friend’s heart. You might write a note of encouragement, surprise a friend with coffee or chocolate, or keep a favorite food on hand for when they visit your home. I have found that even a short visit with a friend every so often is better than no time together at all. Quality over quantity.

The early years are an important time to actively seek out mom friends.
When I had my first baby, I felt like it was nearly impossible to leave the house. It is a supreme challenge, I will say, but if you are able to connect with other moms who are learning the ropes as well, you will likely bond over the shared experience of motherhood in the trenches, celebrating your little ones’ milestones, and extremely sweet friendships can be forged in this time…sometimes lifetime friendships.

Don’t wait to be invited.
This one is a challenge for some, but I would contend that anyone is capable of extending an invitation. I promise you, there are moms in your town, in your neighborhood who are struggling with loneliness, disconnection, and the weight of many worries on her shoulders—just like you. Most are just waiting for someone to ask if they’d like to connect. Try to step into a hostess role wherever you meet other moms. I don’t mean that you need to be in full-hospitality mode, but take the risk to introduce yourself and ask a few good questions. At worst, they might not respond. At best, you may meet a friend that journeys with you and enriches your life for years. Worth the risk? I think yes.

Show up—Yoga pants, no makeup, and all.
It may take everything you’ve got to get out the door. You may look a mess, and you may have a fast-food meal in hand for sustenance upon arrival, but showing up is the single-most important thing you can do to grow your friendships in this season.

Encourage other moms.
There is never a time that an encouraging word isn’t appreciated. Moms are not often told what they are doing well. They may be appreciated by their husbands or their children, but it’s not always something that is verbally stated. Look for (and speak up about) what your mom-friends are doing well…sometimes these words are a lifeline out of unspoken discouragement.

Look for the grace-filled mamas.
Look for moms who do not judge you when you have a total mom-failure. Look for moms who will show up and invest in you as much as you will invest in them, and moms who will draw you out when needed, but also respect your boundaries. You don’t need drama, toxic behavior, or friendships that are not reciprocal in some way.

Keep your mom circle open.
If you have established in a tribe of mama-friends, try to stay open to new moms that may be looking for connection. It can be so easy to find a circle and figuratively close it to others without really meaning to. Keep an eye out for moms who may not have the same relational resources, and invite them to join you for a park date or mom meet-up.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Your Child’s Heart

Welcome friends.

This is day 19 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The series can be found here, and I hope you find it enriching and encouraging. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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The simplicity of a child’s heart is a thing of beauty. I am convinced God has given me six children so that I could discover—six times over—just how much joy, wonder, and beauty a single child can bring into the world. I have been on a mission to understand simplicity and live a soulfully simple life in part because I have learned that doing so helps me to see my children and their hearts with a new lens—one that I completely missed when I was caught up in the busy life. It is really easy to miss just how profound a child’s heart really is.

Years ago, before I became a mother myself, I lived with a family for a summer during college. Husband, wife, daughter and son. The kids were young, maybe 1 and 3 years old at the time. They were sweet, funny kids who constantly did delightful things that made their mama light up and laugh loudly at different times throughout the day. When I think of her now, many years later, the image that comes to my mind is her great big smile and hearty laugh as her toddlers poured their joy into her through every means at their disposal, and I can’t help but long for my children to one day remember me that way.

Do your children see you smile? Do they know that you delight in them?

It is a struggle for me to put my adulthood on the shelf with all my worries and responsibilities and sit on the floor where my children play and join them in their world, even if its only for a little bit of time each day. Children are full of wonder, creativity, curiosity, and trust, and as I have re-discovered the beauty of childhood through my little ones, I have a swell of desire to hold space for this time they have to engage the world with wide eyes and open hearts.

Mamas of little ones: Do you see your child’s heart? Are you able to see through the struggles, the tantrums, and the frustrations that come in the young years and see how brilliant and incredible your little person is? Delicate, but resilient. Tough, but tender. Stubborn, but teachable. Rowdy, but eager. And you have a front-row seat, with a front-row responsibility to guard and guide them to a life full of good things.

There is no greater privilege or opportunity in the world than to influence the heart and mind of a child with love and diligent leadership, both of which require great personal sacrifice if they are to be effective.

I hope you see the opportunity you have to fill them up with love, deposit wisdom into their hearts, teach and correct them with gentleness, build trust and security, establish connection and communication—all of these big things in these little years. If we don’t make the investment now, we are not going to magically have any of those things with them later, when they are up against bigger challenges with higher stakes. Little seeds grow up into big things.

If our homes and our arms are not a soft place to fall a safe place to learn and grow and make mistakes, where else will they find that respite, connection, and peace? Not with us. For this reason, I take the pursuit of my children’s hearts incredibly seriously.

Something that encourages me: perfection is not required to have a good relationship with a child, but it does take the daily intention to clear away whatever is unnecessary to make room for what is lovely and life-giving between my children and myself.

This is soulful simplicity: parenting edition.

My goal every day is to consider my child’s heart, not just their behavior. As such, the following things are the practical things I try to do when responding to them through all the challenges we run into.

Get quiet, get close. I don’t know about you, but it takes a hot second for me to go from calm to boiling mad at some of the things my children do. My natural response is to yell. I hate that. A wise mama-friend I met a few years ago gave me some advice that I think about often. She said to me, “When your children are acting out, instead of raising your voice, make it quieter so they have to lean in and come close to hear you. Diffuse and disarm, instead of escalating situations with your own anger.” I have been hanging on those words ever since. It is not easy, but I can tell you, it is effective. Without flares of anger to cloud my judgement, I am able to make much more thoughtful and strategic parenting choices.

Be attentive. Listen to your child share about what is on their mind and heart. You can love your children well by listening to them, and don’t be surprised what you learn from them. I do believe I have learned more from my children than I have learned anywhere else. It’s remarkable, really.

Look for ways to nurture your connection. Tenderness goes a long way, even when you have to wear your parenting pants. You children need your leadership, but they need it with love and communication. The goal is to journey together—learning and growing in your respective roles—and that happens best when your relationship is built on tenderness and trust.

Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” Psalm 127:3-5a

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Pacing the Day: A Mom Strategy for Sanity (2)

Welcome friends.

This is day 15 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first two weeks of the series can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Note: This is part 2 of a look at what it means to Pace the Day. I recommend going back to read part 1!

Yesterday I introduced the concept of pacing the day. As I mentioned there, this idea came to me early in my mothering journey and I have developed and tweaked it over time as our family and our needs have changed. I have used the following technique in a variety of ways over the past several years, and I want to say from the outset, there is no single “right” way, but instead some guiding principles and tools to help you figure out what pacing the day might look like with the personalities in your house.

The following things are required to pace the day well.

1) You have to throw out your notions of a hard-and-fast schedule in favor of routines, which are a little more squishy than schedules but do establish some patterns that your kids will pick up (and thrive) on.

2) You have to step out of frantic/reactive mode and do some observation so you are able to assess where everyone is at, and what they need next. Sometimes I literally find a corner to disengage from the crazy and just watch them. This is a great time for a hot drink near a lovely window.

3) Patience. Some people tell me they just don’t have it, but from my own experience, I will say, patience is a muscle that you can strengthen. I am only a (mostly) patient mother because I have been tested, and tested, and tested, and as I have struggled to respond to my children in a gentle and caring manner, my patience has grown. Perseverance gets you places!

So back to the main idea: Pacing the day is like holding a hand of cards at the beginning of the day, knowing that each card will be played at some point, but the order and timing of when you play it will vary from day-to-day and is a strategic, forward-thinking move. It is a little bit like choose-your-own-adventure. Mothers who want a household to adhere to strict schedules (by the clock) will possibly not love this idea, but I still hope you’ll read along because I think you may pick up some valuable ideas even if you’re a more scheduled person than I am.

If you are ready to pace the day, the cards in your hand are as follows:

Do Ahead, Communicate, Go Mode, Buffer, Margin, Choice, Re-set

Each of the cards has its own role in the mix, and they work together to achieve a (mostly) smooth and peaceful day. I’ll break each one of them down for you, from the perspective of what we usually do, especially in the morning.

Do Ahead
This refers to any task that I am able to take care of ahead of time. It goes nicely hand-in-hand with my Plan One Day Ahead list, and includes things like: filling water bottles, making to-go lunches, making and following a meal plan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner so there is no guesswork about what we’re eating and I just have to shuffle the ingredients around. It also includes my personal early morning routine which is to wake and diaper/dress both of my youngest children before I even leave my bedroom. I keep their clothes in my room, and find a lot less resistance to getting out the door if those two are taken care of right off the bat.

Communicate
My older kids are able to do many tasks on their own. When they wake, I instruct them to dress all the way to the shoes before they eat breakfast. If we happen to have a day we are not going anywhere, I will have them get started on independent school tasks instead, and serve them breakfast as they’re working on penmanship or English. I try to communicate well about what we have going on for the day, and offer a 1 hour, 30 minute, and 10 minute warning before we need to leave the house. I verbally toss out what they might want to have in order to be prepared for whatever activity we are headed for, but they know it is their responsibility to have shoes on, have a coat, have a filled water bottle in hand. Most often, the youngest two are already dressed by breakfast, and everyone (except me) is ready to leave 10-15 minutes before our target time. While they wait, I assign them a small clean-up job that can be completed before we leave. During that time, I am typically doing my hair, pulling a lunch together if I didn’t do it ahead of time, or last-minute changing a diaper.

Go Mode
This one requires a bit of practice to get your kids motivated, but when they have a hold of the concept, nothing will be able to stop you! We use go mode as we do household cleanup, engage with school tasks or prepare to leave the house. I have one child that is a day-dreamer and moves about life at a relaxed pace. Family quirk story: This child is wildly imaginative. She struggles to attack a job or a task with focus and tenacity, but if she can pretend to be an animal, she will kick into gear and get things done. Ever since she watched Jurassic World, she has been enamored with velociraptors, and in an effort to get some fire under her one day, I invited her to complete her tasks with, “velociraptor speed.” The kid turned into a velociraptor and cleaned up everything in sight. Weird, but hey, if it works! I also explained to my kids that sometimes in the last few minutes before we need to leave, I need everyone to get up, get moving, and handle their individually assigned tasks while I’m tending to my last details. We call this “Busy bees”, and when I call it out, everyone knows that it is Go Mode time to leave the house. We also do timed challenges and sometimes have rewards to practice this skill.

Buffer
With six kids, I hear a lot of questions and get many requests from the kids throughout the day. They range from ultra-simple things like “Can you please tie my shoe?” to things like “Can we meet up with X friend at the park today?” Honestly, it is question after question around here. Questions are great, and I encourage them, but I don’t give an immediate answer to anything that is asked of me unless I’m sure of the answer I want to give. Because I try to make good on anything I agree to, I am a little stingy with my “yes” answers. I also don’t revel in saying “no” all the time, so instead I create a buffer with a statement like, “I know you would like to do ______ today, but I will need to think about what we have going on today before I give you an answer. If I’m not able to fit that in today, we will find another time for it.” My children love this because they nearly always get what they want (if its reasonable), but they get it at a time and in a way that works for me. I think its a great idea to practice creating a buffer anytime other people in your life ask you for things as well. It buys you a little time to decide if you really want to commit to something or not by acknowledging their request, and setting a small boundary that you will not leap into just any request that comes your way. It makes your choices intentional. This is one way I have simplified my life…don’t answer immediately!

Margin
This one is pretty simple, but not always easy. Keeping a margin in your day means that you do not overschedule yourself. It means keeping a block of time somewhere in the day that is left open for whatever is needed, or it might mean being willing to drop a commitment from the day to re-set instead of keep on going. Margin is one of the biggest reasons I homeschool my children…it gives me the flexibility to be in charge of my entire daily schedule and not have to live by a school calendar or daily bell schedule. I am not in the car for hours a day (unless I want to be), and my kids are not sitting still in desks for hours a day (unless I want them to be). Now that I have tasted the sweetness of having margin in my day, I can’t go back to the busy life. No way.

Choice
This is toddler parenting 101, but I think its an important card to hold when you’re managing a household of kids of all ages. Regarding choice, it comes down to this: I supply the options, they make the choices. There are many times that a child comes to me and says, “I want to play video games right now.” We don’t use our game system on weekdays to encourage more productive learning activities (and if I’m honest, preserve the helpful, positive attitudes of screen-free days), so I have no problem responding with, “That is not a choice right now. You may do _____ or _____,” and I supply their options for them. There is usually not much of a fight, because they already know the parameters for video games, but more than that, I don’t often insist that they do one particular thing. I give them two choices, and they take it from there. They love their autonomy, and I love that I still have a handle on the direction we’re going.

Reset
This might be the most important of all pacing the day strategies. Knowing how to re-set if the day has turned upside-down is a desperately needed survival skill for moms. What works for one person may not work for another, but I would encourage you to give some thought to making a list of five things you can do to re-set your day if it comes to that. Some of the things that land on my list are: quiet time (everyone separated—usually in their beds—to read or quietly play until a timer goes off), go outside (I used to be a mostly-indoor mom, but I have learned there is something to getting out and letting everyone have their space from each other), do something with my kids that helps us connect (read a book, paint together, have a silly dance party), do one-on-one check-ins (I do these sometimes during quiet time and invite the kids one by one into my room for a few minutes to talk about whatever is on their minds), or my last-resort: lay a blanket out on the living room floor, put a bunch of snacks out, start a movie and take an ears-open nap on the couch while they’re glued to it. << This is typically how I survive the toughest parts of pregnancy and/or being sick.

I hope that gives you a bit of a glimpse into how I manage my days at home, and possibly some ideas to incorporate into your own version of pacing the day. You’ve got all the cards, so choose which ones to play when they are needed. I try and take in the cues my children give me and steer them toward “Go Mode” tasks (being out of the house, household cleanup, school time) or Margin/Reset time if Go Mode isn’t going very well.

I would love to know if you find any of this helpful, and if you have any questions for me, please feel free to be in touch.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Pacing the Day: A Mom Strategy for Sanity (1)

Welcome friends.

This is day 14 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first week of the series can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Note: As I wrote out this post, it grew longer and longer, so I have broken it up. Part 2 will be up tomorrow! 

Yesterday I shared on my habit of planning one day ahead, and today I would like to follow that with a practice I refer to as “Pacing the Day,” a technique I have employed with my family for quite a few years. Please note, this is not a complicated concept to implement, but it is a little tricky to describe, so please bear with me, and if you have questions by the end, I am glad to hear them!

Ok. So you plan one day ahead and know what is coming at you from the perspective of tasks that need your attention, and details you need to keep in your mind, but you also have these wildcards children who might be on board with your awesome one day plan, or they might figuratively tear your plan to pieces with any of a number of sly moves—terrible attitudes, fits of screaming, stubbornness, apathy, selective listening, getting suddenly sick, squabbling over the tiniest things…are you with me? So what is a mom to do when she has a list and the very real possibility that accomplishing her list might be completely impossible that day?

Pace the day.

If you have young children, you already know that one day to the next, you have no idea if the house will still be standing by bedtime. You have no idea if your children will cooperate at any level while you try to get them out the door. You have dreams of being able to perfectly execute your to-do list and soul-care and child-care, but you know that it is not ever going to look like what it does in your dreams. It’s called reality, and mamas know exactly what I’m talking about.

Reality is what it is, but the way we look at it—or the perspective we take on it—makes a huge difference in how we respond to it.

Pacing the day is about sharpening your intuition to recognize the cues your children give so you can anticipate their needs instead of respond to them after the fact, and employing proactive strategies for smoother days. I am specifically referring to non-verbal, nuanced cues that give you insight so you can design the flow of your day as it unfolds around the present needs of your family. This allows you to capitalize on your kids’ energy when they have an abundance of it, build in times for rest and connection when that is prudent, and hopefully allows you a measure of peace in the midst of a challenging but wonderful season of life.

Most mothers pace the day at some level instinctively, but I’d like to look at it in more detail because like anything interesting, the more you dig in the more you discover.

I have a tiny backstory for you. I first started putting these thoughts together when my second baby was about 6 months old. With my first baby, I was a young mom with a steep learning curve (i.e. zero previous infant experience), and I mothered her as an infant with this cycle: baby cries, mom responds, mom tries everything she can to make the baby stop crying, baby stops crying; repeat x100 daily. It was an endless cycle of cry, satisfy, cry, satisfy, and I was all over the place trying to satisfy that child. With my second-born, I started to notice that my son had specific subtle cues when he was getting sleepy or hungry. He wasn’t yet crying, but he was subtly communicating. I was able to recognize little signs before there were big tears and tend to needs early with very little crying. I have had four more babies since then, and over time I have come to believe that little ones are absolutely capable of telling us what they need if we are able to observe and respond to their cues proactively instead of reactively. I have been able to anticipate their needs before we’re in all-out-frazzled mode, and as such my babies have not spent much time crying.

Please note, every baby is different and this is in NO way intended to insinuate that if you just do xyz, your baby will never cry. If they do cry, it is not a poor reflection on you or evidence that you can’t do this. This is not a formula, and not a prescription—simply a look into what I have discovered within my family in case it helps you.

The wonderful thing about the discovery of this concept: it works with older children too. It is possible to anticipate what the best next-step will be during the day by evaluating where your child is at. It takes far more energy to put out a fire than to prevent one in the first place. Is it always possible to prevent fires? No, of course not. But if there is a way to cut down on the number of fires I have to put out each day (spending my precious limited energy to do so), you can bet I will put a little effort in on the front end to save a lot of effort later.

That is the main idea behind pacing the day.

I use the term ‘pacing the day’ because motherhood feels something like a sprint on a marathon track. We wake to little faces with big needs and funny personalities, and we have to be on our toes all day long. The thing is, we have to be diligent regarding this mothering task not only for the day in front of us, but for years to go.

Motherhood is a marathon, and if you run it like a sprint, you are going to injure yourself or your children somewhere in the process. 

Pacing the day is an invitation to slow down and make strategic decisions about how help your children develop healthy habits, communication skills, and ultimately emotional intelligence—all in the course of an ordinary day. Pacing the day is about attentiveness. It is about staying engaged with your children and understanding the leadership role you hold in your household system. It is about recognizing that you have tools at your fingertips that can help you proactively manage the environment of your home. You do not have to hunker down and brace yourself for the drama, but you can gently direct and guide your children into a pattern of healthy habits that will serve them in the present and long after they leave your house. There may still be some drama—but you are not obligated to participate in it. You can instead strategically respond to the cues your children give you about the best next-step for the day. Pacing the day is about understanding that a mother is uniquely gifted to stand at the helm and steer the family ship with intention and wisdom.

Tomorrow, I will share in complete detail how I use this method in my family. Between now and then, if this idea happens to resonate with you,  would you think about a mama you personally know that might benefit from these ideas and share this post with her? I would love to encourage her with my experience, and I hope you’ll be back to check out the juicy stuff I have for you tomorrow. It’s going to be great.

“He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” Isaiah 40: 29-31

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Plan One Day Ahead

Welcome friends.

This is day 13 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first week of the series can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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I wasn’t always a plan-ahead type. I have a bit of a creative streak, and gravitate toward spontaneous and unscripted, but over time I have realized that flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants is much harder to do with a bunch of kids. Each has their own personality and way of doing things, and even if I rally to get them moving in the same direction, there is always a risk that one or more of them will choose a critical moment to make it extra challenging to get things done. Having kids in the mix requires extra effort and extra patience to stay focused.

I’ve learned our days at home are only going to be as smooth as I have the vision for. I now have six children whose attention and motivation are my responsibility to capture and steward well, which is no small task. If I have no plan for the day, and I have given no thought to how I will begin the morning, what I will be engaging for the day, and the small details I will need to remember on a list where I can remind my tired mom brain what in the world needs to be done, I can almost guarantee you all of us will struggle through the entire day. If I do have a plan, the day often goes much smoother.

Having a vision for the day doesn’t necessarily mean everything will go well, but it does give me the best shot at a day that accomplishes some or all of what needs to be done, and with minimal disruption to the family peace. I know the idea of having a plan for the day is nothing novel, but despite its simplicity, it is something I now do every day because it helps me that much.

Looking ahead one day allows me to hone my vision on what my top priorities are for the next 24 hours, tailoring my effort and attention toward those tasks.

To plan one day ahead, I find a moment in my day (usually evening for me) to sit and jot down a list of what is coming at me in the next 24-48 hours. What errands need to be run? What appointments do I need to make or show up at? What is our meal situation? Who do I need to connect with by email or phone? What are the top priorities around the house? How can I group or combine or delegate tasks effectively?

These are all questions whose answers end up on my list. The list allows me to complete everything in an efficient manner so I don’t expend any more energy than necessary, and all the high-priority items are addressed. I put anything and everything that requires my attention so that when I look back on my week, I can see on paper what progress I’ve made. Going back to the list to remember the small things I’ve done helps me to remember what even happened in that blur of days and helps me celebrate my small victories.

I personally keep these lists along with doodles and random writing in a moleskine journal, which I’ve now been doing for at least 8 years. The rules of my journal: no tearing out pages, no stressing about neat writing or anything looking a certain way…just fill those pages with the bits of life that are pertinent to me or happen to be on my mind at that time. I sometimes jot down writing prompts and ideas. I write out lists of goals or things I want to accomplish for the week, but mostly, it is something I return to every few days to make my “Plan One Day Ahead” list.

My version is not terribly fancy, but it is along the same lines of this new term I’ve been hearing around called bullet journaling (the is new to me, but the process is not). Avid bullet journalers seem to have an affinity for fun colors, nicely designed journal pages and fancy writing, but I opt for anything-goes largely so I don’t waste a bunch of time trying to make a “pretty” list. For me, its all about function. If you search around for bullet journaling, you will find a number of great resources that explain the method, and you might find you benefit from having a pen-and-paper thought organizer for yourself.

If you feel like you struggle to keep your focus through the day or you end the day feeling frustrated about what you didn’t get done, this idea might help you clarify your vision and keep your energy that otherwise might be lost going toward tasks that help you get ahead.

Do you have a method that helps you keep your focus? I’d love to hear about it.

“I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart. I will set no worthless thing before my eyes.” Psalm 101:2b-3a

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Laundry & Dishes: Strategies for Keeping Up

Welcome friends.

This is day 12 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first week of the series can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Let me take you on a little tour of my house.

Right now, I have laundry in drawers, laundry on the floor, clean laundry on our downstairs couch, dirty laundry in 3 big bins, laundry in the washer and laundry in the dryer.

I have dishes on the table, dishes in the sink, dishes on the counter, dishes in the cupboard, and dishes in the dishwasher.

In short, I am constantly chasing the elusive feeling of ever being done with anything. It’s not just laundry and dishes…it is all the tasks a mama must tackle again and again day after day.

I need to make dentists appointments (again) and buy new curriculum (again) and update a few of the kids’ wardrobes (again). No matter how recently I have finished a task, it seems like the same task is hanging over my head, needing to be done again soon.

Keeping up is really tough, if not impossible at times. For this reason, I champion the soul-care of mamas with fervor. You have to insert that time somewhere or you risk sinking into total discouragement. I speak from experience.

Today I want to share a few strategies to help any mamas who might be reading this that don’t know how to hop off the hamster wheel every now and then, and a few strategies that might help you feel a little less overwhelmed with all the doing of motherhood.

Strategy #1: Schedule your soul-care time in advance

Every mama needs to have a measure of vision and momentum to tackle everyday battles in the home with any success. This might be accomplished by carving out morning devotional time, exercising, having a coffee date or play date with a friend, spending an evening with a good book, or getting out for a date night with your sweetheart. If you wait for space to magically open up for these things, you will be waiting a while, so do yourself a favor and put some on your calendar ahead of time.

Strategy #2: Simplify your systems

This might include paring down clothing so that your laundry cycle only contains in-season clothes that are correctly sized for your people. It might mean serving lunch on napkins or family-style (sandwiches and finger foods are great for this). This might mean making a meal plan that allows you to prepare foods ahead of time in batches so you’re not staring at the stove at 5pm wondering what to eat. Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed, I step back and ask: How can I possibly make this easier on myself?

Look for ways to streamline household tasks so you can spend less time doing what is necessary and more time doing things that you enjoy.

Some ideas to get you thinking:

Put a date on your calendar once per season to pare down clothing. Invite a friend to help you and offer to return the favor. Chores are always better with friends.

Keep a box or receptacle to toss items for donation that are too small, no longer wearable, not liked, or too big, and weed those things out continuously as you go through your regular cycle. I invite my children over 5 years old to voluntarily toss clothes in there that fit the requirements, and since implementing this, I have had some relief from this task.

Make a meal plan that includes spaces for breakfast lunch and dinner daily. You can use the same plan over again weekly, or if you are feeling more ambitious, make a meal plan for a month and reuse it again the next month.

Before serving a meal, prepare the sink with a soapy tub of water so at the end of meals, your kids can scrape their own plates and plop them in the water. Then, when you go to wash the dishes, there won’t be any crazy scrubbing to do.

When I am preparing to leave the house, I ask the kids to clean up 10 things from the floor, or I ask them to spend the last 10 minutes before departure times to re-set as many things as possible in our common area so whenever we return from our adventures, it is relatively tidy. They receive special treats for this, because it is a special treat for me to arrive home to a clean house.

Make a kit in advance for the car that contains non-perishable snacks, water, change of clothes, and anything else you might need out if you forget (or choose to forget) items on the way out the door.

These are just a few ideas (most of which I currently use myself) that may help you stay ahead of the tidal wave. Brainstorm some ideas of your own that can make your household systems easier!

Strategy #3: Communicate with your spouse

It has taken me a number of years of marriage to realize that my husband can’t read my mind. He also can’t read my clues, even if I think they are totally obvious. He needs me to say out loud (with kind words) what I need help with, and most often, he leaps into action to help me get caught up when I’m especially behind. I know that not every family has the same dynamic, so this may not yield the same results for you, but my point is that sometimes spouses are very willing to do what they can to help or encourage you if they know what you really need. Since I’m the at-home parent, I try to handle 90%+ of anything that needs to be done at home, but there are times I just can’t catch up without a hand, and communicating about it has made a huge difference.

Strategy #4: Involve your children in the process

Children are very capable of helping with household tasks. Sure, there is a stage where they undo every last thing you try to accomplish (hello 1.5-2.5 year olds…I know your game), but that stage doesn’t last forever, especially if you recognize early that even young children can be involved in the care of their home. I reserve a few tasks that I see as solely my responsibility (a personal choice) and all other household jobs are available for children to complete at my request. Age four is when I begin to require tasks to be completed to a satisfactory standard, but my kids begin helping alongside me at a variety of tasks when they’re 2. They love it. I love it. It also goes a long way to establishing strong work ethic, personal responsibility for the space they live in, teamwork, and character-building. It’s not all roses, for sure, but with diligent effort over time, you can have a team that is working together for the peace and order of your home.

Strategy #5: Take a shortcut when it is prudent to do so

Do you feel like you are doing dishes 20 hours a day? (I do!) Paper plates can alleviate a tiny bit of that. I don’t use them all the time, but if I’m in an especially overwhelming season or week, you can bet I’ll serve on paper plates a few times without any guilt.

Do you look at a closet clean-out or laundry pile and feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the job? Set a timer and hit it hard for 5 straight minutes. Then you can decide to keep going or walk away for a bit. Often, I will just keep going because I’ve found my stride, but when I need to walk away after the 5 minutes, I never feel bad about it, and there is always a good dent in the job when I come back to it. Or if you have a handy 8 year old around, ask them to start the job for you and see how far they can get in 5 minutes. Then when you jump in, there will already be forward momentum…not that I do this or anything. (Actually, I’m 100% guilty of this.)

One last help: I keep a convenience meal in the freezer at all times, for the days that my dinner plans just don’t come together. This might be a homemade casserole or a store-bought dish that can be popped in the oven at a moment’s notice. If my goal is to see that meal stay in the freezer for up to a month, it helps me stick with my meal plan, but never leaves me in a lurch.

So there you go, mamas. I would love to hear about your strategies for keeping up! Leave me a comment or send me a personal note!

“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” Psalm 19:1-2

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!

Stuffing Schedules Full: Lies Moms Believe

Welcome friends.

This is day 11 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first week of the series can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.

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I remember when my firstborn was nearing preschool age. I was an early-twenties young mom living in a fast-paced city full of successful career-oriented women who delayed having children, most until their forties. I only mention the age difference because it was a significant aspect of the self-doubt I wrestled with for a few years as I tried to make sense of adulthood, motherhood, and all the decisions that are to be made in those arenas.

I saw these women—established, confident, and eager to ensure their children would be successful in the future—sign their kids up for every activity under the sun at age 3. Preschool, music classes, sports teams, museum workshops, swim lessons, acting classes, language tutoring—you name it, and I could tell you about someone in my sphere who had their kid in it. Many of them had these activities stacked back to back in the same day or daily throughout the week, meaning they were constantly going from one thing to the next without any space for anything else.

I am not saying any of these things are bad. All of the above experiences can be wonderful for children, and they absolutely have their place, but I spent a stretch there feeling like I was messing up my child’s entire future because I didn’t have her enrolled in five different things at the same time. It took me a few years to develop my own sense of what makes a childhood wonderful.

In time, I have come to realize that there are a number of things that weigh heavily on moms that lead them to stuff their schedules full for all the wrong reasons.

Here are some lies that many mothers believe:

Everything urgent is important.

I am obligated to do what others expect of me.

My child must be entertained at all times.

All moms are spread thin, there is no way around it.

My child will not be deprived of anything if I sign them up for enough activities.

There is not enough time in the day.

I can outrun the loneliness of motherhood if I keep myself busy enough.

If I take advantage of every opportunity, my child will succeed in life.

I don’t love being busy, but I don’t have any other choice.

I could keep going, but I will stop there, and counter every one of those statements with a different idea.

Not everything that is calling out for your attention is worthy of it. Some things are not important. You can decide which things those are.

You are not obligated to meet the expectations of others. Healthy boundaries are important, and must be set often and with confidence.

Your child doesn’t need to be entertained at all times. In fact, you might find that their imagination and creativity come alive when they are not being entertained.

All moms have the propensity to be spread thin, but there are some who make hard decisions that place healthy limits in different areas for the benefit of everyone in the family. Not all moms live spread thin indefinitely.

Children who are chronically over-scheduled can be just as deprived as any other child…they can be deprived of rest, deprived of space to explore and create and imagine, deprived of opportunities for resourcefulness and self-regulation…and the list goes on.

Every day has time enough to do the most important things, and anything that isn’t completed on one day can be tackled the next.

Loneliness is real, especially in motherhood, but it is not fazed by a busy schedule. Loneliness can only be cured by real connection, which can be difficult to forge if one is too over-scheduled to make room for quality time with a spouse, friend, or mentor.

You have no way to guarantee your child’s success in life. Yes, you can expose them to information, help them build skills, and give the experiences that shape who they become, but what if their success actually hinges on the innovative spirit they cultivate while spending hours a day outdoors? Or on the emotional intelligence they develop by creating a strong bond with family members? Some things that a child needs to succeed can’t be taught in a classroom.

And last but not least: You have a choice. There may be some things outside of your control. There may be limitations and challenges. There may be sacrifices, but you hold an incredible amount of decision-making power, and you can choose parameters for your schedule that fit your family’s needs, and allow you flexibility to make adjustments for everyone’s benefit.

We stuff our schedules full when we believe we have no other choice except to be busy, over-full, and spread thin. It is ok to sometimes choose busy, but it should be an intentional choice not a default one.

“By wisdom a house is built, And by understanding it is established; And by knowledge the rooms are filled With all precious and pleasant riches.” Proverbs 24:3-4

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I have some exciting things to share in the near future, and would love for you to be among the first to hear about them. If you’re so inclined, please sign up for my email newsletter here and I’ll send out updates as they become available. Your address will never be shared. Thanks!