Successful (Not Stressful) Family Living
Fall is in the air. Gone are the sunny, carefree summer days. Replacing them is the activity-packed, responsibility-filled family schedule.
A dozen or so years ago, I spoke to my friend on the phone, spilling concerns about fall’s packed calendar. I had kids to homeschool, books to write, mentoring responsibilities—not to mention the daily stuff that comes up.
“At least a few times a week my grandma needs a ride into town for errands,” I explained. “And then there are the kids. There is always last-minute stuff: figuring out the right homeschool curriculum, play dates with friends, and church activities.”
My friend listened and then answered with a sigh.
“It sounds like you’ve set yourself up for failure. Without a plan, you leave everyone vying for a piece of you. What if your grandma had a set day when you’d take her to town? Do you think she could get everything squeezed into one afternoon?
“What if your kids knew which day was shopping day?” she continued. “Could they come up with a list of their needs? Or better yet, could they help with the shopping? And what about your freelance work—could you schedule days for certain things?”
Her idea was brilliant, and I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it sooner myself. As soon as I got off the phone, I started working on a plan. I started with my grandma first, setting up a weekly date for breakfast and errands. That worked so well, I began scheduling grocery shopping and my kids’ weekly chores, too.
I also decided to take a look at what I was doing and why. Were these things I truly wanted to do, or was I simply trying to meet someone else’s expectations? Oh yes, I also decided to enlist help with the new system.
Successful (Not Stressful) Family Living
In the past, I had assumed all household and family responsibilities rested on my shoulders (another way I set myself up for failure). But I’ve since discovered my husband, John, likes the idea of working on our schedule together. In fact, most guys are eager to step up to the plate when given the chance.
As I shared my plan with John, he had great insight when it came to kids, chores, and activities. “Spending time with the family” sometimes means cleaning out the garage or raking fall leaves. But as we remind our kids, “Many hands make light work.” This system also creates space for playtime!
Here are three more ideas we’ve embraced:
Focus on Family
It’s been said that what you spend your days doing will determine what you spend your lifetime doing. There’s a lot of truth in that. And, five years from now, I don’t want to look back and regret not spending enough time with my friends, my children, or my spouse.
I’m often guilty of focusing on the wrong things. I worry what my neighbor thinks about the weeds growing in my flowerbed while completely ignoring the fact that I haven’t had a heart-to-heart conversation with my husband in weeks. I spend an hour decorating cookies for the church bake sale and then tell my family to fend for themselves when it comes to dinner.
“Our choice reveals what we love the most, what we fear, what is of ultimate value to us, and what we think we need in life—in other words, our choices expose the dominant desires of our heart,” writes Leslie Vernick, author of How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong.
Or to put it another way . . . Jesus said, “What does it profit man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). Likewise, what does it profit my family if I’m known for the best school lunches, volunteering at the local rest home, or keeping in shape by committing to daily exercise if I don’t spend time with the people I’ve committed to love forever?
Step out of the safety zone…And into Successful (Not Stressful) Family Living
Will life really fall apart if I leave the dishes in the sink overnight? (No, I’ve tried it!) I don’t want to pass up making a memory to clean a kitchen that will be dirty again tomorrow. Still, I worry. What if my friend stops by and sees the mess? What will my mother-in-law think if the floor hasn’t been swept?
“Pressures come from two directions: what other people expect of us and what we expect of ourselves,” says Dennis and Barbara Rainey, authors of Staying Close. “It is so easy to let yourself be driven by the agendas of other people. Externally, their voices form a deafening chorus, incessantly telling us what we ought to do.”
For us, the safety zone also meant not stressing if someone is coming over. So what if everything wasn’t perfect? (Especially if perfection means a cranky, frantic family.) “Pay attention to the messages you’re sending your family,” says Denise Schofield, author of Confessions of a Happily Organized Family. “Don’t ever give them the impression the house is more important than they are. Somewhere along the line
we’ve come to the conclusion that the house has to be cleaner for people that don’t live there.”
Remember that rigid people are brittle and break easily
I’m trying to be more flexible about my expectations. I’m also trying not to fret over little things, even if they don’t match my standards. A lot of women cut their own throats by being too picky about the house, their time, and their schedule. If I want my husband and kids to help me succeed, I need to affirm their efforts. Even if those efforts are not what you consider perfect.
The best part is that I now view intentional living as a lifestyle, a lifestyle of successful (Not Stressful) family living. I’m not out to over-schedule my life—filling in little calendar squares—to the point that I need to carry a day planner 24/7. Instead, each week I look over my problem areas and see how to arrange them in a way that works for me and those I love.
Some arrangements turn into weekly commitments, while others change with the ebb and flow of the week. I replay this phrase in my mind: “Set yourself up for success, not failure.” And this happens when I make a plan to meet my family’s needs . . . and when I seek their help in meeting some of mine in return.
Since talking with my friend, I’ve been more purposeful about my time.
I’ve talked with John and we’ve blocked out space for vacation and fun. On my calendar (yes, I did buy a new, blank one for myself), I’ve written in date nights, morning quiet time, and even certain days for errands. I’ve planned success, instead of allowing myself to be caught up in a cycle of guilt and over-commitment. I’ve embraced this gift.
And now . . . I offer it to you.
What will you do with it?
One way that we have found a more successful (not stressful) family life is through gratitude. Our twelve-month journey from grumbling to gratefulness was one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced as a family. And yet, it was also one of the biggest blessings. We learned and grew and changed as a family from people who were struggling to a group ready to give God glory through all things.
Maybe you need a grumble free year as well? Explore how God can use our obedience to move us from grumbly to grateful in The Grumble Free Year. www.thegrumblefreeyear.com
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