When I was a mother of preschoolers, my own mum gave me wonderful advice on ‘how to do it all’. The short answer is – you can’t! Some people will tell you whilst the baby is asleep to clean the house – it’s so quiet and peaceful. Others will say, no, that’s the time to have a sleep yourself! Then there are the debates on sleeping (co-sleeping or separate? Crying or soothing?), feeding (bottle or breast? Pureed food or baby-led?), toilet training (from birth? When they ask?) and a myriad of other choices that can loom large in a mother’s mind.
The truth is, if you make a choice to say yes to something, you are saying no to something else. As mothers, we make the best choices we can, at that time, for our children. Sure, there are times we look back and wish we’d made a different choice, but hindsight is 20/20 and being in the trenches of toddlerhood is HARD. Give yourself grace.
Now, onto the advice that my mum gave me. I had 3 children aged 4 years and under. I was deep into baskets of unwashed laundry and there was the distinct smell of a dirty nappy (but who it belonged to I had no idea!). The dishes were piled up on the sink, the baby was crying for a feed and the toddlers were ready for a nap. What do you do?! I felt overwhelmed and out of control. I rang my mum.
My mum calmly told me that motherhood required triage. Triage, in medical terms, is the assignment of degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses which are used to decide the order of treatment of a large number of patients or casualties.
My ‘large number of patients’ were the 3 small children who all needed me and the multiple jobs that needed doing. Mum explained that in our lives we use triage constantly. We are frequently measuring up in our heads whether tasks are urgent or trivial, and then use that data to make a choice about which task comes first.
In motherhood, we often have multiple tasks that seem urgent like a dirty nappy, hungry baby, or a nap-ready toddler. Our job is to measure up which one is the most urgent, and just focus on that one. I decided on that day to sit down and feed the baby and to put the TV on for the toddlers as my first task. Secondly, I changed the toddler’s nappy and put the 2 older ones down for their naps. Thirdly, I tackled the dishwasher and washing machine whilst it was semi-quiet.
Putting those tasks into a triage list of urgency helped me determine which ones could wait and which ones couldn’t. The overwhelmed feelings were managed by my organised ‘to-do’ list and I felt calm and in control. Then my mum arrived, so I handed her all my folding and sorting and had a rest!
It’s a big job
If you added up all of the roles and responsibilities of motherhood and created a Role Description, it would be a giant document. It doesn’t have annual or sick leave, there is no pay and it sometimes seems a very thankless job. Can I encourage you if you are currently feeling overwhelmed by motherhood, especially in the pre-school years, that there is light at the end of the tunnel? My children are 12, 10 & 8, and no longer need me for every single thing in their lives. This season won’t last forever, but it can seem that way.
If you have an endless list of tasks ‘to do,’ try to triage the urgency of each one and remember that dishes left in the sink aren’t the end of the world! You are doing an amazing job, raising your little ones.
Sarah is a MOPS Connect Leader in S.A. She has been involved in MOPS for 7 years. She lives with her husband Kevin, three kids, Titus, Juliet & Evangeline and 2 cats and 2 birds.