I’ve done a lot of thinking about time lately — specifically, how I’m spending my hours. Like everybody, I’ve got this to-do list that never gets done (and some days doesn’t even get started). Like most people, I feel constantly behind. I’ve got all these things I want to do and I get so frustrated because most days I can’t even get the basics done. A piece, it would seem, is missing out of the puzzle.
Recently, during time spent rocking with my littlest kiddo (which I remind myself is not time wasted, sitting on my butt, but instead time spent loving on him and investing in his little soul), I’ve had the chance to work my way through a couple of good books on time management and mothering. I’ve learned a lot of good stuff (more on the books in future posts), but here are my first two takeaways:
4 Kids = Full-Time Job
I — with Beau’s help, of course — purposefully brought four children into the world. And now, it seems, someone has to take care of them. Like, all the time. Who knew?!
Beau is a great dad and helps with our kids as much as he can. My mom pitches in and helps, too. But the reality is that both Beau and Grandma have jobs and responsibilities of their own. The other reality? Childcare options in rural Eastern Montana are super limited (just ask the work-outside-the-home mamas in this area who really and truly NEED childcare). As far as I can tell, there is no dropping these Blake kids off at the babysitter so I can do other things.
At the end of the day, these kids are a FULL TIME PLUS SIZE JOB. It might seem kinda silly to point it out, but this realization has been a paradigm shift for me. See, I used to think our kids would kinda fit into the fringes of my life and that I would go on doing everything I did before kids and they’d just be along for the ride. But then… perhaps because our family grew to FOUR kids… the kids became not the fringes but the life. And I don’t think it’s in an unhealthy way, either. I think it’s in a realistic way. Four Blake kids (Beau and I always look at each other incredulously and say, How did we end up with four kids?) equals a full time job and then some. And I am the (lucky) woman to have that job.
That means that anything extra I do, on top of the kids, is… well, extra. That has been a pill for me to swallow these last couple months.
Add homeschooling on top of the four kids and it’s all a serious-as-a-heart-attack responsibility.
Am I up to it? (This brings me to my next takeaway.)
Sleep Is (Surprise!) Beneficial
I haven’t slept much since my first baby was born in 2010. None of our babies has been a good sleeper (luckily, we find, they grow out of that eventually) and, additionally, I have always pooh-poohed the advice to “sleep when your baby is sleeping.” I have proudly claimed I would sleep when I got to the nursing home, and I have burned the candle at both ends pursuing my own interests and wish lists as the babies slept.
To some extent, pursuing one’s own interests is a life-giving thing.
But on the other hand, one has to be realistic about the limited nature of time. Not to mention the restorative nature of sleep.
One recent day I was complaining to Beau about how, in light of coming to terms with the 24-hour day, I’d had to get real and strip my life of all but the barest responsibilities (pretty much taking care of the kids, homeschooling them, fixing lunch/cleaning the kitchen, and keeping up with our personal finances. For real. Notice the essentials that don’t make the cut: showering, cleaning the house, laundry, me-time, etc.) — and how, even at that, I still wasn’t doing a great job at those few things.
I told him that constant feelings of job failure were wearing me down. For instance, I would assume that a stay-at-home mom would keep a tidy house, wouldn’t you? But I’ve never been able to figure it out. I am not a natural housekeeper, and I’ve tried and tried to improve, but it’s a constant struggle for me, and because I’m here all the time I am constantly faced with signs of my shortcomings — all around me in the dirty dishes, the laundry pile, the clutter that overflows from every room — and that has been emotionally exhausting for me lately.
Combine those feelings of failure with the ranch stress that seeps into my life as a result of living here in the middle of it — plus the high-wire reality that we have four kids and one of them is a 14-month-old danger to himself and others — and the result is that I haven’t been the fun, patient homeschooling mom this year like I always assumed I’d be.
Housekeeping fail. Ranch stress. Homeschooling struggle. It all stirs up into a cocktail that leaves me feeling pretty darn close to the edge most days.
I told Beau I didn’t know what else to do.
And then he asked me a simple question that for some reason struck me in a profound way. He said:
Have you tried sleeping?
Now, I will admit that sleep has always seemed rather counter-productive to me. When you’re sleeping you’re not getting anything done, right?
But. I’ve done some looking into it recently and it turns out studies show that sleep… blah, blah blah. You’ve heard about the benefits of sleep before, haven’t you?
So here’s the news: I’m giving sleep a shot. Instead of keeping myself up extra hours and grinding away at stuff, I’ve just kinda given up. It’s like I don’t know what else to do, so I’m trying sleep. Beau and I are no longer watching TV after the kids go to bed; instead, we read as I rock the baby, or even just sit quietly, and he usually nods off on the couch. We’ve both pretty much given up caffeine, too, assuming the risk of losing sleep over it is not worth the (delicious) benefits. When the baby keeps me up at night, I’ve given myself permission to just sleep in in the morning, as late as the rest of the kids will allow me to. And when the temptation calls to get up early and knock out a few projects in the wee hours of the morning, I’m trying hard to just roll back over.
Am I getting eight hours of uninterrupted sleep? No. I’m not sure all four of our kids will EVER all sleep through the same night. Inevitably someone’s pull-up leaks in the middle of the night. Or someone else throws up in her bed. Or someone else has an earache. Or a bad dream. And the list goes on.
But I’m also trying to expect those things more than consider them surprise inconveniences. I’ve decided they are part of the parenting job description, and as we’ve established, parenting is my full-time job.
Sleep, along with my new (ultra-realistic) to-do list, means I’m not working on that children’s book I dream of writing. I don’t have time to help Beau with ranch stuff. It means I’m not getting the yard raked like I ought to. It means I’m probably not going to get the barn cleaned top to bottom this year… once again. And it means I’m not posting daily blogs like I dream of doing.
But, if I’m to believe what the experts claim, sleep DOES mean I’m restoring my body and my mind, that I’m escaping for a few precious hours the outside circumstances that drive me crazy but which I can’t change, that I’m avoiding negative thoughts that tend overwhelm me when I skip sleep, and (what’s more!) that I’m storing up productivity-enhancing endorphins that will pay back dividends later.
Because you know they claim that investing in sleep-hours results in more productive awake-hours.
Do you think that’s true?
I’m not convinced yet. But I have to try.
My new goal: To find fulfillment in the job God has put before me, rather than trying to cram in a bunch of extra jobs that maybe aren’t on His agenda for me at all.
© Tami Blake