Last year I joined my friend Julie and wrote a post on what worked and what didn’t work. Reflecting on the past year in this way proved to be extremely helpful in evaluating the past and projecting things that would best suit the needs of our family in the coming year. I read through Julie’s 2016 list the other day and it reminded me that I needed to take the time to do this again, and it also opened my eyes to some things in our family.
Emily refers to this as a Life-Energy List. The idea is the same, and she also recommends making this list throughout the year. Paying attention to what’s happening around us is a good discipline and we can learn so much through evaluating and then rearranging our lives.
What didn’t work:
Spending nap time doing whatever I want. Halfway through the year I decided to use the afternoon nap time as my writing time. While I enjoyed this immensely, everything else started falling apart. The laundry got backed up, dinnertime was usually frustrating, and the house wasn’t as tidy.
None of these things are inherently wrong, but I discovered that I cannot live that way, and our family doesn’t function well in this kind of environment. When our home is in disarray and things are out of whack, any time that I try to spend for myself begins to feel wasted, not life-giving as I had intended. My chunks of time to write are still not as often as I would like, but I’m learning to accept that during this season of life it needs to be this way.
Minimal date nights. We had great intentions at the beginning of last year to go on more dates. We didn’t. I hope to remedy that this year. Because we need time away from our kids. Yes, it’s expensive, and sometimes it seems like more effort than it’s worth to make it happen, but we have never regretted going out.
Reactive vs. proactive living. Life has sort of gotten away from us. Maybe I can attribute this to the fact that we had five children in just under seven years, or perhaps it’s our personalities, but we tend to live week to week. Many things end up falling through the cracks as a result. I won’t go into all of the ins and outs, but we’re trying to think farther out and be intentional with our kids, time, friendships, ministry, rest, etc.
Kids not consistently participating in household chores. Summer 2015 was the first time we had a chore chart for the girls. It lasted a month. Since then, and really since I became a mom, I have always wanted to keep a chart and have the kids stay on track with helping around the house. It just hasn’t happened. They make their beds and clear the table, but they are capable of so much more.
This is one of my goals for January. I need to think through the ways that each child can realistically actually be helpful, and then come up with a few things for each of them to work on that will require my help. Some chores are going to be daily jobs with no allowance, other jobs will be required but with pay, and then I want to have some optional chores for them to earn a little extra money if they feel so inclined. Kids need to learn these responsibilities and I want them to learn at a young age.
Sewing for our home. I love making things with my hands, mostly drapes and pillows or simple things for our home. Much of this stems from my practical nature, “I could make that for much less than I could buy it.” But sewing is also something I enjoy. This year, I realized that right now is not the time. Everything I tried to make took SO much longer than it should have, I made time consuming mistakes, and felt defeated by every project I took on.
It was not life-giving. So, I bought pillow covers from Ikea and took back the clearance item panels I had planned to make into pillows. The cost was the same, and the only time it took me was shopping at the store and sticking the cover on the pillow insert. Win. Plus, I like the finished look of the premade pillows better than I would have liked my so-so version of made by Lauren.
I do have one small project I’m going to do in the next few weeks, but it only requires a simple cut, ironing a hem, and a straight stitch. And then I’ll have my drapes for the den finished. Anything else that I dream up, I think I’ll just outsource or search for and save until I find what I like.
Letting Cooper sleep in our bed *occasionally*. This is one of those times when I want to cover my eyes in shame and I have to eat my words because I said I would NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS LET CHILDREN SLEEP IN OUR BED. And then we got so tired that if anyone was going to get sleep it meant having a baby in the middle of us during the night. Yes, I know all of the warnings about rolling over and crushing your child, and yes, I know that it’s not a good habit to be in. But, y’all, I was desperate. Lack of sleep is also something that didn’t work in 2016.
No more. I’m not allowing it. Because it does create bad habits that are really hard to break. He needs to learn to sleep in his own bed. Maybe this means that I will be up and down the steps in the middle of the night when he’s teething or maybe sometimes I will fall asleep with him on the couch, but not in our bed. Feel free to keep me accountable to this, friends.
What Did Work:
Waking up before everyone else. I went through a season of not being able to get out of bed in the morning after Cooper was born, and it negatively affected my soul. By April/May I was finally getting enough sleep that I could manage an early rise, and it is still one of the best ways for me to keep my sanity. I crave that alone time with the Lord, not because I’m spiritual or holy, but because I need to realign my heart with the Truth.
Public school for the kids. We didn’t enter the school age years with a definite plan for public school. But we ended up going this route and it’s wonderful and we are so very happy. We can see the school from our yard. Our walk to school takes approximately three minutes–if Mason doesn’t sit down on the sidewalk along the way. Mason has a special ed teacher in his classroom and so we don’t have to bus him across town or try to find another venue for his education. Jennavieve is excited about the possibility of attending Pre-K4 next year, and I have to say the thought of that sounds pretty nice.
We still take each year at a time, and we are open to other options, if their needs aren’t being met or we feel like it’s not the best thing for our family. But for now, I am so very grateful for our neighborhood school.
Going away by myself. Bradley agreed to letting me attend a writing workshop in November, so he took two days of vacation, I skipped town, and enjoyed three nights away by myself. It was intentional time of writing, but even in the midst of that I felt relaxed, I was able to have space to think through things and plan in ways that don’t ever happen when I’m surrounded by the tasks of my daily life. Areas of my life were solidified during those few days and it was worth it.
The realities of life may not allow for this every year, at least maybe not that many nights, but it’s definitely something I want to aim for each year. And, I’d like to give Bradley the same option. (Although, he typically goes away every year on a skiing trip with some buddies, so maybe that counts and therefore I should get back pay on this and have several trips by myself #dreaming).
Playing the piano at church. Ministry in the church has always been a major part of my life. And there are many ways in which I would love to be involved. This stage of life has required me to choose carefully instead of jumping in to fill whatever needs come up. Playing the piano for the worship team, about once a month, has worked well. Bradley is happy to allow me this time and he gets the kids ready, brings them to church, sits with them during the service, and gives me space and time to practice during the week.
Is it a sacrifice? Yes. Practicing during the week takes time, and I’m limited because of children sleeping in the afternoons. There were several weeks last year when someone was sick on the day I played and Bradley had to stay home with all the kids. One time I even took the wrong set of car keys and he was stranded at home. However, we need to use our gifts to serve the local church. This is going to look different for each of us, and it’s something we need to think through as a family, but we cannot overlook its importance, as a way to serve the Lord and to serve others.
Bedtime routines for Jennavieve. For over two years she gave us difficulty at night, both in interrupted sleep throughout the night and in going to bed. We spent close to a year dealing with her disobedience every night, sometimes for up to two hours. Nothing worked; she didn’t seem to care about the consequences. And we were exhausted.
Then, we started a better bedtime routine. Read books to her, allow her to keep her light on for a little bit and read on her own, and snuggle with her for a few minutes. For several months it also included me singing a song with the phrase “bootie butt” in it every single night. I will never understand why, but somehow that kept her in bed.
At first, this routine took a long time. But now, it’s less and she hardly ever gets out of bed at night. We finally have evenings on the couch that are uninterrupted. Friends, this is life-changing.
Buying from a wholesale store. Now that we have five children (and no longer require formula or baby food–#praisehands) our food consumption is constantly growing and we go through toilet paper, wipes, diapers, cheese and soap at a rapid pace. Throughout the year I watched how much everyone ate, kept track of the amount of paper products we use in a given month, and learned which foods are enjoyed by the majority of our family.
My conclusion is that buying in bulk is helpful and wise for us. I don’t buy everything there, but I know which items are less expensive, how many snacks we need for a month, and which produce we eat enough of to buy in bulk, without it going bad. There are certainly ways I hope to improve our food budget, but I’m finding a sweet spot. Maybe I’ll do a breakdown about how I buy food for our crew, if that would be helpful for any of you. Just let me know in the comments or send me an email.
Making time to write. I’ve been writing for over 20 years, but only publicly for the past six. As time has gone on I’ve learned the things that I want to write about and what actually gives life to me. In addition to filling a need in my own soul, I’m learning that writing is also a means of serving others. Because of this double-purposed hobby, we’ve made it a priority to give me space for this. Sometimes that means an afternoon in a coffee shop, other times it looks like attending a workshop, and on a regular basis it means getting up early so that I have time to think before the kids wake up. The bottom line? Make time for the things that cause you to come alive.
A trip to the mountains. We spent four days with some friends at a house near a lake, nestled in the mountains of North Carolina. It was the best. I love the ocean, but we live half a mile from the water now, so while I still enjoy vacations at the beach, there was something calming about a different setting. I’m trying to convince Bradley that we need to do this again this year, just with our family of seven, and maybe somewhere a little closer to home.
What worked and didn’t work for you in 2016?