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Challenge: Stretched Too Thin

How to make yourself a priority without the mom guilt

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I used to feel like I was full of crap.

Outwardly, it seemed like I had a really successful home-based business, that I was spending tons of quality time with my kids and that I was giving my marriage the attention it deserved.

Truth?

I was working like a dog. If you want to think of work and life as two ends of a seesaw, my tush was firmly planted on the ground on the “work” side. There were a whole lot of trips to the park and museum I missed, lots of eating in the car, piles of laundry that didn’t get done, and more “mom fails” than I’d care to admit even to myself.

I hit rock bottom with my mom life when my kids were 6 and 4 (they’re 8 and 6 now). It was one of those mornings where everything that could go wrong did. By 7:15 am, I was ready to pull my hair out.

My son absolutely would not listen to me, which meant we were going to be late getting out the door. I knew that would snowball into being late getting my daughter to school, which would in turn delay me getting my son to daycare, and then I would be late getting myself to my part-time lawyer job. With each pout, foot stomp and furrow of the brows, I grew more and more impatient with him, until finally, I lost my temper and yelled at him like a maniac. (Insert crippling guilt here).

Whimpering, he got dressed and we got in the car, but we didn’t get to my daughter’s elementary school until the late bell was ringing. She was more anxious than any kindergartener should ever be as we pulled up to the front of the school, where they were about to close and lock the front door. Watching my sweet little girl trying to run to the door under the weight of her huge backpack—the very last student still outside the building—crushed me in a way I can’t explain. I felt like I had totally let her down.

That’s when I lost it. I broke down into hysterical tears in my car, in front of my son, who kept murmuring from his car seat, “It’s ok, Mommy. It’s ok. Don’t cry.”

It was in that moment I accepted the truth that God was waving in my face. Something had to change with the way I was managing everything on my plate.

I constantly felt spread thin. I felt like I wasn’t taking care of myself. And I felt like I was always letting someone down—on both sides of the seesaw.

And don’t even get me started on the mom guilt.

Do you ever feel that way, too?

I promise you, there is another way.

After that day, I started making some changes. Slowly, in bite-sized chunks, after a lot of trial and improvement, I figured out how to focus on what matters most in life, love, business and motherhood. I got a grip on my time. I discovered how to be more of what I want to be and do more of what I want to do.

And I want that for you.

Keep reading for the deets on what I’ve learned (and continue to study every single day). But first, a quick word on why this is important.

Why This Matters

Because you matter. You are the center of your household. And when you experience more presence, patience, and joy, that’s going to spill into everything you do.

Do you think your relationship with your kids would be better if you had more patience? Do you think your marriage would be even more solid if you felt good about yourself? One hundred per cent.

And don’t you want that? (Duh, of course you do). So with that as our backdrop, let’s get this party started.

1) Stop Lying to Yourself.

Can we moms all band together and just get over the guilt thing? For reals. Mom guilt is a lie we have been telling ourselves for so long that we actually believe it. But does mom guilt make us better moms? Nope.

Do you know what does? Taking care of yourself.

You have to make yourself a priority. Remember that safety training all airlines make you watch when you’re about to take off—the one about “the unlikely event” that the cabin loses pressure? What do they always tell you? Put your mask on first, then help others. Why?

If you aren’t functioning at your highest and best, you can’t show up for anyone else.

Refusing to make time for self-care because you’ve guilted yourself into believing that every waking moment of your life should be spent on everyone else first—your boss, your kids, your husband, your dog—is not serving you. You will eventually burn out, and you’ll probably build up a whole bunch of resentment too. (In the airplane example, you might even faint). And then what good are you to anyone, especially your kids?

Remember, the only way to show up as the best version of you—whether that’s with respect to parenting or nurturing your marriage or kicking ass at work—is to take care of yourself. Put yourself at the top of the list. If that means you have to wake up 20 minutes earlier to mediate, to exercise, to read, journal or pray, do it.

Put your mask on first.

2) Set Boundaries.

Let’s get something straight right now. Not everything matters equally. We’ve got to stop acting like it does. Deal?

Seriously, friend, this piece of the puzzle is absolutely essential. If you find that you’re always saying yes to everything, even when you don’t want to, start setting some boundaries right away. (No wonder you feel overwhelmed and spread thin!)

Look, I get it. In many ways, motherhood is an act of juggling–juggling the time you spend on your work or business with the time you want to spend on yourself and the time you want to spend with your kiddos and keeping your house clean, your family (happily) fed and your laundry done, just to name a few. It can feel as if you’re throwing one ball high into the air just to give yourself enough time to catch another ball as it’s plummeting to the ground.

This is where boundaries come in.

To set proper boundaries, you need to get crystal clear on your priorities. (Side note: The best place I’ve seen this concept explained is in the book, The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. A must read!). To do that, start by imagining that each main area of your life is a “ball.” Let’s say your job is one ball; your business (if you have a side hustle or own your own business) is another ball; your family is another; your friends and important relationships are another; your health is another; and your spirituality is another. Maybe if you have a hobby or a passion, that would be another ball.

The key to setting boundaries is understanding which balls are made of rubber and which are made of glass.

Family, important relationships, health and spirituality are glass balls. And when you drop a glass ball, it will shatter. Sure, you can try to put it back together again, but it will never be the same. That’s why you must set boundaries that protect your glass balls.

A rubber ball, on the other hand, will always bounce back up when you drop it. Work and business are rubber balls. Yes, work is important because it allows us to feed and clothe our families, keep a roof over our heads, and enjoy certain luxuries. Your work may even be a huge passion of yours.

But is there only one way to make a living? Is there only one way to produce income? Nope. That’s what makes work a rubber ball. While there are any number of jobs you might have in your lifetime, you only have one body and one soul. And your kids? Well . . . I don’t need to tell you twice that there is absolutely no replacing them.

Within each “major” glass ball and rubber ball are smaller glass and rubber balls. For example, at work, there may be items you need to treat as glass balls if you don’t want to get fired. On the flip side, with your family, there are plenty of items you can treat as rubber balls, like cooking every night or volunteering for the PTA bake sale. You get the idea. It all boils down to remembering that not everything matters equally, and when push comes to shove, remembering what matters most.

Once you are crystal clear on your priorities, setting boundaries that protect those glass balls becomes much easier. It also becomes a lot easier to see where we’re lying to ourselves or selling ourselves short. Because the truth, my friend, is when we say, “I don’t have time for that,” what we’re really saying is, “I choose not to make that a priority.” Remember that next time you’re tempted to brush off self-care or something for you because you “don’t have time” for it, and ask yourself if if you’re walking in alignment with your glass balls.

Now, if any of this boundary stuff sounds scary or overwhelming, don’t forget that it’s ok to start small. You can start with something as simple as setting a boundary around when you respond to texts, emails and phone calls that will ensure you’re always present with your family at meal time.

3) Speak to Yourself the Way You’d Speak to Someone You Love.

Yeah, I know. It’s easy to say you’re going to make yourself a priority and it’s easy to say you’re going to set boundaries. And maybe you’ve even gone the extra step of putting those promises in your calendar or setting alarms on your phone.

But when life happens and you wake up late or get slammed at work, aren’t the promises you made to yourself the first things you choose to ignore?

Yep. We’ve all been there.

So how do you actually keep those promises you make to yourself?

Well, you start by reminding yourself why all of this matters. Don’t forget why it’s important for you to make yourself a priority, and why you need to protect your glass balls.

Then, as with any goal, you’ve gotta start small. My recommendation? Start by making those calendar entries and alarms hard to ignore by changing the language you use for them. What I mean by that is instead of simply setting a reminder to “breathe” or “workout,” use words that will be powerful for you. Speak to yourself the way you would speak to someone you love. My favorite phrase is, “Choose yourself right now and [fill in the blank with what I promised myself I’d do].” Another effective one is, “Hi beautiful! Take some time right now to [fill in the blank with the promise you made to yourself].”

It sounds so simple (and it is!), but I promise you, it works. Try it. And the next time that alarm on your phone goes off, honor it. Keep the promises you make to yourself. Remember why this matters.

Just stick with it. These three things will take you from feeling spread thin to rocking it in no time. You’ve totally got this.


Nikki Oden is a lawyer turned writer who teaches busy moms how to get a grip on their time so they can go after their goals—without the mom guilt! Click HERE to join her free Mom Life Challenge and kickstart the habits that will help you create a mom life you love.

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