Wednesday, September 23, 2009

approaching balance

In recent weeks I have had at least three conversations with friends about knowing one's limits and not being ashamed of them. I think I am finally realizing that it is ok to protect one's sanity, family time and say no to some things. I have spent so much time comparing myself to other women. "Why can't I juggle more activities, like J?" "Why do I get so stressed when I multi-task? D can do it with ease." You get the picture.

I have a friend who is constantly taking on more and more. She, at one point, was working full-time at night, while taking college classes during the day and caring for her family, which at the time included 2 kids (now it includes 4). Sadly, but not surprisingly, the stress and schedule took its toll physically and mentally and she had a bit of a breakdown. The really scary part, at least to me, is that she didn't really come away from the experience any wiser about her limits. She still seems to be trying to prove that she can do it all.

Though I can clearly see how unhealthy her attitude is, when I talk to her for any length of time, her thinking starts to rub off on me a bit. I begin to wonder why I can't handle more. Why I can't put more on my plate and cope? Of course, I remind myself that she ISN'T really coping, but still, it bothers me that I have that tendency to measure myself by how much I can get done.

Just tonight, it was brought home to me once again that I need to trust my instincts and honor my limitations. Months ago a friend asked me to teach the teen girls some really simple jewelry-making. I initially said no, because the activity would take place on a Wed. night and I would have to bring my kids, since Bil is working nights now. This would not only be stressful for me, but it would push their bedtime back an hour. And my kids don't do all that well if they don't get adequate sleep.

Yet, still, I said ok. I decided it wouldn't be too big of a deal. I could handle it.

And I did, but in the end it didn't seem worth it. Tommy fussed for the better part of the evening. It was well past his bedtime and he was exhausted. Danny and Charlotte were ok, but I was worried the whole night, because Danny and another boy there don't always play that well together. They are very much alike and tend to get too rough with each other. The whole time I was showing the girls how to finish off their bracelets, I was trying to soothe Tommy, while also periodically peeking outside to make sure no one was dead. I was stressed. I was tired. I just wanted to get the kids home and in bed where they belonged so I could relax. Have some peace and quiet.

I know it wasn't something that would stress some other people out, but this is exactly the kind of activity that is hard for me. This is also the reason why I rarely have people over for dinner. It is too hard for me to juggle the kids, converse with the guests, make the food and actually have fun.

This was a bit of an epiphany tonight: I can do these things. I am perfectly capable of juggling multiple activities and chores, but the likelihood of me enjoying myself while doing so is practically nonexistent. I get overwhelmed and frustrated and then often take the stress out on my family.

And, you know? That's ok. This is who I am, and as much as I am trying to change and become a better person, I just don't think this part of me will change anytime soon. I don't think I will ever be the kind of person who thrives in a really hectic, noisy setting. I like peace and quiet and calm. I don't like chaos.

Obviously, as a mother, chaos is part of the job, and again, I can handle it, but it is definitely not my state of choice. I like to make plans and be prepared. I like to have down-time and days where I am not expected to be social. I like to be alone sometimes. I really like some semblance of order and work so much better in that type of environment.

While I used to think these attributes were signs of weakness, signs that I can't handle enough, I am beginning to recognize that a mature person knows her limits. A healthy woman can say no to things even when her reasons seem totally insignificant to other people. It doesn't matter that any other person at church could have dealt with tonight with ease. I get stressed at these things. I know this and I need to start acknowledging it.

I know a certain amount of stress comes with life. I am not recommending eliminating it completely. I guess what I am in favor of is really considering whether the stress is worth it. Is it worth it to my family or my sanity to do a particular activity? Sometimes the answer would be yes.

And other times, like tonight, the answer would be no. And, you know? That is OK.


goodfountain said...

Totally could have written this post!!!

My threshold for what is "too much" is probably a lot lower than many. Fortunately (or unfortunately maybe) I am not involved in a church or other organization that would require me to say 'No' to others. Mostly it's ME telling myself that I can't do "X" with both kids.

My favorite thing is when I think something is going to go awful but I HAVE to do it anyway, and it turns out great. Those are good days.

goodfountain said...

Love your blog header by the way. Very cool.

Bil said...

Thanks goodfountain, I was beginning to think no one would comment.

Patty, excellent thoughts, after my first nervous breakdown and shedding off unnecessary pastimes to make room for quiet, I thought I would be a master at this. Sadly, I'm not. We are the same, you and I, and that's why we are together. As often as I try to encourage you to not do things, I understand how hard it is to say no. After all, you want to be helpful when people acknowledge your special skills, right? Big weakness for me. Flattery gets you everywhere with me.

Love you.

Amy Jane said...


As your friend and one of your biggest fans, I am so proud of you! It thrills me to see you becoming more self-aware, more secure, and more able to realize that you don't have to be a Wonderwoman. The stuff you said in this post makes such sense - I truly hope that you believe it and continue to "live" it.

You know, I, too, have certain limits that might seem selfish to others. For one thing, I don't like kids that much, so I'm not planning on giving Nick a birthday party with a bunch of kids until he actually asks for it. I know that I would not enjoy having a friend over who has more than 1 or 2 kids, because it would stress me out too much. I really don't like to be overscheduled, and need lots of space in my day to feel like I can get done what I need to. We ALL have our "weird" quirks or limits or things we can't handle, and no one is like anyone else, so we don't need to justify or explain why something is too much for us or we don't want to do something. I'm so glad you're finally getting it!

Keep saying "no" when you need to. You'll be so much happier!

Love you,

beckbot said...

Thank you, wise friend! I wish I could tattoo this post on my forearm. Too often I compare myself to others, even wondering if we haven't been able to have more kids because I don't thrive in chaos. I know that kind of thinking is ridiculous, but it's so easy to compare ourselves to others and feel like we come up short.

Mrsbear said...

I occasionally go through bouts like this, where I compare myself to other moms and wonder whether or not I should be doing more. But since being a stay-at-home mom I've become pretty good at turning down invitations and shying away from functions that give me stress. They can't always be avoided mind you, but I've gotten better at saying no. It's easy to fall in to the rut of trying to please everyone, but your priority should be to yourself, since so many others depend on you daily. It's good to acknowledge it. I hate being under stress and I love my routine, when both those things are compromised I end up taking it out on the kids as much as I hate to admit it. You have to be true to yourself. There's no prize at the end of the race for taking on the most activities, right? You can only be proud of the work you did for your family. It's different for everyone. And that IS okay. Great post. :)

Bil said...

It seems the more we try to please everyone, the less often we can succeed in pleasing anyone for very long. Does that make them all energy vampires, or does that make us approval vampires? Or both?

Casdok said...

Your absolutly right - it is ok!

Kim said...

I'm a bit late chiming in on this, but that is because I have come to the same conclusions as you. I actually got to the point where blogging and reading blogs had become a stresser. I felt like I needed to read and comment on everyone's blogs all the time. And I travel in several blog circles... there is the SPD circle, the adoption circle, the weight loss circle, the life is tough circle, the.... well, you get the point. I just decided I don't need to stress myself out over it all. Weird, I know... but for me it was a real issue for awhile.

I think it's great you are recognizing your limits and not throwing yourself into stressful situations.

LOVE the new header by the way!!!

Shellie said...

I totally get that. Less is so often more. When my children were smaller, I was a total recluse. It was just not worth the stress to try to do anything. Now sometimes we get sucked into too much. The big trick I'm learning now is how to sort through life and avoid what's not worth it.