• Lisa Popcak

Balance. As moms we have this concept elevated before us as though it is a holy Grail. We're constantly striving to balance creating lovely homes, work, raising kids, our romantic lives, volunteering in our communities, kids schools, our places of worship, keeping ourselves “in shape”, being good daughters, etc., etc., etc., Of course our focus on which one of these things should take priority shifts, depending on who’s influencing our thoughts, at any given moment.

Often we can feel like we are balancing things quite well, and then a person, or something we've read, or something on social media will prompt us to believe that,”No indeed! We really should be doing that one more thing, or at least doing it better.”  

Personally, I find those moments so disheartening, and they have sometimes caused me to question my priorities. I’ll begin wondering, “Should I be volunteering for just one more worthy committee?”, “Should I work out more?”, “ Should I take on one more task at work?”, “Should I be focusing on creating beautiful tablescapes?”, “Should I be involving my child in one more activity to which I have to drive,  and for which I have to stretch the space/time continuum further then I already do.” You see my mind can bounce all over the place at times like these and really upset that sense of balance I was hoping to achieve.

Several years ago, after much prayer, I adopted a principle that allows me to check all those competing messages, and regain my sense of balance more quickly.

The principle is: people before things.

I'm not talking about living a minimalist lifestyle, although if that helps you live out this principle, then go for it. This principle is rooted in recognizing that people are the number one gift God gives us, aside from Himself and His grace. Each person is a son or daughter of God, created to live for eternity, and they deserve to be treated with the dignity and love that comes with that. Additionally, those that God has placed closest to us,  starting with our spouse and children, then our extended family members, then closest friends and outward, are given into our keeping so that we can help instill a deep sense of that dignity and God's love within them.

Conversely, things only last a short while and only have the value we assign to them, which often waxes and wanes over time. The dream home, or the sweater that was so wonderful at one time, may one day diminish in value when it no longer suits our needs.

The recognition of this allows me to then access all my choices accordingly. So as I attempt to find balance, I start each new day, week, opportunity or challenge by asking myself and God, “ How can I grow closer to my most important people today? How can I use the time that I have today to sure up my relationship with them and help them know in their bones how much I love them and God loves them? Then I make choices from that point of view.

Some examples:

  • I decide I need to exercise, but I also want to spend time with my child. Deciding my relationship with my child takes priority then leads me to ask, “How can I get exercise without short changing my time with my child?” I then determine that I could get up early and go to the gym while my husband is home, before my child wakes up. I could do a work out video at home with my child. I could simply go for a walk with my child. I don't ignore my need for exercise ( much as I may be tempted to) I just use my creativity to put my child before the way I meet that need.

  • My child wants to sign up for a zillion after school classes (or I find a zillion that I think would benefit her). But knowing that having a close family is part of living this principle, we then discuss questions like, “ How and when are we going to fit in meals as a family and fun as a family every week. After we schedule those things then we can decide which activities are worth slotting into our schedule.

  • If I'm trying to make budgeting decisions. After the primary bills that keep our family sheltered, safe, and provided for are taken care of, we can then look at what we might spend our money on would bless the people in our family, or help us make  warm memories as a family. Then we also look at how our resources can really bless others outside our family.

  • Perhaps I need to clean my house. I know that my desire to get it done thoroughly and fast makes me want to do it myself while the kids are off doing something else, or even to divide the jobs up and assign each person something to do alone. But if I have the sense that we'd all end up grumpy and distant from each other by doing it that way today, then maybe I give each person a dust cloth and we all work on the same room together. Or we all fold the laundry together, while we talk and catch up with each other.

This principle has helped me focus my priorities even when life is trying to pull me in a million different directions. I hope it helps bring you balance as well.

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  • Lisa Popcak

Sunday nights... it seems to me they bring with them a slew of emotions: sadness, dread, grumpiness, sometimes enthusiasm for the week ahead.

This Sunday was a bit of an uphill climb for me. We were told, quite suddenly, that we have to have some work done to our house. To do so we have to move everything out of the main living space, the space that connects all the rooms in the house, and completely alter our living/working/homeschooling arrangements for the next several days.

Good things will come of it when the work is finished. I know this from muddling through many, far more dramatic, issues over our time as homeowners. But I have to admit, I've had to fight back a bit of self pity, because the suddenness of it all wrenched me from my deep desire to spend my Sunday-after-church time cozied up with my family by the fire, with tea, and our favorite books. My very tired body has been absolutely aching for some time to nurture myself and bolster up for the week ahead. Instead, I've had to pack up in haste, with every plan for the week tossed aside.

Though I gave myself a good firm reprimand, about how I've been through much worse and many are going through far more, I couldn't seem to find strength and a good attitude in myself by myself. So I went upstairs to my room and spent some time talking to God about it all. I told Him how sorry I was that I was being so pouty, and that I was really very grateful that we were able to get the work done. I also told Him that I really, really felt that I needed that time of rest in front of the fire to be able to cope and accomplish anything this week, let alone dismantle a great deal of the house, live in disarray, and have to put it all back together again when the work was finally finished. Then I begged Him to please let the work be completed quickly and with no negative surprises (remembering past work that went weeks and weeks past supposed completion dates as complications piled up).

After I had poured it all out to God, (feeling ridiculous, because honestly there are far more important problems then this!) God graced me with an amazing answer. To my mind came an image of His Sacred Heart. As a Catholic Christian this is a familiar image to me. But as God brought it to my mind, this time the focus was on the flames rising from His heart.

I felt Him tell me that I don't have to be curled up in front of my fireplace to be nurtured and healed. That fire is always only temporary, and I will always have to leave it to go about the work of life. But if I place myself before the fire in His heart, I will experience His love, nurturance, and healing no matter where I am.

Unfortunately, I did not come away from that moment strong and enthusiastic about all I had to do. But I did come away with the knowledge that if I stop and place myself before His heart whenever I feel weak, pouty, anxious, or overwhelmed, He will give me the grace I need.

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  • Lisa Popcak

At some point most exhausted mom’s have said something like, “These kids are driving me crazy! They’re just so difficult and disobedient.” As I sat in a park with my daughter one day, I heard a group of moms all agreeing with each other on this topic. Suddenly one mom yelled at her son, “Put down the stick and don’t hit your brother with it, Okay…?”

He ignored her. She rolled her eyes and said to her friends,”See what I mean? He just won’t listen.”

As I sat there I whispered a silent prayer for this frustrated, exhausted mom, a stranger to me, but a comrade in arms nonetheless. Actually I prayed for her all the way home. As I prayed and turned the scene over and over in my mind it hit me. The son hadn’t been disobedient. He heard a question and had chosen “no” as his answer. His mom had started with a directive, “Put down the stick”,  but ended with “Okay???” Implying, albeit unintentionally, that her son could freely choose whether or not to put down the stick. Wow, I thought. She had completely undermined herself with the way she said what she wanted.

The next day, while in a bookstore restroom, I heard a mom say to her 3 year old son, “Joshy, can you get ready to use the potty after mommy?” Joshy responded with a shockingly defiant “NO!” His poor mom was flabbergasted and began everything from negotiating, with promises of ice cream, to anger about his tone.

Oh wow! There it was again.

How often do we moms do this to ourselves? I dare say more than we realize. When we turn our directives into  questions or we use phrases such as, “Did you ________ (hit your brother, eat the cookie before dinner, take your sisters toy)?” when we already know they did. When we use phrases like, “If I have to tell you one more time…”, or we end what we intend to be a command with “Okay?”, we end up giving up our power without even knowing it.

It comes from a well intentioned place. We may want to empower our kids to come to good conclusions and behaviors on their own, with just a hint of sway from us. We may not want to be dictatorial or harsh.We may think that implying a choice will avoid a temper tantrum form our child. But phrasing like this confuses kids, leaving them to think things like: “I was going to do what mom said, but then she said I didn't have to. Why is she upset with me now?” or “Mom is too weak to set a standard.” Or “Mom doesn't actually know that I obviously ate the cookie. Why would I upset her by letting her know I did?” Or that they have choices they don’t really have.When our phrasing is vague, both mom and child end up out of sync with each other and often angry.

Changing this pattern doesn’t mean we have to throw all those good intentions out the window and begin issuing drill sergeant style orders. Giving our children real choices is an important part of creating in them a sense of agency. But clarity is vital in facilitating agency and helping virtues take root. It also helps us moms feel effective and in sync with our kids.

Here are some steps to be gentle and effective:

  1. Pause for a brief moment and think of what you want your child to do and how to say it as a simple directive statement. “Put down the stick.” or “After I use the potty it will be your turn.

  2. Employ a firm, not harsh, tone of voice.  Tone of voice changes everything! Neither a sing-song wishy-washy tone, nor screaming, will illicit compliance from your child. A tone that expresses the confidence that your directive is doable, and that you trust your child has the integrity to do it, almost always yields positive results. You may have to practice this alone in front of a mirror after the kids go to bed, or do videos of yourself on your phone until you achieve the words, tone, and facial expression that convey kind, but firm, confidence. The results will be worth the practice.

  3. Offer choices at times and in ways that don’t stress you out. Often we add questions to our directives because we want our children to practice making choices and thinking critically. These are vital skills that need to be taught incrementally and age appropriately over time. Choreograph moments to build these skills into your child’s life in manageable ways that don’t add stress to your life.For example, three year old Joshy can practice these skills by being given a choice between only two things and at a unrushed time. Perhaps between his blue shirt and his red shirt as mom lays out his clothes the evening before he is to wear them. At three he isn’t developmentally ready to be given a choice about using the bathroom before he rides in the car. Possible “accidents” are more stress than mom and child need in their day. Whereas an older child could certainly decide whether or not he needs to use the restroom at any given time.

  4. As often as possible address your child by name and maintain eye contact while making a clear directive statement. This will increase your chances that your child is actually tuning into your message. If you're not sure if they've processed what you've said, ask them to repeat it back to you.If they can't, maintain eye contact and tell them to listen so they can repeat what you said and do the task.

None of us can do this perfectly 100% of the time, but practicing these simple steps can significantly take down your stress level, help your child cooperate with you more often, build trust between you and give you more peace in your relationship.

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