There just aren’t enough hours in a day for all the things that we need to do as toddler moms. We have multiple roles to multiple people. Our kids and spouses. Our work. Relatives. Friends. If we belong to communities or other groups, those have their demands too.
Is it any wonder that we often feel like we are stretched too thin? That there are days when it seems that we are at the breaking point, that just one additional stressor will set us off?
If that’s how you feel, know that you’re not alone. In the 15 years that I have been seeing pediatric patients, I have NEVER met a mom who didn’t have multiple roles to fill. Sure, it may seem like that mom who fills her Instagram feed with all the things she does with her kids has nothing to do other than take care of her kids. But social media and real life are two very different things.
There is no quick fix to this, but there are some things we can do that can stop us from feeling like we are always on a hamster wheel.
1. Set clear boundaries.
We can’t be all things to all people. We all need to make sure that our other commitments don’t affect our ability to be our best as moms, or leave us with zero time for self care. It is absolutely vital that we set clear boundaries for what we can and cannot do.
We’ve all heard the story of the professor who brought to class a jar and some big rocks, small stones, sand, and water. He showed the class that the only way to put everything in is to put the big rocks in first, then the small stones, then the sand and the water. Because if you put the sand in first, the big rocks won’t fit.
If we put in first all those little and seemingly harmless requests from all the people demanding our time, we may find that we don’t have time or energy left to actually connect with our kids. So start by listing down your non-negotiables. Mealtimes with your spouse and kids. Quality time with each child. Your own work hours. Necessary household chores. Time for you to exercise and get enough sleep. Oh, and don’t forget that you need to shower and use the restroom too!
When the non-negotiables are filled in, you should also add those leisure times that are necessary to maintain a happy family life. Simply playing with your kids. A much needed family vacation. Connecting with a friend who truly uplifts your spirit. Engaging in a hobby that inspires you. Remember the four quadrants from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People? Self care and doing things that “fill your cup” ARE important, even if they are not urgent.
After all these have their time slots, then and only then can you entertain other requests of your time. If you find that you only have an hour a week, or an hour a month, to entertain these requests, then that’s it! You can say, “I can help you with [their request] next Saturday between 9-11 am, after I have breakfast with the kids, and before I need to prepare lunch.” If that schedule doesn’t work out with them, then they will need to find some other solution to their problem.
If you plot out all the things you need to do, you may find that you actually don’t have even a spare minute of time. That’s perfectly okay! This is actually the more common situation! We toddler moms literally don’t have a spare minute just juggling things we need to do. We don’t even have enough time to exercise and do self-care as it is. If we give in to something that is not important, we will end up displacing something that is.
If that’s the case, commit to saying no to all requests until your circumstances change and you have more time. Then, don’t feel guilty about it.
2. Accept that you will not be able to please everyone.
When you start to practice #1, many people will not like it. Especially if they have been used to you giving in. You may hear comments like, “She has become too proud to have time for us.” “She no longer values family.” or other similar, hurtful comments. Other comments might be more subtle attempts to induce a guilt trip. “Oh, since you wouldn’t help us with [their request], we had to do [some other thing that sounds quite bad and difficult’.” “[Someone else who is also a toddler mom] helps us every week with [some request] – why don’t you?”
You do not need to respond to these comments. In fact, if you respond, it will take up so much of your time and energy. This is why so many people end up just giving in, because they feel that simply complying is easier than saying no.
So if you need to leave your family’s Facebook or Viber messenger group, go ahead. You can send a message like, “I am going silent on social media for now, stay safe everyone!” then leave the group. Actually go silent on all social media for a while. Then when you have had a breather, you can rejoin – but don’t rejoin the toxic group/s.
It may seem easier to just give in. But what we don’t realize is that the requests will never end. At some point, no matter how hard we try, there will always be someone we won’t be able to please. So before we break ourselves trying to please everyone and then failing, we should simply accept that we can’t.
3. Prepare and practice short and simple responses that will help you say no.
If you say no, do not reason out. The other person will simply come up with reasons why you should be able to comply. “Oh, but it’s just this once.” “But it’s only an hour a week!” “It’s not even hard to do!” Prepare a short response such as, “I appreciate you asking me, but I will have to decline.”
You may also need to change from an attitude of saying yes by default, to saying no by default. This was something that I personally had to learn. Before, when someone made a request from me, I would think of how I can accommodate that person’s request in my schedule. If I can find a way to do it, then I said yes. This led to me being stressed and tired all the time, and neglecting the most important people in my life.
I had to learn to say no by default. I would say yes only if I had an extremely compelling reason to do so. It is difficult and sometimes I still fall into my old habit of agreeing just because I think I can work it into my schedule. But the truth is, everything we do has an opportunity cost.
For every single task we say yes to, there is always another thing that we have to remove. It may be an extra hour of sleep and rest, or your exercise time for the day. It may mean rushing through playtime with your toddler, or skipping lunch altogether. It may be easy to think that skipping your exercise for a day or two is no big deal. However, small decisions like that add up. You should think about whether your desire to please should outweigh your desire to prevent an early heart attack!
4. Set certain times of every day to put away your phone.
It is NOT a good idea to be reachable to everyone at all times. When you are home with your kids, set a regular time to put away your phone. Ideally, your phone shouldn’t be in your room while you are sleeping. This will help you get better sleep. As a bonus, you will also set a good example to your kids about how to manage screen time. You don’t want your kids to see that you are always attached to your phone and at everyone’s beck and call.
5. If there are commitments you really cannot say no to, choose one non-essential task that you can remove.
There may be times that after thinking about it and discussing it with your spouse, you feel that you should take on a commitment. If that is the case, identify how much time that task will take. Choose non-essential tasks that take up the same amount of time, and remove those tasks from your schedule. If you don’t do this, then you may end up removing essential tasks.
For example, you may have a sick relative that you need to help run errands for. (In the time of the pandemic, you will need to observe proper precautions that you don’t get infected yourself.) Let’s say you find that your time commitment will be four hours a week. You don’t want to remove the four hours from the time you exercise or sleep (unless you want to become a sick relative yourself and become a burden to your family!) You also don’t want to remove quality time with your kids. If you have the option to remove meal preparation or house cleaning by hiring help, then do so. You may also need to give up some time on Netflix or social media.
Is there a commitment that you took on and it is stressing you out? Find a way to gradually reduce the amount of time. Set a boundary. Actually write in your schedule how much time you will devote to it, and stick to your limit.