By Esther Mann

Dear Esther,

My husband and I don’t have it easy, though I think that many other young couples have similar pressures — never enough money, dealing with children who often don’t cooperate, various problems with extended-family members, etc. Additionally, we have one special-needs child who requires constant attention. If we aren’t doing specific things for her, we are overwhelmed with worry about what we should be doing for her, always second-guessing ourselves regarding our latest intervention.

Mornings in our home are so chaotic that I always give a big sigh of relief when the last of us gets out the front door because it feels like we pulled off some kind of miracle. Getting to work exactly on time happens less often than we’d like. It feels like we are on some kind of treadmill and can never really get off of it.

There are so many things I could justifiably complain about, but right now I feel that the biggest gift we could get is the gift of time. There is never enough time in any given day. The items I have on my daily list never all get crossed off. Laundry keeps piling up, insurance bills aren’t submitted in time, food shopping gets put off until there’s barely anything left to eat—we always seem to be a dollar short and a day late.

Until I got married and started a family, I always thought that I was extremely organized and efficient. By the way, it doesn’t help that my husband has ADD and needs constant reminding and still doesn’t remember to do half the stuff I ask him to do. It’s almost like he’s my fourth child who needs constant looking after. But that’s not even the point of this letter. My question is — and I know this is an impossibility — how do I find an extra day in my week and a bunch of extra hours in each day?

I know you can’t give that to me or tell me where to buy it, but I sometimes wonder whether I could be doing anything differently right now until my children are grown and I’m not responsible for so much. Though I’m always on the move and trying to accomplish, maybe I’m doing it wrong. I don’t get to bed until very late, I definitely don’t get nearly enough sleep, and I feel draggy all the time. I don’t take care of myself; I don’t exercise or eat well. I can’t remember the last time (aside from Shabbos and even then it’s rare) that I sat through an entire meal without jumping up for one reason or another.

I feel like something’s got to give because this lifestyle seems unsustainable. Yet all my responsibilities are just so real, so what I really need is more time. How do I make more time for myself?

Stretched Too Far

Dear Stretched,

The lifestyle you describe does sound unsustainable. Yes, many young couples feel similar pressure; the morning “beat the clock” chaos of getting everyone up, dressed, fed, and out can feel like a miracle each and every day that it happens. Dealing with homework, dinner, fighting, baths, and bedtime can also be grueling. And then, REPEAT! But it sounds like your situation is that much more challenging in numerous ways. Comparing to others, therefore, is never helpful. Each situation is distinct unto itself. But time is a precious commodity that we all could use more of.

Since you are the captain of your ship in many ways, in order to remain healthy and vibrant it’s very important that you learn how to create some time for yourself so that you can just catch your breath, get centered, and feel like you’re not always playing catch-up. Since no one has figured out a way to turn 24 hours into 30, we need to recreate what the 24 hours look like.

You didn’t mention what your extended-family issues are all about, but it’s clear something is less than perfect in that area. Maybe there are some untapped family members you could turn to for some help. Parents are usually the first line of defense against overwhelming lives, and I’m wondering whether on your side or your husband’s there is anyone you haven’t approached either because it’s hard for you to ask for help or because you just assume they aren’t interested in helping out. For the time being, until your world lightens up a bit, make a list of people you can talk to and explain your situation to.

Help comes in many forms. You might even ask a caring aunt or a kindhearted cousin if they could help out with a carpool or two. And though it’s extremely hard to ask, perhaps approach a grandparent who can afford it for help in paying for some babysitting assistance. Many people shy away from asking family, friends, and neighbors in general, but it’s important to be reminded that by asking others for help, you are giving the other person an opportunity to do a mitzvah and enjoy the satisfaction of making a difference in someone else’s life. Though we’d all prefer to be on the giving end of this equation — and, G-d willing, someday you will be — for now you are part of this equation that is not easy, but it keeps our world meaningful.

These days, many schools require their students to do “chesed hours.” It’s a great and fulfilling opportunity for these teenagers and can make a real difference in your life, knowing that there is an extra set of hands for a number of hours each day or week to help you keep the system moving. Reach out and try to arrange such a schedule for yourself. It could make a huge difference.

I hear that you’ve always prided yourself on being organized and efficient. Sometimes, we find ourselves so “caught up” in the moment that we lose sight of whether or not we are handling our days as efficiently as possible. I encourage many young mothers like you to try to do as much as possible the night before. Whether it means preparing the children’s clothing, packing lunches, setting out the breakfast cereal and bowls — anything short of putting the kids to sleep dressed and ready to go — whatever can be dealt with the night before will make your mornings that much calmer and more successful.

Look for other strategies that can shave off some time in your day. Do you have a job that might allow you to work from home one day a week, thereby saving commuting hours on that one day? Are there any other creative ideas you can come up with that might help?

By the way, you don’t have to be a perfectionist during this time of your life. (Mind you, you never have to be a perfectionist, but certainly not now.) Maybe your home, laundry, and meals aren’t as wonderful as you would like, but that’s OK. It’s more important that you take care of yourself and get more sleep so that you’re less exhausted and can tackle your responsibilities in a calmer and probably more successful fashion.

Regarding your husband, is he being treated for his ADD? Could he use medication, therapy, or coaching strategies to help him be more successful and a greater asset in general to the family?

No, I can’t hand you more hours, though I wish that I could. But I can suggest that there are certain things to do that might make it feel as though you have more hours. And I can also remind you that this stage of your life is temporary. These are tough years, but life will not always feel this way. As your children grow up, G-d willing, life will ease up significantly and the pressure you are presently under will not feel quite as daunting. For now, the key is to reach out and get as much help as you can (without any shame), and make sure you are using the limited time you have in the best way possible. Do your best to stay healthy, happy, grateful, and confident that you’ll make it through.

Esther

Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at mindbiz44@aol.com or 516-314-2295.

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