Monday, March 9, 2009

Are you too busy to read this post?

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been struck by the reality that many of my fellow stay-at-home mom friends are unbelievably BUSY!  This includes moms in my neighborhood and moms from our church group, mothers who don't have a paying job outside the home but who have taken on so many different responsibilities that they may as well have a two full-time jobs! These moms coordinate fun-runs to benefit their children's schools, volunteer for pro-life ministries and PTO positions, and offer to cook meals for families with new babies. They host play dates, teach CCD, and offer to be soccer team moms. And believe it or not, some mothers do all of the above activities at the same time, and they are exhausted! They run from one activity to the next, kids in tow, and they never seem to enjoy the activity that they are at because they know that in half an hour they need to rush off to the next meeting, practice, or 

The reality is that many organizations depend entirely on moms to volunteer their time and energy to make them run smoothly, and these organizations do wonderful things that benefit lots of different people. But sometimes - not always, but sometimes - I think that we, as moms, bite off more than we (or our families) can chew. We think that because we are not working outside the home, we are obligated to take on all sorts of different volunteer positions; in other words, when we see a need, we want to help! Again, I firmly believe that volunteer work is wonderful and so many people benefit from the hard work that moms do, but sometimes the family suffers as a result. Another unintended consequence is that when we spread ourselves too thin, nothing gets done well. Because we are not paid for the work that we do, we sometimes end up doing a sloppy job on one task so that we can move on to the next...And the next...And the next! 

My proposal: During this Lent, let's all take some time to step back and take stock of what we (as moms) are involved in, why we are involved, and how our involvement affects our family life. Maybe a conversation with our spouse would be helpful in this process. We may discover that we need to ask for help from our friends, we may find that we need to step back from a certain volunteer organization for a period of time, or we may find that all is well! We may even discern that we could take on another volunteer responsibility, if God is calling us to do so. Either way, it can't hurt to prayerfully consider how we spend our time and how this affects ourselves and our families.

May God bless all of you and your families on this Monday morning! 

Saint Frances of Rome, pray for us! Help us to discern what is God's desire for our lives and what is our will.


Julia A said...

My rule of thumb (for myself and for my kids) is that I can add one new activity every six months IF I am able. Having this rule helps me keep ahead of the "Sure, I can do that!" tendency that gets me overworked.

The other thing I've found that is really helpful I learned from Mother Cabrini, whose shrine is around the corner from us. Someone once said, "Oh, isn't it a shame that there aren't any younger sisters in the order now!" I thought about that for a while, and realized that Mother Cabrini probably couldn't care less: what she cares about, passionately, is souls. Having a legacy, building up projects, worrying about making things bigger and better -- that's not it.

This realization gave me the jolt that let me leave my ego out of my volunteer activities. It gave me the freedom to walk away from an organization after my 5th child was born, knowing that the organization would die from lack of leadership. It did, I lived, life went on... and now, five years later, other people have stepped forward to make other kinds of things happen in our community.

MOther Cabrini had supernatural grace that gave her unbelievable energy. I don't have quite as much access to that energy as she did! Still, what I glean from knowing and loving her is that if all I can do on any given day is treat each and every person I meet with love and dignity, that's HUGE.

When I bear that in mind, my perspective on how much I should be doing shifts. My main priority is to manage my activities at a level that leaves me the mental and emotional margin to deal with people the way Christ wants me to deal with them.

As I say to my kids sometimes, stress in itself isn't sinful. We're the ones that turn it into sin. To the extent I can avoid overloading myself and thus avoid stress-induced sin, I should.

Anonymous said...

St. Frances of Rome might not be the best patroness here. She opened up a HOSPITAL while she had kids. LOL.

Juris Mater said...

Kat, great post and Julia A, great comment here. I don't think I've come up for air enough yet between children to overcommit to volunteer activities, etc. What I have to watch is jam packing our social/activities calendar--I'm not a homebody and our place is too small to stay in for too long. But overcommitting the kids clearly takes its toll on them. I think this is more tempting in the winter when we can't be outside... thank goodness spring is right around the corner!

Just like you said here, Kat, Lent is a great time to simplify and practice saying no. I read on another blog recently that the opportunity for penances and sacrifices during Lent feels, in a way, luxurious... having the chance to focus in on the hard things we know we should do to make our lives more peaceful and filled with love but just need the excuse to get going on. Thanks for this great reminder!

Kat said...

Julia A, thanks so much for your comments, I especially agree with your last statement that sin in itself isn't sinful, but our reactions to stress can be sinful. There's a lot of trial and error involved here, and circumstances are constantly changing - what our family could handle last year is different than what we can handle now, and in a couple of months things may change again! Some personalities are better able to juggle lots of different activities, and may even thrive on this. When I start to become concerned is when I meet moms who are at the end of their ropes because they are pulled in so many different directions...

Anonymous, I chose St. Frances of Rome because today was her feast day, and because she is a great example for us in struggling her whole life to do God's will. Whether she opened one hospital or ten hospitals, what is important is that she was striving to do God's will. I can only assume that God gave her the grace to carry out all of her tasks with a sense of peace.

texas mommy said...

Thanks, Kat. I think you can extend your reflection to inside the home as well. For me, as more of an introvert and homebody with three little guys, I have a hard time committing to many things outside the house. However, I can get caught up in managing the house--organizing, cleaning, planning, researching, etc., that it takes time away from my family. The "Martha" like tendencies can take many forms, but Lent is a great time to be like Mary at the foot of Our Lord.

Anonymous said...

Keep saying it! I'm a SAHM and not involved in many things, nor are my kids. I don't drive, which is an "accident" but has remarkable consequences. Sometimes I wish I could challenge the over-extended moms I know to give up driving for Lent. Most people would consider it entirely impossible & for some that may be. Sometimes if I'm asked to do something I'll say I will, if you (or another volunteer) can transport me--and many, many people suddenly don't "need" my help any more. What does that say about how much they value my time/inconvenience/contribution?

It's radical. But I meet many, many exhausted moms, whose kids are often also frazzled & I think a little radical shift in perspective might be a kindness.

Kat said...

Correction: Sin is, of course, always sinful...I meant to say that stress isn't in and of itself sinful.

Texas Mommy, thank you for your comments...Yes, I know what you mean, sometimes we can even get bogged down with responsibilities INSIDE the home. My mother always kept a perfect house down to the last detail, and while I don't try to live up to that standard, I do find myself doing things that are unnecessary when I've got a sick toddler and a needy pre-schooler. Example: I didn't need to make those granola bars yesterday afternoon. They made a sticky mess in my kitchen and Maria could have really used my attention while I was making them. But I had an idea in my head and was too stubborn to let go of it...And they are so yummy :)

JM, I know what you mean, sometimes it can feel totally self-indulgent to sit down and pray morning prayer totally uninterrupted! What a good reminder for us that God wants us to have peace and to spend time refreshing ourselves through prayer, the sacraments, etc.!

Anonymous 2, thanks for chiming in...Amazing that you are able to manage without a car, and I was struck by your reliance on others to help you get somewhere that would require a car. We could all use a lesson in relying on others once in a while!