One thing to change when it feels like everything is falling apart
Sometimes I have weeks when it feels like I’ve forgotten how to do this whole parenting thing completely – I start thinking Nothing works! I don’t know how to do this! I have to change everything! But thankfully when I catch myself thinking that way I now realize what it’s actually telling me, and it’s not everything must change.
Keeping family routines working feels impossible on the days where nothing goes right. I’m tempted to throw everything out and start from scratch, but after years of experiences as both a stay at home mom and working mom I’ve realized that if I try to change everything, (I’ll become a shiny new me and always get the dishes done and never misplace my keys and always fold laundry promptly from now on!) it will only lead to overwhelm and failure.
A book I read recently holds the key to these situations. In The ONE Thing, by Gary Keller (amazon link) he tells us to ask the focusing question, which is this: “What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
So, when things feel topsy turvy I look for the one thing causing me the most misery. What is the routine or issue causing the worst frustration?
I find my one thing by looking for my main pain point. If I can dive into that instead of making sweeping change, things will shift.
If I pick the part of the day causing the most difficulty and put structure and routine around that part of the day (or that discipline issue) it tends to solve other problems as well, or atleast make them easier.
What’s the ONE thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary? – Gary Keller
Example – When Lunch Time Was Full of Tears
When the kids were little, lunch used to be terrible; everyone would be goofing off or grumpy, they wouldn’t eat well and then they’d ask for snacks all day afterwards. My afternoons were filled with frustration and tears and I finally decided lunch time was the culprit.
This is how we revised the routine and improved the flow of our day by just changing this one part of the day.
1. Find the Pain Point – Lunch Time. Kids were grumpy, not coming to the table, or bouncing off before eating. This ruined our afternoons and evenings because they were worn out and underfed during the afternoon.
2. Investigate – Why is this happening?
- People were hungry so their impulse control was low and they were more likely to be grumpy.
- Lunchtime was happening each day, but it was pretty loosey-goosey, kids didn’t really know what to expect.
- Since it was a crummy part of the day I was wanting to space out, not be real present during that time. I might creep off and get on the computer or be otherwise absent after putting out food.
3. Plan – Make a plan for how to tackle this ONE problem. Write it down.
In this instance my plan was to put a focus on Lunchtime: Get them playing outside or doing something absorbing before hand so I could have some peace while I made the lunch (giving myself a bit of downtime, sort of). Make a beginning and an ending to the meal in order to give it a feeling of structure. Here’s what I tried (Don’t kid yourself that this went perfectly, or that it lasted forever. This was just a plan to try.)
It often took a while to get them to stop playing and come sit, we’d eat the something thrilling like lunch meat roll-ups and apple slices, and in order to read the story I often had to put one or two kids on my lap. Perfect or not, we got through it most days and if I didn’t start the routine, they began to ask for it, “Can I light the candle? Aren’t you going to read a story?”
The kids appreciated the regularity and rhythm of having a lunchtime routine. They were interested in lighting the candle so they came pretty willingly to the table, and I felt good that was reading to them. By making this as a way-point in our day, it gave a new beginning to the afternoon, making the end of our day go better as well.
4. Revise – The final part of this is knowing that, of course, routines change over time. A few years later and lunch looks quite different than this – we don’t need all of the routine around it in order to make our day go well (though as I read through it I remember the sweetness of lunch time stories and miss it.)
There’s no need to force a routine to go on if it no longer serves you; it’s natural to revise. Here are my favorite tips on starting new routines.
A recent pain-point around here with my now bigger kids (they’re 5, 8 and nearly 11 at the time of writing this) was the mix of getting schoolwork done and media privileges. Last week I was feeling the “Everything is bad!” feeling. Once I realized I was in that thought mode I looked for my main pain point and decided we needed to work on our media rules. We focused in on that routine this week, and sure enough, tweaking our rules, writing down the new ones and sticking with them this week is making everything feel better, not just schoolwork. It’s always a revision process.
Do your family routines need some fine tuning right now? Which one do you need help with?
- Making Screen Time Rules that Work for Your Family
- Flexible Family Routines – how to have consistency, yet be able to flex with kids’ needs
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I love this post. This last week has been mayhem in our home with our 6yr old testing us each morning. Not getting out of bed on time and late for school when we live 200m down the street. I can also relate to staying up late trying to get everything done to have a smooth day the next day but I usually feel tired. I like the idea of not going online as I’m guilty of doing that too. I find if I give myself to my three boys 4, 6, 7 yrs then life is easier although I feel my head ticking away with all the other things that are still waiting for me to do.
Thanks Leslie. One of the ways I find to be able to be more present with my kids is to give myself time chunks during the during the day when I know I plan to be focused on them, and then other times when I’m doing something else.
The online thing is tricky because many of us do that as a way to connect with others. I’ve found I have to severely edit where I go/how I interact online so that it is a more nurturing thing, ratter than getting swept down the rabbit hole of reading or responding to things I don’t care about. My friend Shawn at Abundant Mama has a great post here on how she deals with being mindful about social media: https://www.abundantmama.com/10-mindful-social-media-tips-bring-ease-day/
Thanks for reading,
Thank you for this post Alissa, it is a great reminder. I know when I get into the mindset of “everything is going wrong” and feel things falling apart around me, it is hard to see the way out. I can really relate to the last bit of your post, as I homeschool my 3 children, now 4, 9 and 12. Guidelines and routines around media are a tricky tricky thing to manages and I often find myself debating them in my head as the kids try to push the boundaries on them. Anyway, thanks again for the post and all the wisdom and advice you share with us.
Your words are relevant and calming to me right now. I have a Pinterest board full of tips for routines and home keeping journal how-tos and toy decluttering instructions. However, I know myself well enough to know that this simply gives me the illusion of action when in fact I simply need to be present with my kids during the day in order to connect and stay off my computer at night so I can have energy for my kids in the morning. If I make the latter change, all will start falling into place. It takes fortitude and some courage to do the ONE hard thing instead of getting excited about revamping EVERYTHING (and incidentally giving myself permission to stay up late and read those Pins because they will “change everything.” Your counsel is very true.
Thanks so much for being part of the CWK community. I too find myself doing the Pin Collection stuff – like if I squirrel away all these great organizing ideas maybe I’ll get them into my head…by osmosis or something? lol.
One thing I read in your comment above is you saying that you know you need to stay off your computer at night, so I have a little task for you, if you like.
First I’d ask you to ponder – what does it give you to get online at night? What need in yourself are you trying to fulfill that way? Since it’s causing tiredness and not working for you, what more nurturing action could you take instead to meet that need?
Then experiment – try going a week without going online at night and see if that is the key behavior you need to change. Think – how can you be successful in not being online at night? (For instance, I put my phone on airplane mode at night so I’m not going online if I wake in the middle of the night.) Maybe you need some substitute evening behavior to turn to.
After you try a week of not going online at night assess – are you missing it? Are there tasks online that you wish you had done? Anything about your plan need to change?
If you decide to try it, let me know how it goes! 😀
Thank you for this. I have 4 and 6 year old daughters. My getting ready for school routine needs help. My six year old daughter wakes up early for school, we select her clothes the night before. The issue I am having is with her procrastinating and changing her mind multiple times regarding what she is wearing eventhough she decided the night before which in return makes her late and miss the bus sometimes. My mornings turn into a battle with my older daughter and then I feel terrible. How can I stop this? Thank you.
May I suggest something? I would plan to get up 20 minutes early for your routine next week and when she changes your mind to stand firm. Keep your words simple and do.not.bargain. Say, you are wearing this today. This is what you chose. Those 20 minutes will be handy for the ensuing tantrum. I believe we make things harder in ourselves and insecure for our children when we give in to their challenges for the other cup, different color plate, other snack, etc. I don’t know her age, but if she is 4 or older I imagine she will get the message pretty quickly that you are serious and the tantrums will only last for a few days. That is my experience. We give ou kids too much control. Taking it back and being the strong one will show immediate change in more places than one. She may be late for school and then I would have her write an apology card to her teacher- she will connect how her actions affect others. I wish you well. Tantrums are difficult to bear but know you are not alone!
I would also have some conversation with your daughter at a calm time talking about: How would you like morning before school to feel? What feels good in the morning? What feels crummy? Help her connect her actions with the results she wants. (She may care more about time to play on the play ground, or having calm or something else.) Then the moment you have some success with having a good morning, talk with her about that – Hey, it felt so nice to have a peaceful morning with you! Thanks for helping our family by getting dressed right away, etc. etc.
It sounds like you already have a solution with picking the clothes the night before – so then your job is now upholding that solution to see if it works, as Emily stated above. If after a few weeks you’re still having bad mornings it’s time to go back to the drawing board and reassess what’s going on.
Thanks for being here!
Thank you for this post. With three children–six, four, and 6 months– this sounds like it would help us as well. I also find myself getting food on the table and sneaking off to another room! Our meal times could use more peace and community–I just wasn’t sure what to try.
May I recommend books on tape? I finally invested in some of our favorite books on CD. It takes the stress off me for reading when I need lunch time to relax. Our favorites currently are Frog and Toad and Pippi Longstocking. We have also enjoyed Whinnie the Pooh, Mrs. Pigglewiggle and the Beatrix Potter series. Good luck.
I like Emily’s idea of books on tape, also, just putting on some music can help set a nice mood. It’s totally fine to need downtime and critical to find ways to take care of your own needs during the day, so if you can’t take that downtime during lunch, look for another time you can check out a little.
Also, again, my meals were NOT always perfect AT ALL. But I do find that by adding a bit of ceremony around them it can feel like a more peaceful time of day.