Dear Rene:

Thanks so much for the Good Enough Mother site – and all you preach!

I love the central message of GEM and wish I could apply it more to my own life. My problem is that I feel totally overwhelmed at the moment by my life. I feel like I have so many plates spinning that could come crashing down at any moment.

My husband Jerry works long hours and is on the road a lot so I take care of most of the household chores and raising our three children, Mika (12), Steven (9) and Casey (4). I also work a full time job as a librarian. My sister is going through a painful divorce and needs a lot of support while my mother is aging and needs help around her home. On top of that my eldest Mika has a learning disability and is acting out from frustration. And we have quite a lot of credit card debt that we’re struggling to pay off (I handle all the bills and thus all the stress).

I want to make some more time for myself but I honestly don’t know where to begin. What’s your advice Rene? What are your secrets? And how do all the other GEMs out there juggle their own crazy lives?

Best

Kara, San Diego

Dear Kara:

So glad you wrote in because we need to do an intervention STAT! You say you like the central message of GEM and wish you could apply it more to your life. Here’s the good news; you can. Here are a couple of ideas that I think might help.

PRIORITIZE: Okay first things first. You have an awful lot on your plate and some of it just isn’t going to get done.  Once you accept that, we can then go back and approach it the way they do injuries in the hospital emergency room, the most critical and pressing get addressed first. Of the list you have presented in your letter, the very first thing I would do is get on the phone with all the credit card companies and see if they’d be willing to give you a bit of a break. There are some companies who will work with you if they know you are struggling but doing your best. Perhaps you can workout a reduced payment schedule, if even for a few months, just to give you some breathing room. Maybe you could look at consolidating some of your debt. Once you are out from under the weight (at least partially) of the crushing debt you might be able to breathe easier, which means you can sleep at night, leaving you well rested and prepared to make sound decisions in other areas of your life.

SCHEDULE: Whether you go elaborate and print off a spreadsheet or use crayons on a paper towel, you have got to put a schedule in place that will govern everyone’s activities/responsibilities. Since Jerry travels a lot and works long hours I am assuming that leaves you to handle the bulk of the school and extra-curricular activities. That’s a job in and of itself. I keep everyone’s schedule on a master calendar (with reminders) so I can see who’s going where, including my husband’s travel.

SHARE THE LOAD: Learn to delegate some of those duties and responsibilities. Your kids are old enough to handle some of the work around the house; even the four-year-old can be responsible for making sure her toys are in the bin or helping set the table. Perhaps Mika can help out a bit with your mother; giving her some added responsibility might help her grow and mature. One of the things I do with all the various activities is I share driving duties with some of the other mothers. If we have kids going to the same place, I’ll drop off and someone else can pick up. Simple I know but every little bit helps.

LEARN TO SAY NO AND BE OKAY WITH YOUR ANSWER: I think this will probably be the most difficult part of our Good Enough Mother intervention. You are going to have to learn how to say no and mean it. Not no that means, ‘maybe-if you-beg or-brow-beat-me-into-it-I’ll-change-my-mind’. A good, firm, easy to understand, no. In order to do that I think you have to be comfortable with knowing that you’re going to make some people unhappy; if that is the case, oh well. No you cannot be on the party planning committee, no you cannot coach peewee soccer, and no you cannot host a slumber party for eight girls. And you do not need to explain why you cannot help out this time. Saying no this time doesn’t mean you won’t ever pitch in, it’s just a bad time right now. It is imperative that you take stock of the demands on your time and, using the triage example from earlier, handle what is most pressing. Maintaining your sanity is far more important than garnering accolades from your neighborhood peers for “being the one we can always count on.” (Translation: when we’re in a bind, we’ll call Kara; she always says yes)

REVEL IN YOUR IMPERFECTION: Learn to love a dirty house, eat meals from a box in front of the TV, put your feet on the table and teach the 12-year-old how to decant a bottle of wine. Okay, maybe skip the last one, but the truth is, while you’re not going to do it every night, it is okay to throw a frozen pizza in the oven and you eat it with the kids in front of the TV. Does it really matter that there is laundry to be done or that your kids had to wear the same pair of pants two days in a row? Ack the horror! Oh please, if a clean house were tantamount to good parenting, I would be in the Bad Mommy Hall of Shame. Hell, I would be the charter member! The truth is, as is Good Enough Mother philosophy, you have to learn what really matters and what to shake off. Working full-time, cooking, cleaning and doing laundry leaves your kids with a mother too pooped to listen (I mean REALLY LISTEN) to them and the exciting stuff going on in their world. Remember who you are parenting for and it isn’t the neighbors. If they want to look down their nose at you because there’s dust on your end tables, then God help them because they need more in their lives. But you have to learn to be okay with that.

Kara I know you have a lot to deal with but you can do this. Break it into small, manageable chunks, do the best you can then let the chips fall where they may. It helps to remember this; you are helping no one by burning the candle brightly at both ends. What good will you be to your family when you are hospitalized with exhaustion?

Good luck mommy!

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