I found this pertinent quote by Elizabeth Edwards after frantically googling “adjust your sails” quote. I wanted to be sure I got it just right, because a quarantine of unknown length is no time to mince words of encouragement.
If you’ve been keeping up with me on social media lately, you know I’ve been in and out of what I am affectionately calling the “quarantine crazies.” See this post if you want to know exactly what I’m talking about.
So, yeah…things have been difficult. And I know things are difficult for everyone right now, for a multitude of reasons, and in a multitude of ways. Literally every single person I have talked to lately, from my own therapist to my dear friends, to the clerks at the grocery store are all feeling the same. darn. way.
After a pretty disastrous couple of days in my house (anyone else feel like homeschooling with a VERY active one year old is a bit of a tall order??), I woke up this morning, determined to try again. I realized somewhere between my first sip of coffee, my time in prayer, and my outdoor stillness/meditation that something had to give. Well, a lot of things probably had to give.
Literally just show me what to do, God, I silently begged. Because what I’ve been doing just isn’t working.
Moments later, a thought popped into my head that I’m certain wasn’t my own: when my two older boys were toddlers, we followed a routine that included specific times for outdoor play, independent play, tv time, snack time, etc. They both definitely thrived on routine, and it gave me a necessary predictability in what was otherwise a very unpredictable season of life. Maybe it was time to start implementing something similar with my little man.
Having such a big gap (six years) between my middle and my littlest guy made me feel like routine was so passe. The older kids are (relatively) self-sufficient now and they can pretty much do what they do most of time. As a result, little man has been in the habit of grazing here and there instead of eating every meal and snack in his high chair, watching more tv than his bros ever did at his age, and my living room looks like FAO Schwartz threw up in it 24/7. It’s kind of hilarious as I think about it now: I had swung from one side of the parenting pendulum completely to the other, and this is what I had to show for it.
Toss in the coronavirus quarantine and the task of facilitating my older kids’ educations, while my husband is working from home, and I’m seeing clients remotely and trying to keep up with my work…and well, it’s a recipe for an actual (earmuffs, children): shit show.
It also began to dawn on me that much of my frustration was due to the fact that I was expecting my little man to stop being so inquisitive and full of energy – basically, you know, stop being an almost 2 year old boy. Mama’s sorry, baby boy. The problem wasn’t him, of course. It was me.
But how dare he dump blueberries all over the floor when I was trying to help his brothers with their assignments for the day? What was he thinking spilling milk all over the place when I was clearly in the middle of doing something so important as checking Instagram? As I reflected on the problems of the past few days this morning, I decided that if the wind wasn’t going to be changing anytime soon, it was definitely time for me to adjust my sails.
I pulled out a notebook and pen and went back to the drawing board just before baby boy woke up. I created a new routine for him and for me, that would allow me to clearly communicate to my husband and the rest of the family what the day ahead would look like. And then came the hardest part for me…staying focused on just the one thing at a time that we were doing.
Admittedly, the day is only half over as I write this, but I already feel SO different and so much better than yesterday. I have hope, I’m choosing joy, and way less things are getting messed up. I organized and significantly pared down the toys. I instituted family clean up time, which I wish I had been more strict about over the years, but that’s neither here nor there. I mandated that all meals and snacks will take place at certain times and within the confines of the high chair. I stopped taking orders for what my kids wanted for lunch (why the heck I ever did that in the first place is absolutely beyond me, but you live and you learn, right?) and started putting a variety of foods out on a huge cutting board and told everyone to “come and get it.” They actually loved it, so that was a win.
In short, I laid the smack down. And so far, it has been awesome.
And if it stops being awesome? You guessed it – it will be time for me to adjust those sails again.
If you, like me, are feeling like what you’ve been doing is no longer working for you or serving you during these uncertain times, I’d love to share a few suggestions with you. As always, feel free to take what works for you and leave the rest!
Give some honest thought to the parts of your day that are the absolute worst. Think about you the frustrations that happen over and over again. I would suggest writing down everything that’s causing you stress, frustration, and anxiety right now on one side of a piece of paper. Now look at the list and on the other side of the paper, list literally every possible solution you can think of in a big ol’ brain dump. Remember what your third grade teacher said: ANYTHING goes in brainstorming. If you are having a hard time coming up with more than one possible solution, talk to a trusted friend or therapist and get some outside advice. Even popping a question into a mom group on Facebook or a quick Google search may be helpful for this.
I like to tell my clients who may be feeling stuck in their ways, to “try something new, as an experiment.” This helps them to feel a little safer trying something that may be out of their comfort zone (or just way different than what they normally do) because it’s “just for today” instead of a life sentence. Change is difficult for most people, myself included, so be gentle with yourself as you’re narrowing down your solutions, but also give yourself a real chance to shake up your routine where necessary. Just because you’ve always done something a certain way, doesn’t mean it has to stay that way forever. Rank order the solutions that intuitively feel best to you.
Are the changes you made helpful? Do you have less frustration in certain areas than before? Why do you think that is? Do you think the changes you’ve made could be a long term solution? Why or why not? Be willing to answer these questions and any others that may arise as a result of trying new ways of doing things.
Back to the third grade teacher advice: if you try something and it doesn’t work well for you, don’t be content to settle for the staus quo. Continue shaking things up and adjusting your sails until you find something that can make things at least a little better. Realistically, you may not be able to find a perfect solution to all of your current problems, but you’re likely to find at least a few areas that will improve if you’re willing to try something new.
Best of luck to you, my friends, and please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need anything! I’m here for you!