The average American parent juggles a seemingly endless number of tasks, activities, obligations, and stressors. Parents are stressed trying to balance work and family life, kids are involved in multiple extracurricular activities, on average we live farther from relatives and friends who traditionally have shared in childcare, and we live in a “connected” world that makes it hard to slip away from e-mail, cell phones, the Internet, and television. Not to mention the pressures from social media that make it easy to constantly compare ourselves to others.
There is a hard truth to this reality. Our busy lives come with a cost, and as we get busier something has to give. We are so distracted by our activities that we commonly sacrifice life balance and our health. It is not uncommon for families in our culture to habitually eat out (or in the car), carry high stressors, sleep poorly, and lack deep connection with each other as well as our inner selves. When we talk to other parents, how often does our “busy-ness” work its way into conversation? Too often, we accept being busy as inevitable.
But here’s the thing: we do not have to be victims of our busy schedules. More often than not, we have a say in how packed our calendars are — what we say yes to and what we say no to! When I take control of my choices and the opportunities in front of me, suddenly my plate is full of things I care about and want to be doing. When I see myself as an active player in my life, I am much happier for it.
I learned this lesson the hard way this spring. Things were picking up with my business, there was a lot going on with our family, and while I was doing a lot, I didn’t feel like I was showing up in the way I wanted and doing much well. I felt the buzzing of being busy and the guilt that nothing was getting my full attention — you know, not a good feeling. I felt the imbalance pretty deeply and knew I had to do something to address the problem…but I wasn’t sure where to start.
In order to implement a change, I worked with a life coach to identify areas that would help me restore a sense of balance. Here are a few of the takeaways:
- Seek support and accountability from friends. By telling a few folks about my goals to slow down and take on less, I built myself an automatic support system. Knowing that I had shared my goals and hopes with others helped motivate me to be more mindful about what I was saying yes (and no) to.
- Understand who you want to be and recognize what choices get you there. My coach and I walked through an exercise where I put a lot of thought into who I want to be and how I want my life to feel. She helped me determine if each of my commitments measured up to that vision. Those that didn’t, I stopped or slowly phased out. Creating new boundaries and giving myself permission to say no was hard, but the process goes a long way toward reclaiming some sanity. I quickly saw how what I said yes to (and what I said no to) directly affected who I was and how I showed up in the world. Knowing who I wanted to be was a foundational step to informing what opportunities were worth taking on or not.
- Change the conversation! I reflected on how I talk about how busy I am. Even though being constantly on the go wears me out and prevents me from being present, I have to admit I derive some sense of self-worth from the feeling of doing so much. As soon as I started putting less emphasis on the value of doing everything, I noticed how much it improved my quality of life. Don’t wear your “busy-ness” like a badge of honor!
Now, when I catch myself responding to a “how are you doing” question using the word “busy”, I try to see it as an opportunity to reevaluate my choices. If I feel busy it is a red flag that I may not be prioritizing activities adequately. (Or perhaps that I need to change my mindset and how I am engaging in the activities on my plate so they are providing meaning and not just taking up time.) I try to talk about my life in a way that recognizes all that is going on without falling back on a “busy!” reply. This feels empowering and enlivening for me instead of victimized and draining.
All that said, having a full plate is not inherently bad. In fact, I want my plate to be full, but in a meaningful way: full of healthy relationships, meaningful work, connection to my spirit, physical activity and rest, and nourishing foods. When my plate is full of experiences that feed my body, mind, and spirit, I feel healthy, happy, and complete. I needed to take the time this spring to reassess what was filling my individual plate with meaning and happiness, and as a result I was naturally called to reprioritize tasks and activities. Letting go of the meaningless and harmful habits that were consuming my attention allowed more room for the most meaningful tasks to fill up more space in my life. And even though my days are full of action and commitments, I feel refreshed and balanced engaging in activities that give me meaning and joy. My plate is full — and I love it.
What are some commitments you could let go of in order to improve your quality of life? Go ahead, give yourself permission!