Breaking Up With Guilt

My professional writing career is on a roll!!!!

I kid, but only slightly, as I was honored to write another article for the Central Virginia Family Guide’s 2015 issue. (On stands this week!)

You may remember my 2014 article “Un-spoiling Your Child.” By far, it has been my most popular, most shared post to date! Clearly hitting home for parents. Yay for un-spoiling the next generation!

This article deals with taking back your family, creating margin, and living a life of freedom and not guilt. Now doesn’t that sound nice?

Enjoy…. I added some pictures of Bennett and his 7th Bday Father/Son Campout party last Friday. It is the best example to accompany this article. I didn’t plan one activity but let kids just be kids for three unstructured hours and they were AWESOME AT IT! Imagine that! Kids instinctively know how to untether their spirits, imaginations and enjoy the great outdoors. It’s a beautiful thing. I also gave myself permission not to decorate. Besides balloons, a ninja turtle table cloth and napkins….I didn’t do a darn thing. Instead of junky “goodie bags” (who thought of this money sucking idea?) I bought a bunch of glow sticks so they could run in the woods in the dark and we could track them. Not the least bit Pinterest worth. It has felt so good to let go of the birthday party pressure!

I’m a duck baby…perfect mom pressure rolling off my back!

You know...just hanging out in the woods with my board.

You know…just hanging out in the woods with my board.

Too cool for school. Seven years old looking good on Bennett

Too cool for school. Seven years old looking good on Bennett

BREAKING UP WITH GUILT:

The definition of squander is “to waste something (especially money or TIME) in a reckless and foolish manner.”

I would call myself a type-A, list-making, list-checking type of gal. However, I can also be the queen of squandering time.

On the rare occasion I am given a morning off from my children, I turn into one of two people. The first Kelly lazily kills an hour on social media, wanders around her house like a lost puppy and eventually plops on the couch and does nothing. The other Kelly is frantically trying to squeeze 24-hours of tasks into four hours of time. I can’t seem to discipline myself enough to prioritize. I flit around—partially completing one task all while simultaneously starting four more. Somehow in my brain it makes sense but I have very little to show for it at the end of my alone time. Cue sad violin. It’s no laughing matter to be a time-waster.

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They never stopped setting up scenarios and battles for hours. Hilarious

They never stopped setting up scenarios and battles for hours. Hilarious

Time is a precious gift. You hear it often in cliché quotes on Pinterest.

“You can’t save it for later.” You can’t “bank” it or work “overtime,” so that all of a sudden you get a 50-hour day. It just doesn’t work that way. You can only spend the moment or waste it. We don’t stop to ponder that fact often enough.

I have never read of anyone saying at the end of their life “I wish I had watched more TV” or “I wish I had spent more time on social media, worked more hours, accumulated more or shoved my kids into more activities, so I barely saw them.” It would be absurd. So why is it that we spend our days doing the very things we will live to regret?

I read an article written by a palliative care nurse, Bonnie Ware, on the top five regrets people make on their death bed. Here they are:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard. (She said EVERY male patient expressed this one because they missed their children’s youth and the companionship of their spouse)
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express
my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier

.
In essence they wish they had spent their time differently. Sobering.

And so we face this challenge as parents and spouses of how to spend our time wisely. We simply can’t get so lost in the shuffle and monotony of our duties that we miss the opportunities to invest in what is eternal. We live in a society that demands we “do” endless activities and “spend” well beyond our means. We are tired, grumpy, overworked, short-tempered, dissatisfied, distant from one another and burdened by our finances. There is a cost to every decision we make and usually the first to get cut from the list is our children and spouse. Someone has to step off this destructive merry-go-round.
Last time I checked, society wasn’t putting my kids to bed, paying my bills or married to my spouse. So a few years ago our family decided to divorce ourselves from society’s rules and invent our own.

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We were the typical, ubiquitous American family that had every white square filled, spilling into the margins of our calendar. With three kids under age five, we knew we could never keep up the pace and think our marriage and children would survive let alone thrive under those conditions. We were not designed to live in a frantically feverish state of being. We blew the whistle on ourselves, and my husband and I had a big heart-to-heart. We needed to write a list of our core values and then evaluate if our lives and schedules allowed for those core values to take root, or if they were just ideals we tossed around in public conversation while our personal lives mocked those same words. Values are anchors and lighthouses in our lives—the immovable foundation and guide to get back to steady ground.

For us it took moving 25 minutes outside of Lynchburg from our little cottage in the city to our rustic home on a few acres in the country. It wasn’t a glamorous move that movies are made from. Part of our core values was living well in our means. We found a pretty unsavory foreclosure that we fell head-over-heels for and worked hard to make it a beautiful home. It was a refining and —at times—fun process. Moving out to the country brought a “soul peace” we could have only dreamed of in our past life.

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Being 25 minutes from town also meant we had to say “no” more often than “yes” to activities and invitations. We couldn’t afford to fill our gas tanks every 2-3 days, and so we decided on our second core value. The majority of our life and socialization would happen out of our home.

For most people who pull up our long driveway, surrounded by pine trees, the sentence we commonly hear is “It feels so peaceful here.” I can’t think of a bigger compliment. There is something about a hot meal around a table with another family that slows down a night, deepens the conversation and helps you appreciate your family. Sure, there are sometimes screaming kids, boycotted food and lots of messes, but the joys far outweigh the hassle and drama a gaggle of young kids can make.

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We traded “rush” for “peace.”We “under-whelmed” our schedule in order to have margin in our lives. The days are long but the years are fast with kids. Did you know there are approximately 936 weekends from the day of a child’s birth to the day they leave home? Are you squandering those weekends away or maximizing this season of life?

But guilt is a fickle beast. You would think it would motivate us to make better choices but instead it tends to make us more frantic. Moms who struggle with feeling guilty about grabbing a 30-minute nap, flipping through a magazine or revisiting a hobby when their children are resting buy into the lie that it is an indecent luxury to allow one’s body and soul to rejuvenate. Building margin into a balanced life does not mean that you avoid time to yourself or time to rest. Water flows down from the top. If mom and dad are stressed, distracted, unavailable and one-dimensional….what is trickling down to your children? Just because a new hat is in my arsenal—“mom hat”—that doesn’t mean I traded it for my former self. I added it to my wardrobe where it’s in heavy rotation with my writing hat, my photography hat, my decorating hat, my girlfriend hat, my wife hat, etc.

So, I broke up with guilt, and it felt good! I refused to let my husband go by the wayside or my friends get kicked to the curb. My children know that mommy has “girl’s night.” My daughter likes to help me pick out my jewelry for it and can’t wait until she is old enough to come with me! I love that she understands that my friends are a priority, and they help mommy find joy and balance in her life. Our kids don’t bat an eye when my husband and I declare a date night. We want them to know very clearly that we love and are committed to one another and that we need a break from being “mommy and daddy” sometimes so we can just be “Kelly and Ryan.”

Probably the best picture of Rhett ever taken. Our Mensa child clearly!

Probably the best picture of Rhett ever taken. Our Mensa child clearly!

I can’t offer a comprehensive list of “how to’s” on finding a balance in your life because there are many subjective circumstances that prevent families from fitting into neat, little boxes, but I do implore you to sit down with your partner and hash out what your core values are. When you look back on these years, what do you wish you had accomplished? Are you willing to live courageously, willing to set boundaries and stick with them, willing to live frugally and “do” less, willing to let your kids have a childhood instead of an activity schedule?

It’s not easy, but it is so worth it! With each decision you make to incorporate balance, peace and margin, it’s like attaching a little tugboat onto the steamship of your family unit. It might not pull you strongly off your current course but with each tugboat you add, eventually you will see your family headed into calmer, safer and healthier waters.

Would a time-squanderer do that?

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