A single mother of three recently told me how she was having a difficult time finding a good man. “These guys just don’t understand that my kids come first,” she complained. “It reminds me of Mike,” she said, referring to her ex-husband. “He just couldn’t get it through his head that I had the needs of three kids to meet before I could even think about what he needed or wanted.”
I listened patiently as she continued. “They are just children. He is an adult and can take care of himself.” She took a drag from her cigarette, reflecting on her ill-fated marriage, before continuing. “Do you know what I mean?” Yes, I knew what she meant. But, no, I didn’t agree.
Like so many, this haggard mom had her priorities screwed up. And until she got them straight, she would continue to fight a losing battle.
Of course, our children need us. And most of us are so busy we are stretched thinner than dried glue on our kids’ or grandchildrens’ fingers. It seems that everyone needs us: Our kids, our employers, our parents, our friends, our spouses, committee’s we’ve joined, our pets, even our homes. But unless we put the needs of everyone and everything in the correct order of priority, the needs of our children — and everything else — will not adequately be met.
If “the kids” are #1 on your list, you need to make a new list.
It is often said and believed that the relationship should be at the top of the list. My ex-husband and I always put our relationship first, and it worked well for nearly 18 years. But our marriage ended in divorce. What we overlooked, sadly, was what my grandparents knew:
You must put your self first.
This doesn’t mean selfishly put all of your desires above the needs of others, of course. It means that you must put your basic needs first.
Your health is the #1 priority, both physical and emotional. If this means you drop everything on your to-do list because you need to de-stress at a spa, then you do it. If you are unhealthy, over weight, and unhappy, do something about it. Everything and everyone are depending on this #1 priority. If you don’t take care of you, no one else will – and a lot of people are depending on you. Without you, nothing else will get done.
When you realize that you come first and you start focusing on that fact, you will start feeling better emotionally and physically. It will make it easier for you to balance all of your other demands. Your levels of motivation and energy will increase. And if you have had less than a great sex drive, that, too, may very well improve.
We’ve all heard the divorce statistics. Ending up as another negative statistic is not on anyone’s list of goals. For non-married partnerships, keeping the coupling in tact is just as important to you. The relationship is the foundation of the family. Without a solid, stable foundation, all else will falter. Which brings us to the next spot on your list of priorities:
#2 on your priority list should be nothing other than your primary relationship.
How you define that relationship is up to you: It could be a spouse, a committed but unmarried relationship, or even a non-romantic relationship. And if you do NOT have someone in your life who falls under the category of “your main source of emotional support” — as should a spouse, for example — you very likely have a gap that needs filling.
How healthy is your relationship? It matters!
First, evaluate the health of your relationship with what I like to call “blood and guts honesty”. Denial and ignoring an issue won’t help. Journal your answers to the following questions in a notebook, or discuss them with your partner. But simply reading them and giving only a cursory response to them in your mind may result in a misdiagnosis (Take the Quiz, below, to diagnose the stability of your relationship!)
- How well do the two of you communicate?
- Do you do all of the talking, receiving only “uh-huhs” and “Oh, really’s?” in response? Or do each of you freely exchange ideas, thoughts, and feelings?
- How often do you laugh together?
- Do you seem to need other people around to be able to have fun, or can the two of you laugh and have fun when you are alone together?
- When was the last time you did so?
- Do you enjoy being alone with your partner, or do you dread it?
- Are your sexual needs satisfied? (By the way, that falls under Priority #1, also.) Once your needs are met, are your desires and fantasies being met, and are you meeting the needs and desires of your partner? If you don’t know, then you’re not communicating.
- How often do you compliment your partner?
- How often does your partner say nice things to you?
- Do you feel like you and your partner equally share the responsibilities for the home and children?
- Do each of you keep your promises?
- Do you ever feel threatened?
- Which best describes the “tone” of your home:
- negative and threatening,
- playful and messy,
- chaotic and disorganized,
- quiet and sanitary,
- cheerful and clean.
After you complete an honest assessment of your relationship, if you and your partner don’t have an unshakeable foundation, it is your responsibility to hire a repairman to fix the cracks. Don’t expect instant results. It can be a long, difficult job.
Don’t think of it as the foundations of some of our modern buildings – the ones that crumble under the strain of Mother Nature’s wrath. Built quickly, they crumble quickly. A relationship needs a foundation built with the strength of an ancient temple, durable and resilient. The stone and mortar foundations of these temples and old dwellings remain thousands of years after their walls have fallen. They took time to build, sometimes hundreds of years. Your relationship – the foundation of your family – may take a good deal of time to repair, maybe a year or more, but once it is repaired I’ve never heard anyone say it wasn’t worth the effort.
Your children will look to the stability of your relationship for their own stability, a vital component for their emotional health. This emphasizes why “your relationship” is #2 on the list, above the needs of your children. Children who come from strong, stable homes have fewer problems later in life. But what, exactly, is a “strong, stable home”? From my perspective, it is one where the adults have a strong, stable relationship and provide a stable environment for their children. The children feel a deep sense of security because they know their parents (or the adult role models) are firmly committed not only to them but to each other.
A strong, stable home doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with economics, although anyone who has suffered financial troubles or lived in poverty knows that money does make a difference. Making money, therefore, should be #3 on your list – along with the children.
Without money, a family can’t survive. This is why too many people put money first. In a traditional family, here is where we would have Dad making the money and Mom taking care of the children. But life is seldom traditional. If you do have a traditional family, then that is exactly what you want to do. But if you don’t, you must juggle.
Juggling the job and the kids is a choice, but in most cases it is a necessary one. The bills have to be paid; there’s no way around it.
First, before you start juggling, make sure you have your balance. It’s important to make sure that the economics of your household aren’t throwing your relationship out of whack. For a single parent, you’ll be doing the juggling on your own, and you, too, need to have your balance. For every family, balancing time is usually the biggest problem.
With the kids and your job at #3, time management skills become a major priority.
Do you constantly find yourself saying, “I don’t have time to ….” ? If you have never taken a time management course, such as a weekend seminar offered at a local community college, it is well worth the effort. You will be amazed at the tips and tricks you can learn.
There are also oodles of free online resources, though a person can waste too much time surfing and reading information that may or may not be helpful. A full weekend on the computer can easily slip away when you could have spent half that time at a one-day seminar instead. The point is, time matters. Find out how to make the best use of it.
Organization is no less important than using your time wisely. Look around your house. This is your primary environment, and it is an instant report card of your organizational skills. If they need improvement, put that as #4 on your priority list. An unhealthy environment makes for an unhealthy family. In the meantime, you have your job and the kids to attend to, still, at #3.
The Importance of Schedules & Routines
The schedule for your children can sometimes become so crazy that you feel like you need to hire a secretary just to keep it straight. Is their calendar more crowded than your employer’s? A change probably needs to be made.
During the school year, one or two after-school activities during the entire week, per child, is sufficient. More than that does not give you or your child enough down time. As kids reach their high school years, they will be apt to make their own schedules and rely on you less. That’s okay. But for the younger children, remember that they need time to simply play, to be a part of the family, to do homework and routine chores, and yes, to be bored.
Your work schedule, of course, is probably pretty consistent, but you also need a domestic work schedule. Literally. Our mothers and grandmothers (some of them, anyway) went by the old rule of “laundry on Monday, shopping on Tuesday, ironing on Wednesday, baking on Thursday, mending on Friday” — or something like that. My former mother-in-law was absolutely consistent with her meals, always serving the same type of meat on a certain day of the week (though she switched up the recipes, I am told). And though she was apt to keep her advice to herself, she once gave me the most important guidance that I, as a new mother at that time, could’ve ever heard: “Your baby needs to be on a schedule.”
Schedules make our lives less chaotic. We don’t have to live so rigidly that we can’t allow for spontaneity, but knowing that every Saturday morning is going to be the day that the entire house gets vacuumed and dusted, as it always did at my Grandma’s house, not only keeps the house clean, the kids know what to expect. When kids know what to expect, I guarantee they will cooperate with chores much more easily than when tasks are randomly assigned with a more chaotic “as you feel like it” modem operandi.
I’ve made the suggestion that people in need of organizing put this in at #4 on their list because of its importance.
If you don’t take care of organizing your home, your car, your purse, your briefcase — even the contents on your computer – and then keep your life organized, you will find yourself spending too much time and energy devoted to the countless tasks resulting from a lack of organization.
Clothes you need to wear won’t be clean, or they are too wrinkled to wear. Dishes are piled too high in the sink. You spend too long working on bills because they are too disorganized. Clutter is everywhere so it makes cleaning a seemingly impossible task. Countless hours add up searching for items that are misplaced. It is emotionally depressing which brings everyone down. These things will usurp your time and energy, time and energy you need to devote to yourself, your relationship, your children, and your job.
There are several TV shows dedicated to getting organized. If your household is in disarray, you have probably already watched a few of these. You probably already know how to get busy and start sorting, but you just haven’t gotten to it yet. If you don’t know how, you need to learn. Now is the time to get it done. Once you get everything sorted, there is a nifty Web site called Craigslist that lets you sell your items for free. Start sorting and start selling. Even the little $1 items are worth selling on this list because there are buyers for them. While just one item may not be worth the effort at that price, fifty sure would be.
Getting the top four priorities in the right order is crucial. After you’ve taken care of yourself and your relationship, and you have a good grasp on balancing your job and your children, if you are organized then you are able to go ahead and prioritize the remainder of your life just about anyway you would like. Just don’t let the Top Four fall out of place!
~ Lynda C. Watts