First, we don’t. Not really. Not in the way that I think people imagine. Life is messy- far messier than it appears on Instagram or Facebook. Our family is not perfect, and all of the problems that people can imagine in a home with 7 kids (6 boys!) and one mom probably do exist.
I’ve had to adjust my expectations. Those who knew me 6 or 7 years ago may remember that I was a pretty decent housekeeper. I delighted in sharing organization tips and putting my logistics skills to work on things like laundry and Legos. These days, my logistics skills are needed elsewhere. We still live just a hair's breadth away from survival mode. In fact, we find ourselves in survival mode quite frequently.
What, you may ask, is survival mode? It’s a season when something- a sick kid, a busy school schedule, a teenage crisis- deposits us in “just survive the day” land.
When I started working full time, I realized two things pretty quickly. One, we couldn’t live in survival mode forever, even though it kind of felt like we couldn’t get out of it. Two, even if I managed to get us out of survival land, we were going to land back there with some frequency. It’s just the reality of our life situation.
Once I embraced those realities, I first worked to get us out of survival mode, but then, something occurred to me: If I planned ahead for survival mode, it would automatically feel less like survival and more like real living and we could probably get out of it faster.
So, “How Do You Do It?” for a single mom must first address the all important Survival Mode. Every single mom should have a Survival Mode Plan in her back pocket.
Decide on the essentials. What things do you do that are essential to your family’s well-being?
If you’re in survival mode, at this point, you think something like: IT’S ALL ESSENTIAL! EVERYTHING I DO IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY TO THE WELL-BEING OF MY PRECIOUS LITTLE BABIES!!!
Take a breath. You are stressed. You are THINKING IN ALL CAPS, for heaven’s sake. This very reaction illustrates why it’s better to plan for Survival Mode when you’re calm and rational, and, well, not actually in Survival Mode.
You do many wonderful things for your children. You have devoted your life to keeping your family healthy and thriving. But, for a period of time, some of those “wonderful things” can be sacrificed for the sake of lowering the stress level in the home. It won’t last forever- it should in fact be as brief as possible- and if you don’t drop something, you’re going to lose your mental health, and that’s not good for anybody.
Okay, now that you’ve been talked down from your ALL CAPS freak out, a few practical tips.
- Quick, easy food options. Health takes a back seat and we switch to paper plates and anything else that can make things easier. My kids eat fruit without complaint or urging, so I keep that on hand to make up for the lack of whole grains and veggies the quick meals might be creating.
- Keep that laundry going! We need clean clothes. Whether or not they’re folded or on hangers is far less important. They just need to be washed and sorted by wearer.
- Get to school on time. This is non-negotiable and usually requires me to push past the point of exhaustion to set out shoes and backpacks the night before.
- The kids need to feel safe and loved. This is the hardest part. Survival mode means everyone is stressed. Stressed kids don’t behave well, and stressed moms aren’t patient. I have to spend a lot of time praying that I’ll have the strength to keep my mouth shut and the endurance to give hugs or read stories when I’d rather be sleeping. And when I don’t succeed, I apologize. Immediately.
- Non-essentials can wait. They’ll still be there (unfortunately) when things calm down.
When we’re in Survival Mode, I fall back on Elisabeth Elliott’s timeless principle: Do the next thing. Get up. Start the first thing. Do the next thing. Don’t spend too much time thinking about what that next thing is. When there are a lot of little people with a lot of needs, the next thing will usually be clearly defined.
Survival Mode isn’t a place where families thrive. It isn’t a healthy place to exist for a long period of time, but planning for it, recognizing it, and dealing with it is essential. Everyone ends up in Survival Mode; it’s a reality of life. The key is to SURVIVE it, and then move on.