Step One: Check Out That Daily Schedule. Are you feeling like a human to-do list? Are you always going-going-going? Before you can really make a change and create more balance in your life, you must first have an accurate idea of your typical week. So look at that Palm Pilot or Daytimer or calendar and see what is really going on in your life. And if you're not writing down everything you do, start doing it now.
Step Two: Cut Just One Thing. Cutting out just one of your weekly activities may make a tremendous difference in restoring balance and reducing stress. And if removing one works well for you, try eliminating two or three.
Stay committed to trimming your schedule. One way to do this is to establish a "nag partner." Tell your family or at least the one little kid in your household who always takes on the role of your little reminder: "MOMMMmmmm, you weren't supposed to clean up my room for me!" Believe me, they take the reminder role quite seriously and will help you out. Or use an index card to write a reminder not to take on one more new task, and tape it to your phone. Your new rule is "Say no first"— or at least say you'll have to call the person back after you check your schedule. A survey conducted by Working Mother found that only 35 percent of moms admitted that they use "No" as a time-saving strategy, but half of those surveyed confessed that it is the one strategy they need to improve or do more of. So a word to the wise: stick to your decision.
Step Three: Start Delegating. Really! Why do all the work yourself? Share the household chores as a family. Besides a less-stressed you, you'll have more time for your family, and here's the real clincher: research actually shows that when the family pitches in together, your family happiness quotient increases by 32 percent (honest!). The key to this one: don't be so darn picky! If your kid doesn't make his bed like a marine, let it go.
Step Four: Exercise. If you really want to take better care of yourself, you know it's essential to have a regular exercise routine. And no more excuses: you can do it alone, with a girlfriend, or with your whole family. For instance, put the toddler in a stroller or the baby in a front back and walk each evening; join a mother-daughter yoga class; or have your girlfriend come over each day, punch in that "Buns of Steel" tape, and go girl. Then keep doing it.
Step Five: Find Time for One New Thing. Decide what's taking a backseat in your family (spirituality, intellectual stimulation, fun, together time, reading the paper, talking), then boost it. For instance, if you want to read more, then do it as a family. Set an evening reading time. Stash books in a basket (and put them back in the basket for the next night) or spread a blanket on the floor for read-alongs. Granted, this is hard when your kids are toddlers, but for school-age kids, it can be wonderful. And you're actually helping your child because you're modeling the joy of reading to your kids. So what do you want to boost?
Step Six: Date Your Significant Other. Get a babysitter once a week (or twice a month) and leave the kiddies at home. If you think going out sounds selfish, tell yourself you're doing it for the good of your kids. Don't put your marriage on the back burner.
Step Seven: Get a Support System. Friends do matter. In addition to everything else they bring to your life, friends can really help in reducing stress and restoring balance. Here are a few suggestions:
■ Create a Mommy and Me group. When my kids were young, my girlfriend Ginny Lescroart and I connected weekly. She had kids about the same ages as mine, so we'd alternate being the host or choosing outings. One week she might have us all walk to pick blackberries by the creek. The next week I'd suggest we go see a movie together or attend the read-aloud program at the library. Find one mom and plan little outings. This doesn't have to cost you a lot of time or money, and it means healthy company for you as well as your kids.
■ Start a book club. If you and your kids like to read, why not start a mother-daughter (or mother-son) book club? Instead of reading apart, you can enjoy each other's company.
■ Set up buddy lists. Online chat groups are so hot these days, why not set up a time for a twenty-minute chat with your girlfriends? It could be a time not only to stay connected without leaving the house but also to give you a healthy menu idea for dinner or ideas to tame the temper tantrum of your two-year-old.
■ Exercise together. Set up a Pilates group or exercise class in a home or church building. Just invite a girlfriend or two or three to come over with their little ones. Pop in an exercise video, take turns watching the kiddies, and exercise while enjoying each other's company. Or just put your toddler in the stroller and find one other mom to join with you for a short walk each day.
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