Calming The Chaos Of Motherhood (one list at a time)

A few years ago, my best friend asked if I would be willing to stay at her house for the weekend and babysit. She and her husband wanted to get away, and she knew I wanted some time to spoil her preschooler and baby girl rotten.

(Incidentally, I am always the auntie or friend that spoils your children. At this point, I just own it and warn my friends that being at my house, will be like going to grandma’s house and eating all the sweets for their little ones. I figure someone has to be that person, it might as well be me.)

When I got to her place, she walked me through a document she had typed out, detailing their daily schedule. And I mean detailing. She basically wrote out exactly how each day should go – and not just naptimes, bedtimes, etc. Every rhythm she had for her day, she included.

At first, I smiled at her, patted her back, and said, “Go on your trip.” After all, I had been mothering for several years longer than she had. Her children were “easy” for me. I had this. I knew how to take care of two little ones for two and half days.

Calming the chaos of motherhood isn't easy - the only way I know to help is doing it one list at a time. #motherhood #momtips #homeschoolmom

When she left, I wanted to respect her wishes and keep the routines she had worked so hard to establish – so I followed that carefully, double spaced document to the letter.

It was the easiest weekend with young children ever.

I didn’t have to think. It was already there in front of me. The days just flowed. I knew when to take time to clean, and when to go to the park. I knew when the kids would expect to eat, (I did make pumpkin pie with whip cream for breakfast, because I still have my reputation for spoiling to uphold – but I served it at exactly the right morning interval) bathe, play, and sleep.

Now, it helped that they are the two of the best little kids I know. But the flow of the day, and the lack of having to think about every single thing, every single moment of the day, was easier and lighter.


Then I came home.

And we went back to our routines, and lack there of.

I remember at one point thinking, “I should just type out my day, the way she did. Maybe it would help.”

But life happened and I reacted to it and forgot all about the allure of a carefully plotted day.

Calming The Chaos Of Motherhood
The dishes are done, man. (But don’t look at the sink…that needs a really good scrubbing.)

One List At A Time

Last week, I stumbled across this post by Kara Fleck. In it, she describes the freedom of creating little mini-goals (also referred to as ‘habit stacking’) for each time frame of her day.

Now, she rightly says, you will hate this if you are not a list person – because this concept is basically a to-do list for each portion of your day. But I LOVE me some lists, and more importantly, checking some things off the list, so I was eager to read more.

As I scanned her actual mini-goals for her day, I was stunned. Her list looks almost identical to what I had at my friend’s house so many years ago.

An outline.

A guideline for the day.

A way to keep on track, and not have to make decision after decision all day long.

DISCLAIMER: I think someone like my husband (free, artist spirit that he is) might look at this list and feel suffocated and deeply wronged. I totally get that this may not be for everyone.

I am sharing it because it is working, at least little by little, for me. Here’s how.

Calming The Chaos Of Motherhood
My plants look so good, when I remember to water them!

Calming The Chaos Of Motherhood

Little By Little

It feels like too much to write out my whole day right now. In part because my children are struggling in this season and I never know what the day will bring, and in part because I am a little bit afraid. But I have created mini-lists  for my mornings and my evenings. They are specific, and include timing my son’s medicines and watering the plants. Simple things, but things that stress my over taxed brain every single day.

No Goal Too Small

One of the greatest emotional benefits for me has been the strange joy of simply checking something off the list. Even on the worst day, my kitchen table is wiped down. That has to matter right now. There is no item too small on my lists, and this has been strangely encouraging.

Tons of Grace

There have been quite a few days where some items just do not get done, and do not get checked off the list. I went into this purposing to give myself a ton of grace (Momma can only do so much). But here is the thing – even if some things are not checked off, many more are. I feel successful, even when I don’t complete all the tasks. I think this is because I am less likely to walk around thinking, “Oh no, I haven’t cleaned this, I haven’t read to the boys, I haven’t done all things and AHHHHHH now we are doomed.” Instead, I can see exactly what I have, and have not, been able to do. There is no longer a strange panic in my day over all the perceived things I am missing.

Calming The Chaos Of Motherhood

Mini-goals, habits to stack, to-do lists to complete – whatever we call it, it’s making a difference here, in a very difficult season. Maybe I feel more control, when things are so out of control. Maybe it’s just the nerdy book-worm in me coming out to play with office supplies and pretty pens. Maybe I just have lost the ability to make hundreds of decisions every day without a complete breakdown. Maybe it’s all of these reasons.

And maybe, just maybe, calming the chaos is exactly what my heart needs right now.

For More Ideas and Encouragement:

Moms Of Children With Differences: It’s Difficult, But It Doesn’t Mean You’re Doing it Wrong

When Motherhood Doesn’t Go As Planned

When The Child Who Needs Structure Fights It The Most


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  1. I see the need for this — more structure, more boundaries — in how I spend my time. I’ve been thinking about this post all week. My husband & I watched a documentary about French monks over the weekend and I envy their peace. It would bring me more peace to know what I am supposed to do each day, instead of simply reacting to situations and being controlled by my emotions (i.e. what I “feel” like doing). I haven’t implemented any lists or order, though, because I am still afraid of being confined. I suspect that when I do, I’ll find that it’s a comforting and not constricting kind of structure.

    1. Kristi – I totally want to watch that documentary. What’s the name of it? 🙂

      1. Into Great Silence. It’s not a typical documentary — it’s more like you’re observing their lives and entering into the life of the monastery in a small way –the contemplative life. The filmmaker lived with them for 6 months and captured their lives beautifully. Some people think it’s too slow, but we love it! If you watch it, pls let me know what you think.

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