Our family is rolling into a crazy busy season.
We’ve got two young adult sons coming home to work for the summer. One is bringing a “significant other” who will live with us for a short time (and we are kicking our son out for that brief window, parents that we are). Two kiddos will be traveling and working elsewhere for a month. Throughout the summer we’re getting spoiled with visits from out-of-town friends. I’m working on a mom-and-me Bible study and trying to write a book, while my husband leads in ministry at a very busy camp and conference center. We have a LOT on our plates, and sometimes it feels like it’s too much. Some things get dropped when other things get added to the calendar, but through it all, our desire is to honor God and to honor relationship, first in our marriage and family, and then in connecting with others for intentional relationship. There are a few survival tips for a busy family that we’ve learned and are forever re-learning – not just to survive, but to thrive.
Do it the night before.
If you can do it before you go to bed, do it. How many times have you woken up to realize you hit snooze one too many times, or your kiddo is grumpy and forgot an assignment, you can’t find a thing to wear in your closet, and on and on? If you can take a few moments to walk through your house and calendar, you will sleep better and wake up with less “crazy…” I promise! Here are a few ideas:
Prepare the house – Having guests? Set the table. Check your menu and set out your non-refrigerated ingredients (or better yet, throw something in the crock pot and pop it in the fridge for tomorrow!).
Check the calendar – What’s on the agenda for tomorrow? What needs attention that will require rearranging something else?
Lay out clothes – You know as well as I do that when you wake up and you’re in a rush, there will be nothing to wear in your closet. Take a minute now (and do this with your kids too!) and lay out your outfit, from unmentionables to jewelry. It saves so. much. time. the next day! Added plus: it also saves lots of conflict with any younger person who might not want input in the mornings on attire.
Prep for school – Go through backpacks and check homework, and replace anything that needs to go back. Sign forms and have everything waiting by the door. Pack snacks that don’t have to be refrigerated and have those there together. Do you homeschool? Treat your school day the same way. Set out schoolwork in stacks to eliminate the dreaded “where is my…” question that can eat up valuable minutes and brain space! Plan snack and lunch options that won’t require your attention in the moment, but can easily be prepped by your kiddos.
Set the table – I am forever hitting that dreaded “witching hour,” which used to mean whiny hungry toddlers, and now means a few minutes to work on my own agenda after a busy day of school and sports, and wondering, “oh, shoot, what’s for dinner?!” But those mornings that I set the table (or more often, have a child do it), there’s one less thing to worry about, and one more little motivator to sit down together and enjoy a few moments in the evening to talk and make memories.
GO TO BED. This one should be in all caps, and probably on a banner hanging above my bed. If we don’t get our buns in bed, we can’t expect to wake up fresh and ready for a peaceful day. If you think of last minute things, write them on your calendar or make a note on your phone, and let it go. (And DO NOT click onto Facebook to check for status updates. Don’t click Pinterest. I’m not preaching to myself or anything.)
Work as a Team
You and your spouse are a team, and God put you together for a reason. Ladies, ask your husband before you commit to another thing for the calendar, even for yourself. I promise, it will go a long way toward his supporting you when you need it. It will also go a long way in your meeting his needs for your skills, when you leave margin to come alongside him. We all know this, but communication, communication, communication is key. My husband and I meet every morning over coffee or tea before he leaves for work, to read and pray, and to go over whatever we can think of on the coming agenda. We also rely on email, texts, and our Outlook calendar to keep us somewhat on the same page. When we let those drop, it always causes stress.
Use technology (apps, texting, calendar sharing, email!). If your kids text, text them and remind them about family commitments.
PRAY together. Even if it’s just over the dinner table, take time to pray for each other and for others each of you knows. Ask God to use you in the lives of others. Ask Him to help your family say “yes” to things that honor Him, and “no” to things that don’t matter.
You are a whole family – all the burden doesn’t lie on mom and dad to make everything happen. That means if a child has school commitments or sports or other activities, they have responsibilities financially, in communication, and in follow-through that don’t completely rely on parents. This is so important to their realizing the value of a family’s investment, and to making wise decisions as they grow into adulthood. Be willing to let natural consequences take their toll if a child drops the ball – it’s so hard, but it’s how they learn.
Welcoming others is a family affair. If you’re hosting guests, the whole family should help prepare. Even if it’s just “everyday welcome,” the family is a team that can work together to care for the home and the meals. Again, this helps us as parents, but it also teaches our kids what’s important.
You don’t have to do ALL THE THINGS. We don’t start organized sports the minute our kids are walking. We tend to wait until they really want it, even sometimes enough to offer to help pay for a commitment. When they are old enough to realize the value of a commitment, and the value of what must be sacrificed, they are old enough to really gain from extracurricular activities. Before that, we often just risk burnout and unneeded stress on kids and family.
Even church activities – While they can be good things, not always the BEST things. A wild crazy game night at youth group can be a fun relationship-builder with the body of Christ. OR, it can be a commitment that replaces much needed family time, the opportunity to genuinely mentor our kids and discuss life issues, make memories, and point each other to Jesus. Really ask the hard questions before committing to even good things for your family. Just because “everyone is doing it,” even if it’s a good thing, it may not be the right investment of your family’s time in this season.
Train Your Kiddos
It’s their part of the family “mission” to participate in the activities your family chooses. Expect younger siblings (and older ones) to support the others in the activities that are important. Teach them to to properly set a table or participate in table conversation. Take them with you when you help out at church or serve someone in need.
Teaching our kids to take responsibility prepares them for their future. It is a way that we can “teach them as we go,” and they will remember it, and sometimes put instinctively into practice the values you modeled for them.
It sets an example for others. We have the opportunity to show the world what kindness means when we teach our kids to practice good manners, to clean up after themselves, to honor a commitment and to drop something that isn’t important. Even if we don’t go around “teaching” how God has called us to live our lives, when we make it our aim to live a quiet life and walk out what God’s called us to do as an individual family, others may be encouraged. (1 Thessalonians 4:11-13)
Make your home convenient
I’m always trying to refine how our home works. It might be my restless nature at work, but if I feel like a cabinet isn’t working efficiently, I’ll rearrange it. If a “system” isn’t useful, I’ll revise it. Use your home as a tool to help you accomplish the things that matter. We do this in a few ways:
Placement of clothes – We keep kids’ shoes in the garage for the most part. It helps us know where to find them, and it helps keep lots of extra dirt out of the house.
Placement of food/kitchen – I’m forever having to clean and purge, but I try to set up our food and dish storage in ways that make it convenient to cook, set the table, and clean, so that we can enjoy the process and outcome. That means if I don’t use something, I have to be diligent to get rid of it. If it is in a main area and it isn’t pretty, it’s my goal to relocate it if it’s useful, or if it isn’t, make it gone.
Preparing for guests – We try to have a set of sheets and towels that stay out of circulation, so they’re ready to go easily if guest come by. We want our home to be useful for investing in relationship.
Pretty things – This is a personal conviction. I like pretty things in my home decor. But if taking care of it causes me stress, or if using it causes me to worry more about the thing than the people using it, I don’t want to have it all. People matter more than pretty things. Working on this one, always!
Block out free time (even for your kiddos).
If it’s not on the calendar, it often doesn’t happen. Leave space on the calendar for NOTHING. Take a bath, let the kids read with no expectations. Sit in the yard and have tea with a neighbor. But leave time with no expectations, and honor that time. It lets our souls find new inspiration to keep going! Resist the temptation to keep your kids busy every moment – they need brain-space to get bored and to get creative.
If you can say “no,” say it. If you can say “later!” say it.
I promise – if it’s really important, the opportunity will come back around. But if you can possibly say “no” to something, give yourself permission to do it. Then ask God to give you clarity to wait, or to permanently, and politely, refuse that new commitment, to leave room for the “necessary” things He calls you to.
And in case it is useful to you, here are three questions to ask yourself before putting something on the calendar:
Does this take away from our current commitments?
Does this activity/event/calendar appointment add to the time our family will spend away from each other, or away from current activities? It it something that will hurt our other commitments, or does it require setting something else aside? What are we prepared to sacrifice to make this commitment happen?
Does it create more investment than the “thing” itself?
For instance, signing up for softball might also mean committing to bring snacks, shop for uniforms, invite the team over for pasta night, and carpool with other parents. Are we prepared for all the additional investment of time, money, and energy that are involved, and are those things worth the benefit of the commitment?
Does this commitment have “forever meaning?”
Five years from now, will this activity or event have meaning in our family’s life? Is it a true investment in relationship-building, in our spiritual or physical health, in sharing God’s love with others, or in some other area that’s eternally important for one or all of our family? Is it a commitment that can make someone else’s life better, share eternal truths with them, or encourage them? Is it an investment in a skill one or all of us will use in the future?
If the commitment doesn’t fit the priorities you have as a family, or if it doesn’t help an individual enough to be worth the sacrifice, SAY NO. Give yourselves permission to let it go, either for now or indefinitely. When you can do that, you leave room for rest, and for sweeter opportunities that will matter forever.
What are your tips for not just surviving, but thriving, in the trenches of a busy family life?