"How do you do it? How do you juggle being the mom, being the wife, being the homemaker AND still have a place for your jewelry, sewing, cooking and taking classes like the one you took in photography?"
Oddly enough, I received an email the other day from a friend asking me the very same thing. I thought that was interesting -- two people asking the same question within days of each other. Even more interesting because I often ask that question myself -- when I see someone out in the world who manages to do things that seem to overwhelm me.
I'm finding that there isn't an easy answer, but I want to respond because I think there are so many women out there who feel like they are losing a sense of who they are as they strive to fulfill the demands of parenting, being a wife, working, serving in the community, and all the other things that seem to take up so much of our time. I'm definitely not an expert -- I can only tell you about my journey and the things I've learned along the way. I sincerely hope that what I have to say does not offend.
I know from experience that making time for myself -- doing things that lift my soul is an absolute necessity in my life. I need it like water. If I don't make this time, the every day demands of life leave me drained and I begin struggling with depression that does not seem to go away. I have seen dark days, let me tell you -- and they were not pretty. If you've ever struggled with depression, you know what I mean. That feeling affects everything -- you don't even have the energy to get out of bed, which can be hard especially when you have toddlers and spend most of day attending to their needs. It leads to deep, deep sadness, and despair. No one should feel like that. It's awful. It hurts my heart to know that people do, and that it happened to me -- more than once.
There was a period in my life where I spent a lot of time on my knees pleading for help. The answer came to my mind as I was sitting in my bathrobe in the middle of the day watching the Disney channel with my little ones. It was this:
"Make time to create, make time to learn, and make time to love and serve, and you will find happiness."
That answer was specifically for me -- you may need something completely different. But I firmly believe that God knows each of us, and our needs. You have the power to ask, and get answers that pertain specifically to you. If you are struggling, I highly recommend it.
I have used the counsel I received as a sort of mantra in my life. It's not always easy to fit in my schedule, but when I do, I know that I am happier person and the people that surround me get the best I have to offer. My cup stays filled, and somehow I have the energy to get everything done (even if I have to stay up until 4:00 a.m. to do it.)
We are always going to be busy, and there is never going to be enough time to do all the things we dream of doing. But, I know if you want something bad enough -- like time to create, it can happen. How you make it happen varies depending on the season of your life. Here are some of the things that I did:
When my children were really little, it was hard to find time to be creative. They hit the ground running when they woke up (at 5:30 a.m) and didn't stop until they fell asleep at 8:00. I worked full time too. That meant I had a small amount of time to spend with my husband, and an even smaller amount of time to spend on myself. It was hard. But, I made a plan. I explained to my husband that I was struggling and needed some time for myself, that would require his help. He agreed to be available one Saturday a month, and one night a week so that I could get out and do something I enjoyed. I used the time to take creative classes like sewing, cooking, art, ceramics, print making …. Taking a class forced me out of the house and into a world where I could focus -- where I could make a mess. It also gave me the opportunity to meet other people who inspired me. Most of the women I met were in their 60's and still creating. In fact, they were really good at what they were doing. I remember thinking: “If I stick with this, some day I'm going to be amazing!” I loved those women and I loved those classes. It filled my cup so that I had the energy to deal with the routines in life. And you know something …. I never got amazing at any of those classes, but it didn’t matter. I learned that the joy is in the process!!!!!
If I didn't have the money to take a class I didn't let that stop me. I would read books on topics I was interested in learning (in the days before the internet), or I would call girlfriends and say "let's get together and learn how . . . ." And we did -- at 9:00 at night after our kids had gone to bed. We had knitting nights, and scrapbook nights, and wood working nights, and book clubs. It kept us sane as we navigated our way through the perils of raising toddlers.
When my kids entered elementary school I got to be a stay-at-home mom. I thought: "Boy I'm going to have all sorts of time to do stuff for myself." Little did I know that I would spend half of that time at school helping out in the classroom. Then another problem cropped up. My kids got involved in all sorts of after school activities like dance and soccer. I had huge amounts of time where I was just sitting and waiting. So, I used that time to create. I sat at dance lessons with my big pile of craft supplies, and worked away at whatever I was interested in doing at the moment. I quilted, made books, jewelry, cards, blankets, hats, and get this -- pretty soon it sparked all kinds of conversation. I met tons of women, who said: “Oh, I can’t do that … I’m not creative.” Guess what – they were creative, they just didn’t know it. I taught them how to sew, how to quilt, how to knit. It was so much fun. In fact, the owner of the dance studio asked me if I had ever sewn costumes. I said: "If you count Halloween, then.... yes!" And that answer lead to a job. I became a costume designer/fabricator for the dance competition teams. (Visualize, the costumes you see on "So You Think You Can Dance" times 150). It was the hardest, most stressful thing I've ever done. I had no idea what I was doing, but I figured it out. Boy, did I learn a lot. I took my sewing machine to dance and worked while my kids were in class. I also had to work at night after they had gone to sleep. I was SO TIRED, but it was fun. That job gave me a creative outlet that lasted 5 years. I loved seeing all my creations on stage, and I made enough money to pay for all those dance lessons. I learned that sometimes you have to brave enough to take a chance. You never know where your creative energy will lead you. I learned that sometimes you have to overcome the fear of failure. Look at all those women who learned to be creative!! And … I learned that you can make money doing what you love.
Now, my children are in middle school and high school. I'm no longer sewing, or a room mom, and my kids don't require quite as much attention. I had to stop and ask myself what I really wanted to do, and who I really want to become. In this particular season of my life, I have to remind myself to think about that often. It's so easy to waste time doing things like shopping every day, or watching a lot of television, or spending all day cleaning the house so that it looks perfect all the time. I've discovered these things don't fill my cup. They really don't.
I've come to the conclusion that I don't want to be remembered as a person who was a fantastic house cleaner (hence the reason my house looks the way it does when you come over), or who had amazing cloths (which is why my daily uniform consists of Old Navy t-shirts and flip flops) -- I want to be remembered for making a difference, for laughing, and loving people. That has helped me focus so that I spend time doing things that matter to me.
I am still following the pattern that was set years ago: I use my free time to take classes during the day, and to run an Etsy shop selling the things I create, and to spend time with friends. And, I make time to share what I know with others-- teaching friends how to sew, and knit and blog and .... whatever else they want to learn. Some of them are young moms so we get together at night, just like I did with my friends when I had toddlers. I mention that because there are probably women all around you that have something to offer. Ask them to teach you -- they will probably be more than happy to share their talents.
I have to say that the greatest part about spending time creating --- the biggest blessing of all, are the people that it has brought into my life. I am so, so grateful for that. I know amazing women who have pressed on through hard trials and found beauty along the way. They are an inspiration. I love them so much.
N and A -- I hope this helps. Keep your cups filled. You can do it. You really can -- even if all you have time to do is take a walk around the block with a friend, or create homemade macaroni and cheese.
Readers, feel free to leave a comment if you have any words of wisdom that you would like to offer.
Post Script: This talk has been a huge help to me when I feel discouraged. I keep it in my office and read it often.