Monday, January 25, 2010

Feeling Overwhelmed?

The Question:

my question has to do with with feeling overwhelmed. i always wanted a big family, but i have 3 children now & often feel "how could i have more? i'm so overwhelmed." i try to stay simple, but it seems that no matter what "stuff" enters in. the worst part is that when i get overwhelmed i feel that i'm not the mother i should or want to be. i get impatient & do not cherish the beautiful time in my life that this is. i want more children, but i sometimes fear that i become less of a mom to each child with the more i have.

so i guess my question for you is how do i not get overwhelmed? there are so many things to take care of, to think of, to plan ahead for, etc. how do i stay peaceful amongst it all?

thank-you! thank-you! -courtney

The Answer:

One of the things that makes motherhood so overwhelming is that it never stops. It keeps coming at us day and night. We wake up to the same routines, sometimes having had only a few hours of sleep. Often, we heap on that-- financial worries, an argument with a husband, feelings of isolation or troubles with extended family. We may find ourselves feeling not just overwhelmed but disillusioned with the choice we’ve made and, worse, disappointed with ourselves because we aren’t better at it.

These feelings, when you give in to them, are actually the greatest threat to your success. I repeat, it’s those feelings that are the greatest threat—much more than your actual circumstances. They halt you in your tracks. You want and need to be propelled forward! Here are my suggestions.

Do something about it. Don’t you love the scene in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers where Millie turns the pig pen of a cabin into a real home and revolutionizes the table manners and brings civility to the chaos? In much the same way, you can step back from your overwhelming situation and ask, “What is it that’s getting me down?” Is it the clutter, the disobedience, the lack of support, my appearance, the dirty kitchen floor? List everything that’s bothering you and then change things. You are creating a little world here. You can improve relationships, plan a weekly night out, organize a play group, clear out clutter, rearrange the bedrooms, put flowers on the table.

Somewhere along the line, I made the discovery that what I didn’t do actually overwhelmed me more than what I did. Walking by that weed-filled flower bed twice a day was so much more overwhelming than just going out there and weeding it. It took 20 minutes. It felt good. I felt better. It usually led to sweeping the sidewalk and washing the front door. If your overwhelmed feeling revolves around lonliness, find a walking partner--just 20 minutes in the evening does wonders, start a book club or have an honest discussion with your husband that lays out concretely what you need and what might help. "I need to go out with you every week." "I'd like some time to myself for a couple of hours on Saturday afternoons." I've learned that most husbands aren't good at guessing but they're willing to support us when we're clear about our needs.

Here are a couple of practical habits I adopted at some point, that changed everything for me:

*Do something toward dinner in the morning. Just decide what you’re having and thaw the chicken or start the salad. There is nothing worse than 4:00, tired kids, husband coming home and no plans for dinner. You’ll feel better all day if dinner is in the works.

*Whenever possible, Don’t wake up to yesterday. When the kids are finally in bed, do a quick pick up of the house, make sure the kitchen table is empty, and start the dishwasher. I know….you’re too tired for that. But just do it anyway. You’ll get your second wind and it will feel good to do something that will not be undone while you’re doing it. You’ll be able to start the day fresh. Maybe your husband will help you and you can watch a movie afterwards (while you fall asleep.)

*If at all possible, get up a half an hour before the kids do. Have a good prayer, make your bed, get dressed, start breakfast. Just plan that you'll rest in the afternoon but there's no substitute for productive mornings.

I know what you’re thinking. That I’m one of those Chihuahua type women with boundless energy. Not so. I’m actually quite anemic and even sort of lazy. But I’ve learned that a little energy well-placed changes everything.

One final and perhaps the most important thought is this: Never lose the vision of what you’re really doing. It’s big. There are no shortcuts to the family you want. It’s going to take all you’ve got. But the whole process is a good one and the whole outcome is amazing. Keep before you, the vision of what you want your home to be today and what you want the final outcome to be. Then keep reaching for it. As the days go by, you'll have more and more satisfying moments. Home really can be a heaven on earth. Pray aways and be believing.

Love, Jane

And, by the way, three children was my hardest phase by far.


  1. Great insights! I especially love the idea that what we aren't doing is often more overwhelming than what we are.

    My visiting teacher was over last week and said, "I just can't imagine having my eighth! I'm going crazy with two." I just pointed out we all go crazy with two. =)

    I think it also helps to stop thinking that today's problems will always continue into tomorrow. If we think about adding a baby in addition to our current challenges and problems, then we're not accurately seeing the situation. I find that problems that are pressing down upon me now can virtually disappear in six months. Children mature and our own capacity to handle life matures along with them.

    I've also been amazed at the wonderful, liberating stage of having school-age kids. I still have lots of preschoolers, but my life as a mother is so much more manageable now with school-age kids as well as preschoolers than it ever was with just preschoolers. Some of that is because I have a better perspective on things like discipline and how things tend to work themselves out and some of that is because I have three capable kids helping with dishes and clean-up and bedtime stories. Plus they're so much fun to interact with at that stage and I'm really enjoying all the relationships we have at our house.

    I think we also sell ourselves way too short in what we think we can handle . If we really believe we are daughters of God, with the potential to become like Him, then why can't we handle, with His help, more than we believe possible? Especially in the area of rearing children, Heavenly Father's help is only a prayer away. With His help, we cannot fail. Without it, we are sure to.

  2. thank-you so much. for some reason i loved you & your perspective from the moment i first clicked on your blog. all that you said is helpful and uplifting. and thank-you for some things to ponder & apply.

    it helps me to learn from mothers who've been, especially one's that i admire. you are doing such a blessing for us young mothers. you've already blessed me.

    i also appreciate the comment above. together with your advice, my heart feels lighter & motivated to do my part, rather than "give in" to the inadequate feeling that may come my way.

    thank-you too for taking the time.
    love, courtney

  3. This is excellent and practical advice! The concrete ideas, because they are specific, feel achievable!

  4. So I'm pregnant with #3, all I hear is how 3 is so hard... any suggestions to make it less "hard"?

  5. Great advice. I just began a weekly meal and snack plan. I already feel like it has reduced my stress. Plus we're putting in a dishwasher! woohoo!! It isn't that I mind doing dishes, but the kitchen is my zen zone. If my kitchen is picked up and clean, the rest of my house can be covered in toys and blanket forts and life is still OK.

  6. Suzie, for me it was hard (though four has been a harder adjustment) but it is also a really amazing time. I think people feel they should tell you 3 is the hardest in order to "warn" you or something. Yes, it's hard and you'll learn and grow a lot. But I wonder if those warnings just make it harder. You anticipate a really awful time, and you're more likely to see the negatives and forget to notice the great things. Prepare, do all you can to simplify your life and prepare your other children, then just get excited for this new baby!

    I think taking on each day with a positive attitude was most helpful to me. I knew it was going to be hard, some days REALLY taxing, so I didn't expect it to be easy. I'd try to not let negativity pile up in my mind, just try to breathe and smile through the harder moments and enjoy the rest of the time. Knowing that it's a unique and temporary time helped me to appreciate the good and face the harder days knowing that it will get easier. Also, sleep when you can=) Good Luck! It's going to be great!

  7. Three has been more exhausting and louder than two kids, but I felt that the transition to two kids (and learning to divide my time and attention) was harder than the transition to three.

  8. Jane, thank you so much for this post, I did copy and give you credit back to you for it....but this is very much where I am right now in my life....
    Thank you again!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.