What if Balance is Overrated?

Balance is Overrated

Here is an older post that I really love, so I wanted to resurrect it–in case you missed it the first time!

Balance. It’s the buzzword of this generation.

In our hectic lives, everyone is searching for that elusive thing called “balance”, where we feel like we’re living out our priorities, we’re able to get the rest we need, but we’re still being purposeful.

What if the whole idea of finding balance is more like a millstone around your neck than it is a real thing to aim after, though?

Let me explain.

Finding Balance, in and of itself, says that some things must lose.

It says that you have to put less of an emphasis on one thing so that you can put more of an emphasis on something else. To aim for balance is really to aim for a constant series of trade-offs. You decide that this will have to go, that you can’t do this, all so that you can do this.

It’s not exactly an easy psychological process.

What if there’s a better way?

A bunch of very disparate but interesting things have led me to this conclusion. First, I was reading Kathy Peel’s book The Family Manager while staying at a friend’s home recently. Her point is that many housewives are extremely capable when it comes to organizing work or organizing big functions at church, but we can’t seem to organize our homes. The solution? Take what you’re good at and apply those same principles at home. In other words, work to your strengths.

I’ve read something similar in another book recently, which even though I disagreed with much of it, that one part I thought was useful.

Forget finding balance; instead, figure out what you’re good at.

What makes you feel alive? What gets you excited? Now concentrate on maximizing your time for that.

At the same time, I’ve been delivering a number of messages at various speaking engagements about finding your purpose in life. And it occurs to me now that if we apply all three of these principles to our lives, we’d be a lot happier than if we just sought balance. So here’s what such a life would look like:

1. Figure out your purpose.

What is it that God is calling you to right now? Where does He want you investing your time, your money, your energy? Sometimes there may be just one area; some of us have several areas. I feel called to speak, to homeschool, and to lead the Bible quizzing program with our youth at church. One of those areas is simply my specific responsibility (my family). God always calls you first and foremost to your family. The others are more where I am using my gifts and serving in my particular church.

When you figure out where you are most called, then it’s easier to emphasize those areas. Forget everything else. Let it all fall by the wayside. We don’t need to be “balanced”, doing everything in moderation. We need to be sold out to the areas where God has called us!

Figure out where God has called you, and ditch the rest. Yes, the other stuff needs to get done. But God will call someone to do that other stuff. Your responsibility is just to live out the areas where you are called.

I believe that we are always called primarily to our families and to the people who are closest to us. Those are the people that God has trusted us with to show them Jesus. We are also called to our local body of believers, to serve in at least some capacity. I don’t think having children gives you an excuse not to serve. We all can be serving somewhere, because without us the church can’t function. So ask God to show you in what one area you can serve that will make a difference.

2. In those areas where you feel called, work to your strengths.

Maybe you don’t cook. Maybe you never will learn to love cooking or cook very well. That’s okay. Stop beating yourself up about it. Learn to make 7 meals well, and rotate them every week. You’re allowed. Maybe your real gift is in making a fun home where you play lots of games and create an atmosphere where people just plain have a roaring good time, even if the house is never in tip top shape.

That’s who you are. Stop trying to become someone you’re not. What are your strengths in your family? Play to them. Do the things that you do well, and then figure out how to minimize the other tasks which do need to get done so that you have more time for your strengths. Don’t strive for balance, because in your case, balance means spending more time on stuff that frustrates you and makes you miserable, and less on stuff that gives you life.

I was reminded of this a few years ago when I went on a craft binge. I bought painting supplies. I bought fabric to sew. I bought all kinds of stuff. And then I started doing it and hated it. I sewed my maternity clothes and they never fit quite right. I tried to stencil something and kept going out of the lines.

And all the while my knitting sat beside me, untouched. I was trying to conquer all these other crafts that I admired, instead of doing the one that I am great at (if I do say so myself) and that relaxes me. So now I proudly announce that I don’t sew, I don’t cross-stitch, I don’t scrapbook, and I don’t crochet. What I do do is knit. Everywhere. Even in line at the grocery store (I always have a pair of socks on the go in my purse).

Sheila Wray Gregoire knitting--work to your strengths!

It may not be balanced, but it’s what I’m good at and it’s what I enjoy. You don’t need to do everything. Work to your strengths.

When you figure out what you’re good at, it’s easier to apply those things to your home. If you’re a spontaneous person, then create a spontaneous home. Work less to lists and more to creativity. That’s okay. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Figure out how to get done what does need to get done, but then create a tone for your home where you’re laid back, and people can drop in anytime and it doesn’t bother you.

If, instead, you’re very organized, then don’t try to be spontaneous! Create a schedule for your day and stick to it. You’ll feel better.

Often instead of working to our strengths we work to our weaknesses. We see the things we’re not good at and we spend all kinds of time trying to make ourselves better at these areas of weakness, rather than spending productive time in the areas where we do excel. If we each worked to our strengths, we’d get things done a lot more quickly and with a lot less grief.

God made you the way you are for a purpose. You do not have to be the typical Christian woman, because God may not have made you that way. He sure didn’t make me that way! I function best when I have a ton of things on the go. I work really hard, and then I crash really hard, and my family loves it. We’re busy, we do interesting things, we talk about interesting things, and no one day is ever exactly like the other.

That’s who I am. Do you know who you are? Or are you still reading all these books that tell you that you should fit into a specific mold? I think often we mistake our identity and calling with the things in life that need to get done. Just because laundry needs to get done does not mean that you are naturally a laundry person. Just because you’re looking after your children at home does not mean that you are naturally a kid person. But you can take what you are naturally good at and you can apply those things to how you manage your home, how you raise your kids, how you serve in church.

3. If you don’t fit the mold, break it!

Just don’t try to have balance, if what you mean by finding balance is that you do a little bit of everything. It seems to me that God calls us to live out our purpose, and to work productively six days a week, and then He calls us for one day a week to rest in Him, to have time to think, to meditate, to enjoy each other. That’s the balance that we need.

So make sure that you’re spending time connecting with God so that you can find your purpose. Spend time on your own everyday rejuvenating yourself so that you can live out that purpose. And then apply your strengths to living out your calling day by day. Don’t be everything to everybody. Be uniquely you. And that is perfectly okay.

10 Ways to Banish the Stay-at-Home Mom Blues

Stay at Home Mom Blues

I have always been a stay at home mom, but if you judge by the comments of many, I have the personality of a pea. If you’re a stay at home parent, you know what I mean. People constantly remark, “I don’t know how you do it. I would go stir crazy if I had to stay home with my kids.” I wonder if people who say that realize how insulting it can sound? The inference is that I am some sort of mutant sub-species that requires far less intellectual stimulation than normal, and can survive for days on end with the praise from Barney—”I love you, you love me”.

It’s time to challenge this notion that staying home with your kids is akin to a prison sentence with an awfully whiny jailer.

Certainly it can be tremendously difficult, draining and exhausting, especially since you usually walk around with banana mash on your jeans and spit up on your sweatshirt. But that’s not the whole story.

Many parents choose to work for a host of different reasons, and only you know what is right for your family. I know that for many, much as you may long to, staying home isn’t financially feasible. I don’t mean to leave you out of today’s post, but I do want to share with my readers who are at home how to make sure it doesn’t get overwhelming.

And so today, I’d like to share with you the Top 10 Ways to Beat the Stay at Home Mom Blues.

Top Ten Tuesday1. Think Outings, not Hibernation

We go about stay at home parenting all wrong. We start by buying tons of equipment (ExerSaucers, swing sets, trampolines) to ensure that we never have to leave the house. But what happens if we’re home alone all the time? Our kids may go stir crazy and whine, cry and vomit. Then we cry. Probably we whine, too. And if we’re pregnant, we definitely vomit. So let’s take a step back and approach this stay at home thing differently.

Instead of spending all day cooped up with the kids, plan for a daily outing, if possible. When my kids were little, we went out every single day. We went to the library. We went to a playgroup. We walked to a nearby park. We went to the museum (it was free on Thursday mornings).

The benefit was that the kids had fun, but they were tired out, and then they would nap better for me later. And if we were out, I could focus completely on them, so when we got home, it was easier to get them to give me time to myself.

2. Enforce Quiet Time

We count the minutes until we can put a child down for a nap. We rejoice when more than one child manages to nap at the same time. Sometimes we even grab a nap, too, wondering how long it will last.

And then an older child stops napping, and it all falls apart.

When a 3-year-old stops napping, enforce quiet time. Have them stay in their room for half an hour with a book or a toy, and let this be “quiet play” time. That gives you some time to yourself, and helps them get some rest (and thus not get so whiny).

3. Get Adult Stimulation

We aren’t meant to do motherhood alone, and you need adult conversation. Take your kids to a playgroup, or organize one yourself. Join the local YMCA or another fitness club that offers baby-sitting. Best of all, join a women’s Bible study or a MOPS group. Just make sure you do something at least once a week that gets you talking with adults.

And talk to your hubby at night, too! Share the burden with him, don’t just retreat to a screen and hand the kids over to him because now it’s his turn. It’s tempting to want to just watch a movie or collapse at the end of the day, but do try to spend some time talking. You need that connection, and he does, too.

4. Start a Hobby

Adult stimulation isn’t all we need; we also need intellectual stimulation–something that gives our brain a creative outlet. Did you love knitting when you were a child? Start knitting again, even if it’s only at night when the kids can’t get to the yarn. Start crocheting. Start painting. You don’t have to do it all the time, but if you have a hobby to research and plan and dream about, it helps.

5. Learn Something

And now it’s time to grow! Learning keeps life fresh. So pick a topic this year that you want to master. Maybe it’s more in-depth Bible knowledge (Kay Arthur or Beth Moore studies are great for that). Maybe it’s nutrition. Maybe it’s cooking. Maybe it’s investing. Maybe it’s politics. Maybe it’s building a blog! Choose something that you’ve always wanted to know more about, and jump in! Research on the computer, start with small projects, and try. You can do it in 20 minute spurts while children play, or take an hour on the weekend that’s “your time”. One new blogger I know goes to Starbucks every Saturday morning while her husband watches the kids.

6. Give Yourself a Sense of Accomplishment

At work we get praise for finishing something. At home we get whines and piles of laundry that never get folded. If you want to feel like you’ve accomplished something, volunteer. Meet your neighbours and see if you can lend a hand to some older people or other struggling parents. Invite people over for coffee. They won’t mind the mess nearly as much as you think they will! And the more connection you have with your community, the more you’ll realize the difference you can make in people’s lives.

7. Get Organized

I love schedules, and kids thrive on schedules, but I always found that as soon as I figured out a schedule that worked, the kids would change it again. Their sleep patterns would change, or their eating patterns would change, and it was all up in the air again. I know that this is difficult. But as much as possible, create a schedule for your week. Know when you will go where. Go grocery shopping the same day each week. Go to the library on the same day. Try to keep naptime to the same time. When kids know what to expect, and you know what to expect, there’s far less whining.

8. Clean Everyday

Don’t let the house get out of control, because that’s just depressing. I remember visiting a friend’s home when my kids were 2 and 5 and being amazed at how clean it was. She had kids the same age as mine, but her home was spotless. Then I realized that the kids were in day care from 7-5, and the parents didn’t spend much time at home, either. When you’re all home, all the time, the house has time to get messy.

Take 15 minutes before each meal and do a quick tidy. Set the timer and have “clean up time”. If everyone cleans three times a day, you’ll find that you stay on top of it better.

Top 10 Ways to Banish the Stay at Home Mom Blues

 

9. Have Something Special You Do with the Kids

Nobody likes kids pulling at you or whining at you all day, but often that whining is caused by two things: loneliness and boredom. The boredom can be cured by daily outings. The loneliness needs some focused Mommy time. For me and my kids that meant reading. We spent hours cuddled up in someone’s bed reading books. That helped them feel the physical connection (they were touching me); it helped them rest (it was quieter time); and it helped give them security (I spent time with them). Then they would go and play together and I could have some time to myself. To expect a child to entertain themselves all day, though, is unrealistic. Plus you miss out on the bonus of staying at home–that amazing bonding time!

10. Do Something Wild and Crazy

Every now and then, do something completely out of the ordinary. I’m all for schedules and naptimes and all that, but some days, I’d wake up and say, “who wants to go to the zoo?” Who cares if it’s a one and a half hour drive, and we’d only be able to spend three hours there? It would be memorable! Or we’d head to the beach. You have freedom as a stay at home mom; use it. Create those memories and laugh with your kids, and you’ll find the busier days easier to bear.

I do not have the personality of a pea. I’d say it’s more like a bunch of grapes (the seedless kind), with many different things in my life that are all interconnected. It was, and is, such a privilege to stay at home and watch my children grow. They are my reward. But I could not have survived without acknowledging that though I love being a mommy best, I am more than that. Plan for success when you stay at home. Don’t settle for exhaustion. Your life will be richer for it.

Tell me: what’s your biggest source of stress as a stay at home mom? What do you do to relieve the stay at home mom blues? Let me know in the comments!

To Love, Honor and VacuumIf you’re having trouble finding peace and encouragement staying at home, my book, To Love, Honor and Vacuum, can help! I wrote it just for moms who feel more like maids than wives and mothers, and it helps you set priorities, find joy in your life, and create relationships where everybody respects each other. Check it out today!

 

Top 10 Things I’ll Never Like Doing

Top 10 Things I Hate Doing--can you relate?I once heard that the definition of maturity is deciding to do things you don’t want to do because they need to get done. If that’s the case, then I’m super mature. Because I feel like I spend a lot of time doing things I have to psyche myself up for. In fact, I think that’s why I was so exhausted at the beginning of this summer–I feel like so much of my life for the last few months has been slogging through instead of doing things that I actually wanted. This summer I took some time to relax and go camping with my hubby and I feel ever so much better.

But I asked on Facebook last night, “what do you do that you don’t like doing?” And I got some great responses!

So today I thought I’d share ten things that we do that we don’t like doing, and likely never will like doing, but have to get done–along with some thoughts on how to get these things done faster and easier!

1. Cleaning the Toilet

The #1 answer on Facebook was cleaning the toilet. We just don’t like doing it. And when you have little boys (or several big ones) it gets even grosser. But there’s something about having a bright, clean white toilet bowl that makes you just feel better.

How to lessen the pain: Keep the toilet bowl cleaner right next to the toilet, and any time you notice that it’s getting gross, just squirt some cleaner in and move that brush around, and it won’t ever get to the disgusting stage. Also, little kids really love cleaning toilets. Maybe not every little kid, but enough that I’ve noticed a trend. If you can catch them when they’re around 5 or 6 and get them started, they may start to adopt it as “their” job. There’s something about scrubbing with that brush and making all those bubbles. So teach your children to clean a toilet! Leave a basket of rags by the toilet along with some safe cleaner so they can wash down the toilet seats, too. We may not like cleaners being visible, but I always figure, if it’s within reach, it’ll get done more often!

2. Vacuuming

Perhaps ironically (given the title of this blog) this is my big one! I hate vacuuming–especially vacuuming stairs. And I think the problem with vacuuming is that feeling that it’s never done. You know that as soon as you vacuum, someone’s going to trek through and make more crumbs.

How to lessen the pain: Invest in a quality vacuum cleaner that does what you need it to do! If you have mostly floors you need a different vacuum cleaner than someone with a bunch of rugs. You may find that you actually enjoy vacuuming if you have one you love. And those see-through ones where the dust whirls around are really fun for kids. So check out your vacuum cleaner options.

Another thing: clean out the vacuum bag often, and if you have a central vac, clean out the unit. When I bought my first house I didn’t know you had to do this. I’m not sure where I thought all that dust went, but after six months of the vacuum not working I thought to ask my hubby where the central vac emptied. And sure enough, it was stuffed.

3. Doing Dishes

We hate dishes because they’re gross and they don’t go away. You wash a load and tomorrow there will be just as many.

How to lessen the pain: Have a rule that if you make dinner you don’t do dishes! Get kids involved. And here’s one that I’ve found works: aim to have the counter cleared before you go to bed. Even squirt some cleaner and shine it every night. If you see a clean counter, you feel so much better!

4. Making Breakfast

Probably the #2 thing mentioned on Facebook that people hated to do was cook. I hate it being 5:30 and not knowing what I’ll make for dinner. That’s torture. But I actually enjoy cooking–dinner, that is. I hate making breakfast. Mostly because I hate breakfast foods, and so does my youngest daughter, who is usually the only one home with me at breakfast time. But I know we have to eat! But if I don’t cook, I tend to head for the chocolate cake. Even this morning I ate one of Katie’s chocolate chip cookies she was given yesterday by a friend for her birthday (sorry, Katie, but you weren’t awake yet. So there). The problem is that we need protein at breakfast, but if we can’t think of what to make, we’ll tend to go for the simple sugars (which is what most muffins and cereals are).

How to lessen the pain: Think outside the box! You can eat leftovers for breakfast. And I’ve started making more “lunch stuff” for breakfast. I do hummus and pitas. I do those mini-pizzas on English muffins. And if you have any ideas for other creative breakfasts, I’d love to hear them. I’m just not an egg, pancake, oatmeal, or cereal gal.

5. Responding to Email

I get a ton of email everyday. Maybe some of you are in the same boat. And I hate it. For you it may not be email that you hate; maybe it’s paying bills. But it’s anything that is at the back of your mind, nagging you, saying, “you have to do this” and making you feel guilty. Email makes me feel guilty because there are always things I’m supposed to do. And I don’t like that.

How to lessen the pain: Whether it’s bills or email or other paperwork, set aside a specific amount of time you’ll spend everyday. Rather than leaving it in one chunk, do fifteen minutes a day (or whatever it takes). I find if I set the timer and try to get through as many as I can in that time, I’m quite productive. And then I can say, “well, if I didn’t get to that person today, it’s because other things took priority”. And that’s okay.

6. Getting that PAP Smear/Mammogram

Let’s go to our happy places, people, and put our feet up in those stirrups and try to ignore what’s going on. Or let’s go get squished!

As someone who has had to have an annual mammogram since I was 30 due to family history of breast cancer, I can tell  you it’s not fun. But it’s better than the alternative.

How to lessen the pain: I don’t think you can, really. For mammograms, take a Tylenol an hour before. For Pap smears, just live through it. Relax as much as you can (yeah, right). And remember that the new guidelines say that if you’ve only ever had one sexual partner, and he’s only ever had one, then you really only need one every three years (yay!). For those of you in that situation, you can tell your doctor it really isn’t necessary. Unfortunately, for those of you in the other camp it is, because cervical cancer is really dangerous. And it was through a Pap smear that they first found all the polyps and other things that were causing me bleeding issues, so it is important.

7. Exercising

I will never, ever like exercising, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the people who say they don’t feel happy if they don’t jog five miles a day are lying or deluding themselves. I have gone through periods of intense exercise in my life, and even then I didn’t like it. I just don’t. But I know it’s necessary.

How to lessen the pain: I’ve only found two things that work: listening to a sermon/speech/podcast while I jog or watching Netflix while I’m on the stationary bike, or else exercising with someone else. I bit the bullet and shelled out the money for a personal trainer for three months (had my first session yesterday!), because I just need the accountability. I also am starting to jog with my hubby again. Doing stuff together makes it more likely to get done.  I think admitting you’ll never like it, and stopping feeling guilty for not wanting to exercise, helps a ton. Just do it, and know you’ll hate it, but that’s okay.

8. Putting Laundry Away

I can do laundry. I just hate folding it and putting it away. It’s never ending.

How to lessen the pain: Fold it directly out of the dryer, rather than dumping it somewhere (or fold it as it comes off the line). Then you just need to deposit it in people’s rooms. Have older kids do their own laundry (or at least put away their own laundry).

9. Working Outside the Home

Here’s a sad one. I had a number of people on Facebook saying that they so wanted to be stay-at-home moms, but they needed to work for the income.

Sometimes we do need to work, and that’s still a service you’re doing your family.

How to lessen the pain: Learn as much as you can about how to save money on your big ticket items, like mortgages, insurance, cars, and groceries. Downsize as much as you can. Learn to live with less. Save as much of your paycheque as you can manage. Create a plan. If you can see that in five years you can start to work part-time, or that if you downsize you can afford to be home more, that can help tremendously. But get a plan for the whole family so that you can see how your work and your husband’s work contribute, and what you’re aiming for. You’re in this as a family, and you don’t need to feel like it’s all on your shoulders. And sometimes when you take a look long-term, you can see how it may not always be like this.

10. Battling in Prayer

I’m surprised no one, in the almost 200 comments so far, mentioned this one, but for me it’s a biggie. I know no one actually says online “I find doing my devotions hard” or “I find praying hard”, but I’m not afraid to say I do! It’s difficult to sit quietly and concentrate on reading the word. But I’m still way better at that than I am at praying. I can conversation-pray all day (and in fact I do). But you know that prayer where you’re going to battle, and you need to pray hard for something? Sort of like the prayer in Daniel 10 where Daniel prayed for 21 days, not realizing a huge spiritual battle was going on in the heavenly realms at the same time? I really battle with that. I can talk to God like He’s my Daddy for sure, but to get serious? It’s tough.
To Love, Honor and Vacuum

How to lessen the pain: Have a pen and paper handy so you can write things down as you pray. I find that helps me to focus and stops my mind from wandering. Have a different place you sit when you pray like this, so you’re not tempted to grab a book or glance at the computer. Use a prayer book, like the book of common prayer, as a guide for how to work through a prayer. And I’d love any suggestions you have in the comments section!

There’s my list of the top 10 things I hate doing! Many of these I’ve minimized by delegating to others, and if you find that you’re doing all of these yourself, you really need to get a hold of my book, To Love, Honor and Vacuum: When you feel more like a maid than a wife and a mother. Family is a team, a unit, it’s not mom doing everything while others do nothing. And if you feel like you get a bit of a break, your family will be a more fun place for all of you–while your kids also learn responsibility.

Now let me know: how do you lessen the pain of some of these things? Leave your one best solution in the comments (or more if you have them!)

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Top 10 Reasons Women Feel More Like a Maid Than a Wife and a Mom

Taken for Granted Moms: Why you sometimes feel more like a maid than a wife and a mom--and what you can do about it.

Ever feel taken for granted? Most moms and wives do at some point.

To Love, Honor and VacuumAnd that’s why I wrote To Love, Honor and Vacuum (the book). I wanted to help moms who feel unappreciated rethink how they do family so that instead of feeling like a maid, she can feel like part of a healthy family unit that’s all working towards the same goal. And a revised and expanded To Love, Honor and Vacuum is being launched this week!

On that vein, I thought I’d share the top 10 things that we wives and moms do that we think are helping, when really they can actually make our family situation worse. Be sure to read through to #10, because that’s the most important one–and it’s the root cause of all the other ones.

I asked on my Facebook Page last night, “when do you feel most like a maid instead of a mom?”, and many of these 10 things were mentioned! Now, of course, you could answer that question with “when my husband ignores me” or “when my husband sits on the couch all night and does absolutely nothing”, but I think it’s more helpful to give women strategies they can use to actually change things. We can’t change someone else; we can only change ourselves. So let’s look at the things that we women do to undermine ourselves, here on Top 10 Tuesday:

1. Doing all the housework yourself

One woman on Facebook says that she feels most like a maid when she’s doing the dishes–for the fifth time that day. I totally get it! Housework is exhausting. It’s never ending, it’s tedious, and no one really says thank you. So why are you doing it all yourself?

You cannot keep a perfect home and raise kids who are active and engaged all at the same time. Something’s gotta give. And one of the best ways to help you not feel like a maid is to make sure that from a very young age kids are doing chores, too. Tie the chores to an allowance when they’re young. If it’s a struggle with teens, change the password on the wifi everyday, and don’t give it out until they’ve completed their chores. Require your kids to work.

A 3-year-old can dust a coffee table and can clean the bottom kitchen cabinets. A 5-year-old often LOVES cleaning toilets with that toilet brush thingy. An 8-year-old can clean a bathroom well and can certainly do the dishes. So don’t do it all  yourself.

Here’s an article on age appropriate chores for kids.

2. Not asking your husband for help

Many men do very little housework if they work outside the home and you stay at home. My husband always worked long hours, and when he got home, I didn’t want him doing dishes. I wanted us spending time together as a family. So I didn’t ask him to do housework (though he always picked up his clothes and took care of his own messes). But if you both work outside the home, you’re definitely going to need some help. Even if you do stay at home, you still will need help with the childcare (and men need to spend time with their kids) and you’ll certainly need help on weekends.

But too many women don’t ask for help. They assume that the men should know what to do, and if they’re sitting playing a video game or if they’re goofing off, they’ve actually decided not to help you. That may not be the case. I asked on Facebook a while ago how many women had actually asked their husbands for help, and I received story after story of women saying, I stewed for ten years about how insensitive he was, and yet when I finally asked him to do the dishes after dinner, he did them no problem. He just never knew I needed help!

Try asking. It doesn’t always get you the results you need, but don’t be resentful if you’ve never even asked. Men often think that because we have systems for things, we would find their help more of a pain than anything else. If you want help, don’t expect him to read your mind. Ask.

3. Allowing your children to treat you rudely

From an early age, make your children say “please” and “thank you”. If they talk back, discipline immediately. If they ask for anything rudely, they never, ever get it. Do not let them treat you with direspect.

When my oldest was five, another five-year-old once stayed with us for a week. That little girl whined all the time. It was her default setting–and I can’t stand whining. So I stopped giving her anything if she was whining. “Can I have some mi-i-i-lk?” she’d whine. And I would say, “when you can ask in a proper voice.” After three days she had stopped whining. I honestly don’t know how her parents stood it. It would have driven me beyond the bend if my kid talked like that all the time. Within a few seconds of her mom walking in the door, though, the whining had started again. Don’t ever reward whining or rude behaviour, or they’ll just keep doing it.

4. Picking up after everybody

Do you spend your life putting stray socks in the hamper and picking up toys? That’s exhausting–and can easily fuel resentment.

But people will keep leaving stuff everywhere if you keep picking it up.

If your ten-year-old comes in the house and drops his coat on the chair and his backpack–with his lunchbox inside–on the floor, and you pick those things up and clean out his lunchbox, you’ve taught him to treat you with disrespect. But not just that–you’ve also taught him to ignore the mess he’s making, so that he likely doesn’t even realize that he’s inconveniencing you.

Don’t pick up people’s stuff. Require them to pick it up–and have consequences if they don’t. For husbands, have a corner of the bedroom/house where you can put stray items if they drive you nuts, so that they can be his responsibility again.

Here’s an article I wrote on how to get kids to pick up their stuff!

5. Rescuing everybody

You’re running late, you’ve got to get to work, and you get a text that your 13-year-old forgot his lunch at home. So you drive back to get the lunch and drop it off, making yourself even more frazzled. Or  you mentioned to your husband that he really needed to send that birthday card to his mom, and he didn’t, and you notice it on the counter the morning after it should have been sent, so you run to the post office and send it express. You had to squeeze it in between appointments, but you did it–and you were only mildly late for the kids’ piano lessons.

Do you rescue everybody? There’s no problem with doing it occasionally, out of love. But if family members start assuming you’ll rescue them, they also stop taking responsibility or even making an effort. They’ve taken you for granted. That’s going to make you feel like a maid, too.

6. Overscheduling yourself and your family

If you’re busy and exhausted, you’ll feel like a maid. If your life is spent chauffeuring everybody, but rarely in the things that feed our souls, like down time with those we love, we’ll go through life with this chronic malaise like something’s wrong.

Beware of overscheduling your family.

Here’s an article on the time crunch with extra-curricular activities

7. Being disorganized

Are you the kind of laid back person who goes along life just fine for about five days, letting the messes get worse and worse, but having fun with your kids, until you finally realize OH MY GOODNESS THIS PLACE IS A PIGSTY and you go ballistic? And then you feel like you need to spend twelve hours in a row cleaning?

Sometimes the best way to feel less like a maid is to get a little more organized, so these crises don’t happen!

8. Asking your children to do things instead of expecting it and following through

When you ask your kids something, do you make it a firm command? Or are you wishy washy?

Compare this:

Johnny, it’s getting to be time to clean up your toys, okay? It’s almost time for dinner.

To this:

Johnny, start cleaning up your toys now. You have five minutes before we eat, and I’m setting the timer now.

In the first case, you haven’t actually asked Johnny to do anything. You’ve just made a statement about the time. You may feel like you’ve asked him, but you haven’t. And so he’s unlikely to listen and do anything, and you’re likely to get your blood pressure boiling! If you want them to do something, make it very clear. Ask firmly. Set a deadline. Expect follow-through.

9. Eating in a rush–and not at the dinner table

You’ve spent an hour making a great meal, but everybody sits at the table, rushing through it, with their phones on. Or else someone grabs it and heads to their room. Perhaps you all sit at the table, but the kids are whiny and picky and don’t like it and the meal is over in five minutes.

Make dinner a family time. Keep conversation starters at the table. Ask trivia questions. Have everyone say their “high” and “low” for the day. Start some family traditions where you really connect and talk over dinner. It’s an important family time–don’t waste it.

Here are some tips on getting picky eaters to eat!

10. Thinking that the goal is to make your family happy

Finally, here’s the most important one: You think that your job is to make sure your kids and your husband are happy. In fact, that’s likely why you do each of the nine things already mentioned. You want them to enjoy life. You want them to smile. You want to avoid unpleasantness. But in doing this, you’re likely inadvertently causing your own unhappiness, because you’ll feel taken for granted. But even more importantly, you’re missing the point.

To Love, Honor and VacuumGod’s priority is not that your kids are happy; it’s that they look like Jesus. And He wants that for you and your husband, too. If you set up your family in such a way that you’re enabling selfishness, laziness, and ingratitude, you’ll be miserable because you’ll always feel put upon, taken for granted, and like something’s off kilter. But the rest of the family will also not learn what it is to look like Christ.

That’s what To Love, Honor and Vacuum is about–it’s to change our perspective so that in everything we do, whether it’s housework or childcare or paid work or even how we do marriage, we’re encouraging Christlike behaviour from ourselves and those around us, rather than encouraging people to take us for granted. It’s amazing how the way that we do the little things in our home, like chores and dinner and school, can have such spiritual ramifications.

So be careful that happiness doesn’t become your goal. If it does, you’ll almost guarantee that everybody will be miserable. Raise a family to be responsible, though, and you’ll likely find that peace and joy you really want.

If this is resonating with you, pick up To Love, Honor and Vacuum!

Now tell me: when do you feel most taken for granted? What have you tried to do about it? Let me know in the comments!

 

Wifey Wednesday: Division of Labour with Your Spouse

Chores with Your SpouseHow do you approach chores with your spouse?

It’s a tough question in most marriages, and today I thought I’d run an article I wrote for Focus on the Family’s Thriving Family magazine last year.

Early in our marriage, our apartment often suffered from lack of attention. One morning, in frustration, I worked myself into a cleaning frenzy. Unbeknownst to me, that afternoon while I was out, my husband had the same impulse.

Over dinner we simultaneously announced, “I cleaned the whole place today!” Neither of us was amused at the other taking credit for our effort. Our misunderstanding soon became clear. To my husband, Keith, clutter mattered. To me, dirt mattered. I could walk past clutter as long as the faucets were gleaming. He, on the other hand, didn’t notice marks on the mirrors as long as the towels were neatly folded.

All of us start marriage with different ideas about what goes into running a household, and our natural tendency is to value the work we do and minimize the work our spouses do. Throughout the stages of life, our situations change and require us to renegotiate the division of chores. Each time we try to divide responsibilities, there’s potential for anger and resentment. But with the right attitude and some planning, chores don’t need to be something that drives us apart.

Don’t aim for a 50-50 split

One landmine to avoid is the 50-50 split. A 2012 study done in Norway found that couples who split housework evenly were also more likely to divorce. The problem isn’t housework per se, but rather the dynamics of splitting it down the middle. Kurt Bruner, pastor and author, says, “If you are keeping score on such things, you have already lost the relational battle.”

A better model involves both spouses putting 100 percent effort into creating a well-organized home. Fawn Weaver, founder of the Happy Wives Club, spent six months traveling the world interviewing couples who have been happily married for more than 25 years. She says, “Each couple, no matter their culture or socio-economic class, had this in common: They worked together as a team. There was no my work or your work. It’s our home, so it’s our work.”

Honor your spouse’s preferences

Happy couples also realize that housework can be a way to demonstrate love. Amy and Brad Saleik have been married 15 years. They inadvertently found a perfect way to organize household tasks. Amy explains, “We had only been married for a month or two when I offhandedly asked my husband what chore he hated. He quickly said, ‘Laundry. What about you?’ I replied, ‘Dishes.’ Ever since, I’ve done all the laundry, and he’s done all the dishes.”

Another strategy to honor your spouse is to ask each other, “What’s one thing I could do to make you feel more ‘at home’ when you’re at home?” I learned that strategy the hard way. When my children were 6 and 4, I was very active with them. We hosted playgroups in our home. We made crafts. We baked. Our home was fun, but it was also always a mess.

One day Keith told me he was tired of arriving home to a disaster. He could handle a little clutter, but he wanted to be able to walk through the kitchen without stepping on Polly Pockets. I didn’t take that well. I think the words maid and Neanderthal escaped my lips. But later, I realized that was a selfish response. While Keith wanted a place that reflected his beliefs about what a home should be, I was more interested in what I envisioned for the family. Eventually, I realized that spending 10 minutes tidying up the front room before he arrives home costs me little, yet offers a priceless opportunity to show my husband I care about him.

Attention to your spouse’s needs builds good will. Sarah Mae, co-author of Desperate, a book for overwhelmed moms, explains that stay-at-home moms also crave consideration. She says, “Without space to breathe or a little help here and there, you can feel like you’re drowning.” Even if both spouses are working all day fulfilling different tasks, at night one spouse may especially need a break — and quite often it’s the spouse who has been chasing the children all day. Holding down the fort while Mom has a bubble bath can bring peace to her and the home.

Finally, honoring your spouse involves honoring his or her opinion of what constitutes clean. If your spouse thinks it’s clean, it’s considered clean, even if it would never pass your aunt Mabel’s white-glove test. You both live in the house. You both should have a say.

Fostering a selfless attitude makes identifying practical ways to divide chores much easier. Before you split them, though, agree on what they are. It’s all too easy to focus on vacuuming or dishes and dismiss doing the finances or mowing the lawn. So sit down and list all the things that go into running a house, from supervising homework to cleaning bathrooms and even buying Grandma a birthday present. Then you can decide who does what. Allocating those jobs, though, can be a bit tricky. Here are two models for how couples can manage chores.

Model No. 1: Embrace Specialization

Personally, my husband and I have always lived by the adage “The man should have to kill the bugs.” Other than that, we’ve been flexible regarding household responsibilities. Pam Farrel, co-author of Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti, says, “Instead of dividing up chores along stereotypical lines, we have seen it works best to give the responsibility to the person who is most passionate about that task.” If you really care about the lawn, you get to do the lawn. There’s one more caveat from Farrel: “The person who has the task gets the authority to do that task his or her way, in his or her time, and the spouse just commits to saying, ‘Thanks!’ “

David and Kelli Campbell have been married for 10 years. Both work full time. David enjoys cooking, but last-minute meals aren’t his specialty. So Kelli prepares a two-week menu plan to help things run more smoothly. David cooks, vacuums and cares for the exterior of the house, and Kelli does the rest of the interior cleaning and the laundry. Knowing who’s responsible for what helps them navigate their busy schedules.

Model No. 2: Establish Work Hours

Nothing irks me more than doing dishes or vacuuming when the other three members of my family are on their computers. So our family adopted my grandmother’s golden rule: If Momma’s working, everyone’s working. If you’re a family who thrives on flexibility rather than defined tasks, this model may work better for you, too.

Assigning chores to individuals isn’t as important as everyone simply doing whatever needs to be done — all at the same time. You can even turn it into a game: Set a timer for 15 minutes and see how much mess each of you can pick up! Kurt and Olivia Bruner have the whole family draw straws with chores on them when a chore day is needed. If you’re all working at the same time, you can later relax at the same time.

Recruit help

Finally, if you need another pair of hands, follow the Bruners’ example and recruit the kids. Rather than running ragged making your children’s lives easy, you can involve the kids in daily chores. In fact, we should involve the children. Kelli Campbell reports being forever grateful to David’s mother for rearing a son who knows how to cook. What an investment his mother made in his future marriage! With children heading back to school, now’s a great opportunity to create new routines to involve kids in caring for the home.

After working out responsibilities, someone — or everyone — can still feel overwhelmed. You might want to re-evaluate and possibly trim your list of chores. Perhaps not everything on the list needs to be done — or done as often as you’ve been doing it. Do you really need to dust the picture frames every month? Perhaps you can clean the bathrooms every other week, instead of every week.

If you try these strategies and find chores are still causing conflict, consider hiring outside help. Shana Bresnahan is a full-time consultant, and her husband, Casey, is a full-time teacher. Shana says, “After cleaning came up in counseling sessions one too many times, our counselor said, ‘Can you make room in the budget for a cleaning lady?’ For the last year we’ve invested in a semimonthly visit from a maid service. We call it marriage insurance.”

Chores need to be done, but they do not need to cause a wedge between you and your spouse. Instead, chores can be one of the vehicles that help you feel and function more like a team. Together, choose a system that works best for your family and commit to honoring each other through it. You’ll feel more valued and loved, and your floors may just stay cleaner, too.


Christian Marriage Advice

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! It used to be a linkup party day, but for various reasons I’ve decided that instead I’ll share my “best of” suggestions from other marriage bloggers on Wednesdays. Unfortunately, this week I didn’t have time to fetch any, so I’ll just put up some that are here on the blog.

Getting Kids to Pick Up their Stuff
My Husband is Lazy!

And if you didn’t read my post yesterday, please check it out:
10 Ways to Initiate Prayer with Your Spouse

Now let me know in the comments: How do you split chores with your husband?

I Have No Energy for My Marriage!

No Energy for Marriage

Sleep is a marriage issue.

I’ve said that before, and I’ll say it again: often the biggest impediment to a good marriage isn’t sex, or finances, or other disagreements. It’s simply feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and oh, so very tired.

Two weeks ago Keith and I spoke at a FamilyLife Weekend Getaway in Banff, and one thing that I stressed in the women’s talk is that we need to prioritize our marriages. But for many women, when you even say that they get tired.

Really? One more thing I have to add to my to-do list? It’s not enough that I have to keep the house in order and care for the kids and likely work (at least part-time?) I have to care for him, too? Isn’t he an adult? Shouldn’t he be able to look after himself?

I understand. I really do. But here’s the thing:

The best gift you can give your kids is to love their dad.

When they know that you are stable, then they feel so much more secure!

So I believe that making time for the marriage, even if it’s just to go to bed at a decent time, together, every night, is crucial. Having energy left at the end of the day for your husband is also absolutely crucial.

And this doesn’t have to be a big project. Often we can make very small changes everyday to help us feel more organized, more invigorated, and more able to devote our attention to our marriage. Even little things, like greeting him when he comes in the door (or when you do!), can change the whole tone of the marriage.

I’ve already written on this at length, and here are just a few posts that can help you:

Adults Need Bedtimes Too!

Finding a Good Morning Routine

Are you a Better Wife or a Better Mom?

Perhaps Balance isn’t All it’s Cracked up to Be

Today, though, I’d like to share some resources from the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle Sale that will help you save time and energy, and help you be able to prioritize your marriage without feeling exhausted, like it’s one more thing on your to-do list.

With the Bundle Sale you get 84 ebooks and printables and downloads, plus $200 in bonuses. And these are all NEW books–only 3 or 4 have EVER been in a bundle before. So you can have such fun going through them and finding ways to use them to make real changes in your life.

Today let’s look at how to get more energy. I’m going to start with helping you streamline your day and get more energy, because it’s hard to think about the big picture issues when you’re just exhausted.

Step 1: Streamline the Things You Do Everyday

Taming the Laundry MonsterTame the Laundry Monster

Laundry takes up so much time–and so much energy! For me, it’s not putting the laundry in the machine that’s the problem. It’s the folding and the putting away.

In Taming the Laundry Monster, Angi Schneider shares about how to figure out a laundry routine that works for you.

She doesn’t just tell you to adopt HER laundry routine. She takes  you through all the steps to figure out what will actually work for you and your family.

And she totally encourages you to get the kids involved, too!

Ask yourself: If I could get my laundry more organized, would it relieve some stress? If so, then this is a marriage book! :)

Taming the Laundry Monster is part of the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle Sale!

Try Freezer Cooking

One of the biggest stresses is standing in front of the fridge at 5:00 and not knowing what to make.

No Cook Freezer MealsWhat would happen instead if you devoted one day every month or so to getting meals ready–and then freezing them? You could defrost a meal at night, stick it in the crockpot in the morning, and you’d be all set to go! It’s easy peasy. And it reduces so much stress. No more knots in your stomach driving home from work as you dread walking in the door and being faced with the fact that everybody needs to eat, and you just want to curl up on the couch and relax!

And if you stay at home with your kids, you can play with them until the afternoon, and then just put the finishing touches on dinner, instead of having to start from scratch.

The Ultimate Homemaking Bundle has a variety of books on meal planning, once a month cooking, and more! There’s even a meal planning e-course. I find cooking so much fun and so relaxing, but it’s likely because I have teenagers and not toddlers. If you’re feeling stressed about meals, then getting more organized and planning can help get rid of that dread you have when evening comes, and help you enjoy your family–and your husband–more!

And then there’s an awesome one-month membership to Once a Month Cooking–a website that helps plan your menu, your shopping list, and even your cooking routine so that you cook once, and eat all month. It’s awesome! And it’s a free bonus with the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle.

Ask yourself: If I weren’t as stressed at dinner time, would it make a difference in how I treated my family?

Figure out a Homemaking Schedule

Creating a Perfect ScheduleI truly believe that making small changes that make us feel more organized is often all it takes to turn a marriage around. When you’re less stressed, then your husband isn’t one more thing on your to-do list. He’s someone whom you love, whom you want to spend time with, who can actually resolve your stress rather than adding to it.

So get organized!

Blogger Amy Roberts, who homeschools a large family, wrote this great book on figuring out your routine–or your schedule. And she’s quite adamant that they are two different things. Some people love a schedule, where every minute is planned. Other people prefer a routine, when you tend to do this, and then this. Know your organization type, and then work towards it. She gives you the tools to create a schedule (or a routine) that works for you, and lets you feel like you run your day, your day doesn’t run you.

If you do that, you’ll end the day feeling like you accomplished something, not feeling like everything got away from you and you’re one big failure. I love the way she outlined the book (and there’s a section for homeschooling parents, too!)

Step 2: Learn How to Prioritize Your Marriage

TLHV2 Audio DownloadFigure out laundry, meals, and homemaking, and you’ll likely feel a whole lot less stressed already. Now it’s time to figure out the big picture of our marriage and our lives, and look at how we can nurture our marriage!

To Love, Honor and Vacuum

The Ultimate Homemaking Bundle has something from me–an audio file of one of my most popular talks, about how to figure out your priorities as a wife and a mother.

I’m talking here about how to put first things first. How to get your kids to help more around the house, how to foster a feeling of respect so that you’re not always feeling put upon, and how to stop feeling so exhausted.

If you’ve ever wanted to hear what I sound like “in real life”, here’s your chance!

Plan Your Goals

live for himI always find that if I take time to sit down, pray, and take stock about what I REALLY want to be doing with my life–and listen to hear what God is telling me He wants me to do–that I start to feel much more optimistic and excited about life. I find that there are lots of things I can begin to say “no” to because they don’t fit into my core values or my core goals, so that I can begin to say “yes” to the things that matter–including my marriage.

Leigh Ann Dutton has written a great book to help you plan, dream, and identify your goals. Take a week and work through it, and you’ll find that it’s much easier to prioritize your marriage, too.

And I think that this is such a key thing to do every few years, because you’ll find that your goals and your priorities change. When we don’t think these things through, we tend to operate on auto-pilot. And that’s when we start to feel like we aren’t being purposeful and we aren’t making a difference.

 Step 3: Think about Your Husband

Intentional MarriageYou’ve got your day-to-day life running more smoothly so you’re not as panicked. You’ve thought through your goals and what your priorities are in life. And now you’re likely feeling more peaceful and more purposeful, and so you can start to think through the specifics of how to make your marriage thrive!

Crystal has written a great 31-day devotional called Intentional Marriage: The Art of Loving Your Husband. Here’s what I like about it: It’s supremely, supremely practical. It’s not like each day is learning a big spiritual lesson, like how to forgive. It’s more like each day is teaching you to do something small which, when added up, becomes something big. It actually reminds me a lot of my book 31 Days to Great Sex! For instance, one day is simply “greet your husband at the door.” Seriously, this one little thing can turn around the whole feel of your evening together! Another day is “send your husband a verse”. And then there are some heavier days later in the month, but you get the flavor of what I mean. Little, practical things that build on each other that you can actually do!

So there you go–a look at how you can make major changes in your life, a little bit at a time, using resources from the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle Sale. Yesterday I shared about how to get your finances in order, and today I’ve concentrated on marriage. But this bundle has so many awesome resources that you could pretty much choose any goal–helping your kids read better, deciding to make healthier meals, getting your housework under control–and you could create a two-month plan to make major changes in your life that STICK.

Get your Ultimate Homemaking Bundle now! It’s available in .pdf form, or specially formatted for Kindle.

Practice Makes Perfect: Homemakers are Made, not Born

Are homemakers made, or born? Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week I want to talk about  homemakers: practice, perfection and our tendency to compare with others.

Homemakers are made, not born! Stop comparing yourself to others!Last night I was cleaning up my kitchen while my 18-year-old practised piano. At one point I paused from my scrubbing, and just listened as her fingers danced across the keyboard playing a deliciously difficult piece.

I love moments like that.

Nine years ago, when she started piano, she did not sound very lovely. She would sit on the bench, her feet dangling over, as she tried to pick out the notes to This Old Man. It was cute, but it wasn’t beautiful.

Over the years she has spent countless hours perfecting her skill. And now she can sit down whenever she wants and play a song she heard on the radio. She’s had experience.

We instinctively understand that when it comes to instruments. We get it when it comes to most hobbies. We know it’s true of driving, too: you get better with time and effort. I don’t think, however, that we give enough credence to the idea that this phenomenon could also apply to other parts of life.

When my children were very small, Keith and I were invited over to dinner to the home of a couple who was then in their late forties. They served a wonderful meal with a beautiful centrepiece and a delicious dessert. Music was drifting in the background. The house was immaculately decorated. Our hostess made the meal look effortless.

The next day, when I looked around my living room to see the mismatched couches, and the toys scattered over the floor, and the distinct lack of dining room table (we ate in the kitchen and had allowed the children to take over the dining room for their craft projects), I felt like a failure. I couldn’t have hosted a dinner party even if I had wanted to. I wouldn’t know what to make. I wouldn’t know where to seat people. And my furniture was terrible.

Fast forward fourteen years, and life is very different. I can host a dinner party now, because I have a dining room table again. My 15-year-old makes great centrepieces. I can cook much better (though last year’s Christmas dinner was a disaster, but that’s another story). My house isn’t a mess.

And the reason is because I’ve had practice.

When I think back to that woman in her late forties who entertained us, I think she, too, had simply learned how to be a good homemaker. When she was in her late twenties, she had three boys under four. I’m sure her dining room table wasn’t huge and spotless. I’m sure her furniture didn’t all match, and toys likely littered every surface. But over the years they could slowly afford to buy better furniture. She had practice cooking. The toys were packed away. And life got easier.

We have a tendency to compare our abilities to keep a nice home, cook a good dinner, balance a chequebook, or manage investments to those of other, older people, like our parents. Perhaps it’s time to stop. Your mother’s home may have been quite a mess when her children were the age of your children, even if her home is spotless now. Your boss who is so careful with investments may only have learned to be that way because of mistakes and lost opportunities in his twenties. Your father’s ability to grow grass probably is not instinctual; he learned it over decades.

If you’re not there yet, relax.

Practice makes perfect–even for homemakers.

We don’t learn basic life skills overnight. It takes a while to get used to it. So let’s enjoy the journey, rather than always beating ourselves up for not having arrived yet.

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I Need a Wife

I Need a WifeI have always been a stay-at-home mom, but with my writing I’ve moved more and more towards “working from home”, and it’s eating so much of our margins. My husband and I are taking a weekend retreat in two weeks to pray about how to do life differently, because this isn’t what we want. At the same time, it’s difficult because we’ve felt that God was moving both of us in the direction we are now. So we’re going to put all options on the table and ask God to help us find the win-win. Sometimes all couples need to do that! And if you could pray for wisdom for us, that would be great.

I love to-do lists and organization planners. I have Excel spreadsheets for household chores and the business tasks I need to complete on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. On good days, when I don’t hit the snooze button, I actually get most of those things done.

There’s only one problem. I have no margins in my life.

If I’m super organized and super energetic, it is possible to keep my house clean and to get all my work done and, hopefully, to head to the grocery store before we’re stuck discovering that all we have in the cupboards are tins of cranberry sauce and tuna. But if an emergency comes up, I’m in trouble.

My husband works more than full-time, and my writing and speaking require my full-time attention and too much travel. Because I write primarily on marriage, it’s also really hard to neglect mine, or that “hypocrite” word might get tossed around. And with my oldest now flown the coop, I’m trying to spend as much time as I can with my youngest before she leaves, too.

Life is simply busy. Pretty much everyone feels that way.

But I think one of the biggest sources of stress isn’t the amount of work on our plate; it’s that nagging feeling that one more straw is going to cause the whole thing to come crashing down.

We used to have some buffer in our lives. At one time women were home to bring dinners to friends in the hospital, or to take parents to doctors’ appointments, or to care for a sister’s child if said sister caught a disgusting intestinal bug. Today few of us have people we can rely on. And what’s perhaps even worse is that we aren’t able to be there for those that we love, either.

When my cousin had a baby recently and needed help, I wasn’t in the position to go. What kind of life are we leading if we don’t have the room to be there for those that we love?

Yet my problem doesn’t stop there.

What if, in all of our chaos of making more money, we’re actually missing out on a “good life”?

A “good life” has to involve little touches of creativity and beauty: that home-cooked meal instead of the barbecued chicken we picked up on the way home; those refinished dressers instead of the Ikea assemble-yourself plywood; the crocheted baby afghans. One of the things I miss most lately is the joy of friends coming for dinner, an event which is quite difficult if you’re never home to cook dinner, let alone to clear a path to the dining room table.

My business started off extremely part time, but it has mushroomed, for which I am grateful. My husband is doing well at his job, for which I am proud. Yet I am not certain that this is the life I want. If I have no room for emergencies, and little room for beauty and hospitality and fun, then what is the point?

The dual income family is now the norm, and that won’t change. Certainly we could all lower our expectations and work less. The reduction in stress is likely worth the reduction in income. Yet that is not always easy to do. And in the meantime, there is no one left to “keep the homefires burning”.

We women felt undervalued when we were “just housewives”, but gradually, as most women work, more and more of us are realizing just how valuable having someone at home was.

That spouse didn’t just care for the kids and do the housework; that spouse gave you that buffer, that margin, that made life liveable. I can’t give up a business I’ve spent years creating, but in the meantime, I could really use a wife.

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Why Women Are Control Freaks

Why Women are Control Freaks

If you’re a guy, and you’ve always thought, “my wife is a control freak!”, read on. And if you’re a woman, maybe share this with your guy!

I’m writing this not to excuse women, but to help men understand why women are control freaks. I write lots of posts for women on how to improve their marriage. Here’s just a little insight into the female brain for the men:

As I’m writing this, my family is preparing to depart for two weeks on vacation. I am desperately tending to my email, ridding the fridge of any stray produce, washing all the laundry, heading to the bank, and somewhere in there I’m packing. And I’m managing to pull it all off while still barking orders at my kids. I am the very model of a modern wifely drill sergeant.

Few can issue orders as effectively as women when we are in control freak mode.

We want the house cleaned because company is coming, and even though we’ve ignored the mess for two weeks it is now absolutely imperative that everybody drop what they’re doing and polish something. We want to get to work early, so everyone must hurry up and grab breakfast and by the way has anyone seen my purse? We have our agenda, and everybody had better get into line.

What men may not realize, though, is that when women get into control freak mode, it’s not because we particularly want to control people.

Let me get psychological for just a moment.

A woman’s biggest fear is that she’s going to lose those things that she loves most.

She wants to feel like her family is close-knit, her kids are safe, and everyone is secure. When something threatens that—because the kids are pulling away, or everyone’s too busy, or you’re distant—we feel out of control, and start issuing orders to compensate. Or, even worse, if we feel that we’re not doing a stellar job at caring for the family, then we really lose it, because we’re afraid that if the family falls apart, it will be our fault. We may imply again and again that it’s yours, but it’s only to deflect the blame we feel. We’re afraid we’re not good enough.

We’re not control freaks; we’re just scaredy cats! Perhaps that doesn’t sound like a big improvement, but it is, because once you understand that, you can help us bridge that sanity gap and end up in relational bliss once more. For you men in a relationship, here’s the key to helping your beloved relax and calm down: realize that when she gets stressed, it’s not because her primary goal in life is to stifle you.

It’s because she’s scared things are falling apart. And the more scared she feels, the more she tries to clamp down.

That creates this strange situation in many homes where the wife starts running everything—the kids’ schedules, the doctors’ appointments, the educational plans, the finances, the housework—while the husband pulls away because she so obviously doesn’t need or want him involved. Don’t look at the situation logically, though. Look at it lovingly. Sure she’s doing everything. Sure she’s got a to-do list for you a mile long. But this doesn’t mean she wants to run everything; more than likely it means that she wants you to start taking more of the reins.

Don’t react to what we do; react to what’s going on inside.

And then step up and be a man. Start talking to us about decisions. Get involved in the family. Listen to our concerns. And then develop your own opinions about what you think is best. Show us you care. Show us you’ve thought about it, too. Relieve us of the burden of messing stuff up, all on our own. That’s what we really want you to do, regardless of what it may look like.

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Reader Question: Dealing with a Husband with ADD

Reader Question of the Week

Every weekend I like to answer a reader question. I’ll give my thoughts on a subject, and then I invite you all to comment and help this reader out, too.

Here’s one I received recently:

I don’t want to be a nagging wife, but my husband has ADD and it seems like it is sometimes called for.  We both work and have a set division of labor around the house (that we have both agreed to) because it makes life easier on us.  I have to be ‘on his case’, so to speak about getting his tasks done.  I am extremely conscious of the way we are in public and around other people, so this really is limited to everyday household things.  But I was wondering whether any other readers have had similar experiences or have any wisdom to share.

Excellent question!

Let me take a stab at it with just a few points, not in any particular order:

1. Remember that ADD has its Strengths

My husband is a pediatrician, and so he diagnoses a lot of kids with ADD (and he tells even more that they do NOT have ADD. Most kids who come in for that diagnosis do not actually have a biological basis for attention deficit).

When there is a genuine diagnosis, the parents are often really sad. “My son (for it is usually boys) will be hampered by this his whole life,” they think. We frame it as a disability.

But here’s what my husband says (and I’m paraphrasing):

A generation ago, when there was no such thing as an ADD diagnosis, these kids grew up just being called “hyperactive” or “distracted”. But they grew up without a label. And many of them did amazing things.

We think of ADD as a negative thing, but people with ADD tend to make the best salesmen. They make the best stockbrokers. They make really good company CEOs because they can handle so many different thoughts at one time. People with ADD have gone on to do amazing things with their lives.

ADD is far more a problem in school, when everything has to be regimented, than it is in adult life, when you can choose a career that’s actually suited for someone with ADD (for there are many), and start to run your home the way it works best for you.

His main message? This will always be a challenge, but remember to see that it can have its pluses, too.

So if you’re married to someone with ADD, don’t always see it as a negative. Figure out the positive aspects to it (they can be really fun people; they’re active; they’re not boring, etc.)

2. Encourage His Leadership in His Areas of Strength

If he’s a really fun, active guy, make sure your family is really fun and active. Go to the beach. Run to parks often. You don’t have to be a typical family that sits at the dinner table for long periods of time and has deep conversations. Maybe he’s better suited to picnic dinners in the summer (and kids love that!)

In other words, don’t try to fit him into a stereotypical family; your family is unique. And it’s great to do family in a way that he is comfortable with and that works to his strengths.

3. Involve Him in Strategy-Making and Finding Solutions

Don’t treat him as someone with a disability; ask him, “how can we best make sure the work that needs to get done gets done?”

Now, for some men, nagging may actually not be a bad thing. If they have to be reminded, they may honestly be fine with that.

I don’t like that, though, because I think it sets up a mother-son type relationship instead of a marriage, and in general that’s not healthy.

So figure out: how does he work best? With lists? With post-it notes? With rewards? (like if he finishes this one task he gets to do something he loves, like play video games or go for a jog or something). Ask him, and ask him to brainstorm about different times in his life when he had to get stuff done. How did he accomplish it? What did he put in place?

Part of the problem with marrying someone with ADD is that his mother may have compensated for him so much growing up that he honestly isn’t used to having to take responsibility around the house. But if he’s able to do it at work, he’s able to do it at home. So ask him, “what helps you get tasks done at work? How do you keep yourself focused there?” And see if you can replicate that.

4. Think of the CEO-Secretary Mix

Again, I’m not trying to reinforce a lopsided relationship, but if you picture a distracted yet active CEO, the ones that function best are the ones with secretaries who compensate. Maybe it’s time to think about compensating rather than about trying to get him to become you.

The thing about the work relationship is that the secretary keeping him on track helps free him up to do what he’s good at. So ask yourself, “what is he good at?” You may honestly want the housework split, but maybe he’s just not a housework kind of guy. But he may be a grocery shopping/errands kind of guy, because that’s more active, and there’s more going on. He doesn’t have to stay focused at a task as much.

In other words, it’s not so much about assigning tasks based on what we think is fair or on what we enjoy but instead basing it on “what are we both best suited for?” Maybe in the comments we could brainstorm about what some of those tasks may be.

Some of you readers have husbands with ADD (or children with ADD) have more to offer on this particular topic. So please, chime in, and let’s help others in this same situation!