People have no shortage of opinions on how you need to spend your money, time, and mental and spiritual energy. As a single Christian mom you can layer on bible study and church activities to the everyday prerequisites that show the world you are a good human being. Captain Obvious moment – you don’t have enough time to complete them so where does that leave you? Satan would have you believe that you don’t measure up, you aren’t dedicated enough to your children or to God or to your extended family or your friends, and you certainly aren’t showing your kids what true dedication looks like, so the enemy says. So you fill too many waking hours with activities to keep the kids well-rounded and family and friends satisfied. If satan can’t get you to deny Christ he can certainly keep you busy spinning all the plates of “shoulds” in your life.
My goal in this blog post is to give you permission to cut out or reduce some daily activities without guilt. Ultimately we are much more effective for Christ and for our kids when we are energized and motivated within ourselves by listening to the still, small voice of the Lord. To help you do this, I want to give you a different, possibly controversial, perspective on some of life’s activities and want you to choose them from the motivation perspective. Am I motivated to do this because experts or other parents say I SHOULD be doing this? Am I motivated in order to save my pride, to not look bad to others? If I don’t do it, will the kids still somehow survive and possibly thrive? Or is the activity non-negotiable (internal motivation)? What am I willing to give up to accommodate the non-negotiables?
I offer my perspective with each of these and I recognize it can be a shock if you haven’t heard it put this way. Before immediately dismissing them, really ask yourself why you are doing them, and is it possible to provide a similar lesson or experience in a less stressful or less expensive way? You are in survival mode and the payoff for many of these activities may not be worth the energy and expense the “experts” think you have plenty of. Buckle your seat belt! Things are about to get real!
1. “You SHOULD have your kids in extra-curricular activities (band, sports, Girl or Boy Scouts, etc.).”
WAIT! Hear me out. I am totally aware of the benefits achieved from activities that require practice, teamwork, and socialization. Many of the benefits do outweigh the energy and money output. My plea to you is pick one! One activity per child at most. If you have three children that have three different activities, can you influence one or two of them to try one of the other activities so you can combine trips? Something else to think about – is your goal in life to raise the next Hank Aaron? Then by all means invest in a traveling baseball team. Is your goal in life to raise the next Julia Roberts? Then pour yourself into her Thespian activities and acting lessons. If these are non-negotiable then you must choose which activities you will give up. More on this further down, but you must choose a kid’s activity to give up, not your free time. If your goal is to simply help your kids gain the benefits of a team sport or the confidence that acting can provide, there are multiple ways to achieve this such as the Boys and Girls Club, or church plays. With very rare exceptions, your children will likely change their heart’s desires and activities multiple times in their lives. Do not go to extremes because other parents are doing it, or you read a parenting article about the benefits of traveling sports.
2. “You SHOULD have your kids in summer church camp.”
I cringe writing about this because I know the how many times it is announced from the pulpit and in church bulletins. I know the stats are heavily weighted on how many kids accept Christ at camp. I am simply challenging the notion that they must go to the Rocky Mountains to accept Christ, while you give up rent money. Granted I haven’t read the entire Bible word for word so I may have missed the verse that says “You who are ages 8 to 17 can only find Me at the most expensive summer camp.” (1st Broke 2:12). I don’t mean to sound snarky (maybe a little!) and I am definitely not discounting the benefits of summer camp. If this is one of your non-negotiable sacred cows, then you must choose a kid’s activity to give up, and find a way to afford camp. Most churches have scholarships funded by generous donations. Put your pride aside and apply. If you are concerned that they won’t accept Christ unless they go, consider Jesus’ own words, “My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” (Matthew 11:27, NLT). Pay your rent and let Jesus and the Holy Spirit do the work of salvation! Jesus knows your heart for your children. Keep praying for Him to reveal Himself to them! It may happen in the most ordinary of circumstances.
3. “You SHOULD be at church every time the doors are open.”
Once again I feel like I’m slaughtering the sacred cow, but I’m willing to do so to relieve you of guilt and to stop the bleeding of your time and energy. I am not suggesting you do this Christian walk alone. That is a tool the enemy uses to attack us, like wolves picking off a sheep that has wandered off alone. I am asking you to consider once in a great while staying in bed on Sunday morning when you have been running every hour of every day that week. Make the kids a fun breakfast with Micky Mouse pancakes and bacon, or pull everyone onto the couch to talk about goofy stuff, or go outside and have a picnic. Here are a few other ideas. The kids have been super busy as well and would appreciate the down time. I understand that it may be more difficult to get them out the door next Sunday, so schedule one Sunday off every other month or one every month (gasp!). Compulsory attendance just for the sake of attendance is just religion. Again, if this is truly a non-negotiable for you and you are not doing it out of guilt or because a very nosy church admin lady will call you out because she didn’t see you last Sunday, then of course be there every Sunday. If going to church every week energizes you then stay with it. On the other hand, if church attendance has become an obligation and you are more drained and short-tempered with the kids, that is the trade-off. Recharging for the busy week ahead once in a while may help all of you.
4. “You SHOULD show up to more family occasions.”
This one is easy. Try this simple exercise. Touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth, make an “O” with your lips and repeat after me, “NNNOOOOOOO!” Grandma and Grandpa would love to see the kids again, but you are frazzled. Do you really need to go to your 3rd cousin’s 27th birthday party because your mom begged you to? Did Mom also offer to drive the kids to their activities this week so you could have a short break? I hope so, but I’m guessing she didn’t. You know which family obligations to attend and which you can say NO to. It’s important to keep your kids plugged into family, but if it’s solely out of obligation or a really good guilt trip you must say no and preserve your sanity. Your kids need you sane, and your 3rd cousin twice removed will probably understand, if she remembers who you are.
Yes I’m simplifying and family dynamics are different for everyone. Ask yourself whether they would do the same for you if roles were reversed? By all means, attend the important events. You know what they are, but as you know your energy and time are finite so you must decide which trade-off you are willing to accept.
5. “You SHOULD always put the kids first ahead of yourself.”
This is my favorite because I get to use an old worn-out airline analogy. I really must come up with something more original later. Humor me for now.
Since your mental and physical energy are limited how do you recharge them? Does it happen overnight in the 5 small hours while you are unconscious? Does it happen in the bleachers at basketball practice while you’re buried in your phone hoping that annoying mom doesn’t come over to tell you how great her kid is? Does it happen in line waiting to pick the kids up from school while you watch the car’s temperature gauge praying it doesn’t overheat again? Perhaps you HAVE put your kids first, and you are exhausted and running out of oxygen. (Cue the cliche analogy).
Flight attendants give a speech about losing cabin pressure and give instructions to put your mask on first, then help children (or those who act like children!). This is hammered into us on every flight because it is counter-intuitive as humans. Our first instinct is to help the helpless. As believers in Christ we multiply that tendency by the Gospel. Jesus sacrificed His life for the entire world, so shouldn’t we always put our kids first? If an airplane loses pressure and oxygen, everyone on the plane will start to fall asleep. As the margarine cup comes down out of the ceiling, it’s important for you to put your mask on, or you will fall asleep and die before you can help anyone else, especially kids. Likewise, Jesus knew the importance of keeping His mental and physical “oxygen” going. For the 3 years of His ministry He would often disappear just before He was captured because it wasn’t time yet, or He would go away alone to pray after a long day of healing and loving on others.
I am driving home to you the importance of having time for yourself to be with friends, by yourself, or just with the Lord. Maybe time for yourself is a taboo concept, or maybe you agree with the idea of taking time alone, but always run out of hours before you get that time. Right now you must make an effort to find the time. Ask your parents or a sister or trusted friend to take the kids one night, or reach out to your women’s ministry to help form single parent babysitting co-ops. Then when you finally have an evening to breathe, do whatever you want that is focused on you! If you are energized by going out with friends then have a ball! If you are an introvert like me and recharge your batteries by yourself in a good book with a cup of coffee in your underwear then savor the moment. It will require effort on your part because I know you don’t want to inconvenience others or leave the kids with someone you don’t know or trust. Please start to form those relationships NOW. Not only is your life in danger, so are your kids’ lives. That sounds dramatic, but they need you recharged and refreshed, not exhausted and short-fused. It should be several hours of uninterrupted time, but for a quick daily refresh check out this post on the importance of creating a morning routine.
Please hear my heart. I do not want you to take all these tips as me giving you an excuse to be lazy. I have a hunch that lazy is a dirty 4-letter word to you, and you strive to give your children the best life in spite of your circumstances. You are willing to keep going to the point of exhaustion so your kids will catch your work ethic and be well-rounded. My desire for you is that you will choose the activities that have the most payoff, and discard the rest. Remember that the payoff in NOT doing something may be greater than the small benefit achieved by doing it. Above all, remember to replenish your oxygen supply. If our selfless King Jesus did it, I’ll bet you SHOULD too!