A few years ago I made a passing comment about being in “bare minimum mode” because we had four kids under age five. I was surprised when I opened up email the next morning to have a flood of questions asking me for more details about this concept. Ever since then, any time I bring up the topic I get a great response from others who find themselves in seasons of life when things are too crazy to do anything other than just get by. I find myself in a survival season once again since I now have six kids under age nine, so I thought I’d throw together a few things I’ve learned from my last few times around this block.
1. The idea that watching TV is bad for kids is an urban legend started by an evildoing madman who hates mothers. Don’t worry about how much TV your kids watch. At all.
2. Think about whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, and chill accordingly. Extroverts tend to need to get out of the house in order to recharge their batteries, whereas we introverts would love nothing more than to lock ourselves in a closet with a book. Don’t waste your rare moments of free time on activities that might be relaxing to other people but are not relaxing to you.
3. Your whole family is living in a pressure cooker, so think very, very carefully before saying anything negative. Little wisecracks that would otherwise be blown off can trigger major arguments when everyone is stretched thin.
4. It’s hard when you feel like your life is made of fail. Setting a small goal and getting it done can give you a much-needed sense of accomplishment, even if it’s as simple as touching up your toenail polish.
5. Admit that what you’re doing is hard. Yes, we live in the age of modern medicine and amazing technology, but we also live in an age of great isolation. You’re not a wimp because you feel like your life is tough.
6. Don’t think about your problems when you’re tired. It’ll take you about five minutes to decide that the world is a horrible place, your life is an irreparable mess, and the best option is to give up and yearn for death.
7. Do what you can to strengthen your relationship with God — you’re going to need as much grace as you can get to make it through this phase. That said, don’t let your spiritual life become a source of stress. God knows that you’re having a tough time and is pleased with even your most feeble efforts at prayer.
8. It’s important to be consistent when you discipline the kids. But if you don’t have the energy for that, Shock and Awe parenting works too: make empty threats most of the time, but on the rare occasions when you actually follow through, make your punishments creative and memorable. The last time my big kids got rowdy and woke up the toddler, they had to sit and watch an hour of Barney with her. They haven’t woken her up again.
9. Don’t go too crazy with the junk food. Yeah, it feels good while that half-bag of sea salt and vinegar chips is going into your mouth, but bad eating habits can ruin your life (trust the expert on this one). You’ll be happier and have more energy if you keep it healthy.
10. Don’t be a perfectionist about exercise. If you don’t have the time or the money to get a full gym membership, just take a walk around the block in the evening. Anything that makes you move and gets your blood pumping will help you feel better.
11. Find the right balance of activities. Too many commitments will make you crazy, but a couple of classes or sports for you or the kids can provide some much-needed structure and entertainment.
12. Drink wine.
13. But don’t drink too much wine, because OH MY WORD there is nothing worse than a wine hangover on a survival day (so I hear).
14. You won’t be able to keep the house as clean as you (or the Health Department) would like, so set cleaning priorities together with your spouse. Maybe you could make sure the kitchen’s clean each day but fold the laundry when you can get to it? Sweep daily but vacuum weekly? Approaching housework in an intentional way will help you use your limited time and energy to keep the house in a condition that both you and your husband can live with.
15. Make good sleep a priority…but do so in light of your sleep personality. (Read: if it always takes you 45 minutes to fall asleep, you are setting yourself up for a very painful failure if you try to catch a catnap during the day.)
16. If you have a baby, make sure you are following a sleep training philosophy that works for your family, even if it’s not what all the other moms are doing. (See my forthcoming post called, “How co-sleeping saved my friend’s life and ruined mine.”)
17. You’ll need your spouse’s help in order to make sure your basic needs for sleep, exercise, down time, etc. are being met, but your husband is probably feeling like he has little left to give. Schedule some time to talk when you won’t be interrupted, communicate your needs in a solution-oriented way, and ask your husband how you can help him, too.
18. You weren’t meant to do this alone, so think hard about whether there’s any way to get help. Could you join a childcare co-op? Hire a laundry service? Get a neighbor girl to babysit? Get once-a-month housekeepers? Too often we have a knee-jerk reaction of saying that there’s no help available to us, when the reality is that we’re just overwhelmed by the prospect of finding it.
19. Put on a fresh coat of lipstick in the afternoon. When you see your reflection in the mirror it’ll trick you into thinking that you might actually survive the rest of the day.
20. Occasionally ask yourself if it’s time to start trying to thrive again. It’s surprisingly easy to get stuck in survival mode.
21. Kick people in the shins who tell you it’ll “go by so fast.” It won’t stop them from saying it, but it’ll feel soooooo good.
(I wrote this post while a toddler was trying to sit on my head.)