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Ask Rene: Running On Empty


Dear Rene,

I don’t really even have time to be writing this, but I am feeling desperate. Our lives seem to be spinning out of control, and just about every parent I know says the same thing.

I have two great sons, 11 & 12, no problems with them, we’re just involved in a lot of stuff. It’s all good, but time demanding: little league, orchestra, scouts, etc. My husband is self-employed as a live TV sports cameraman, plus he has a small business on the side. I am a substitute teacher, but, mostly a full-time mom, and everything else that comes with that title. We have tried lists, organizers, calendars, and on-line sites, to try to get organized enough to get everything done each day and still be sane. But, there is no slack in the system and one unexpected car repair, for instance, can leave us frazzled and behind for days. And, I am talking about good things in our lives, not problems.

However, financially, we are not making it anymore, despite years of living below our means. Since we are self-employed, our health insurance is now $1,200 a month with a $10,000 deductible. So we are now spending our savings, which is painful to do and creates lots of worry.

I am a stage-3 breast cancer survivor of five years, and three years ago I was hit in a crosswalk by an S-U-V that broke both legs and put me temporarily in a wheelchair. So, I have had some life lessons about perspective but I’m not sure I am applying them anymore, however. How do I slow things down enough to enjoy life more, get everything done and not feel so stressed?

Sign me,

Runnin’ on empty

Dear Empty:


I want you to do me a favor right now. Stop what you are doing and sit down to read this. Do not stand over the kitchen counter, coffee cup in hand, TV blaring and try to digest what I am about to tell you. It is important that you listen to this, take it all in and learn from it.  Are you ready?

The most important thing to take away from this is that if you continue at this pace you will kill yourself. That is not hyperbole or exaggeration; this is fact. Not only will you find yourself in an early grave, you will realize as your life winds down to its premature end, that you missed out on a lot trying to fit in a lot. You must stop and I mean right now! Not when the school year is over, not at the end of the month, I mean tonight!

What you are doing is not living; you are simply existing; running a race with a moving finish line. No wonder you’re exhausted!  There are a couple of things that scream out to me as to why this needs to change. Your cancer diagnosis is one. Thank GOD you’re cancer free and you want to stay that way. But there are studies that show links  (some stronger than others) between stress and the immune system.

But you don’t need some government funded study to tell you that you feel like crap and are more susceptible to illness when you are burning the candle at both ends.  While the cancer stress connection may be tenuous, the heart disease-stress connection is much clearer.

Okay so those are the physical health issues, let’s talk about the mental health aspect. You married your husband and had your kids, carved out a life so you could ENJOY it. But honestly it doesn’t sound like there’s much of that going on. I know money’s tight and having to dip into savings to cover health insurance makes it even more so. When was the last time you had a family vacation or an overnight getaway with your husband? When was the last time you put your feet up and enjoyed (the operative word being ENJOYED) a glass of wine while watching the sunset?  My guess is it’s been a while.

You mentioned that you have tried everything to get organized to no avail. I have the answer and it’s free and easy. It’s the word, NO. Hang with me for a minute. Calendars, on-line sites, organizers put all the crazy crap in your life in an area where you can see the madness. They might even color-code the madness and provide alarms when you’re supposed to be somewhere. But they do not STOP THE MADNESS! Only you can do that.  So here’s what I recommend.

*GET A HANDLE ON YOUR SCHEUDLE: Your boys are old enough to be in on this and it’s going to intimately impact them so they should have a say. Call a family meeting. Lay out the schedule so everyone can see who’s going where, doing what and at what time. Then, you’re going to take a BIG RED MARKER and slash those activities by 20 percent at least initially (include hubby’s freelance gigs in here as well if you can afford it). I would say half but there are probably things they are committed to and you have paid for so you’ll have to stick those out. But cut it by at least 20 percent to start. Ask the boys what they want to give up. My guess is that if all this stresses you out it probably does the same to them. But if by chance they are not and are adamant about keeping them all, it’s time to pull out the Good Enough Mother tool I armed you with up top. No. No they will not keep all the activities. Yes you understand they enjoy them. Yes you know they have friends on the teams. But stand your ground. Who’s gonna shuttle them back and forth to soccer if mommy is in the hospital recovering from a heart attack? Seriously, it is that cut and dried.

*PLAN A “DO-NOTHING” NIGHT ONCE A WEEK: Now you will create a new planner and on it you will SCHEDULE one night a week as a DO-NOTHING night. You will protect this night and nothing short of an arm falling off or an eye being poked out will deter you from it. There may be instances where it has to be shifted (maybe Parent-Teacher night or some other event) but if you have to do that, make another night that week the Do-Nothing night. On that night, dinner will be easy, store bought chicken, chili from a can with crackers and a salad; even cereal will work (breakfast for dinner is a fan favorite around here; I even talk about it in my book and that’s something everyone can make for themselves. Don’t worry about nutrition; it’s one night a week, they’ll be fine. After dinner, throw the dishes in the sink (they can be done the following day) and go spend the rest of the night relaxing, playing games or go for a walk in your neighborhood. But you get where I am going with this don’t you? This will be a mid-week recharge for the family.

*GET YOUR OWN PRIORITIES STRAIGHT: This is a longer-term goal but important nonetheless. You said something interesting in your letter. You said that every parent you know says the same thing. Why is that? I’m going out on a limb here but you know what this sounds like to me? Competitive parenting and you know I loathe that (check out Ten From GEM in the bottom right sidebar of this site). See I think there is this unspoken rule among parents that their kids have to be in every activity, every sport and every school play available. Uh, no they don’t. That’s a fallacy perpetrated by parents who think their babies will be deprived if they don’t fill every waking moment with stuff. I’ll go you one further. I think you actually do a tremendous disservice to kids when you don’t allow them to have downtime. They need to know how to entertain themselves, find and hone their own interests and to give their little brains and rest, for crying out loud. If they work hard all day in school and then work hard after school, when will that happen?

Okay, I’ve given you a place to start. You have your assignment and it’s up to you to make it happen. You will parent for the people who matter; those inside your own house. You must be good to yourself too. Do not bat an eye when someone says “Oh your boys are not going to play soccer this year?” or  “Can you volunteer at the church bazaar?” The answer is a clear and firm NO and upon giving it, you will turn and walk away, unfazed by their reaction or what they might say. I’ll bet it will be something along the lines of “Man, I wish I could do that.”

Good luck mommy!

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Combing the aisles at Target in search of the best deal on Cheerios, it hit Rene Syler like the stench of a dirty diaper on a hot summer’s day. Not only is perfection overrated its utterly impossible! Suddenly empowered, she figuratively donned her cape, scooped up another taco kit for dinner and Good Enough Mother was born.

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