Are you drowning in overwhelm? Are you doing your best to find your stride in a stressful situation, but constantly feeling like you’re failing? Does anxiety invade the fibers of your being, unwelcome and uninvited?
I have felt that way a few times in my life, especially since becoming a mom. Parenting littles is an intense season that inevitably finds rough patches along the way. Sometimes you even get to a point of utter overwhelm and find yourself in sheer survival mode. Instead of flourishing and thriving, you are dragging yourself through and just hoping to stay afloat.
Man, do I ever get that.
In the spring of 2012, I was in a definite downward spiral. The third trimester of our third child was *not* kind to me. I was utterly exhausted, huge (seriously… huge), and in pain. In addition to that I was so, so angry at myself for being an always-grumpy mom to my other two littles (age 22 months and 3.5 at the time).
When the baby was 8 weeks old, we made a cross-country move, then lived in a temporary home for 6 months, and then moved once again to our new rental. I was also struggling with coming to terms with the fact that I felt a tug in my heart toward writing, and wrestling with how that might (might not?) come alongside my mothering.
That survival mode lasted at least a year, and it was rough. I felt constantly behind on things, frustrated, and defeated. Overwhelmed every day with 3 littles close in age, with a baby who threw up constantly for 10 months straight.
Now, just a year or so later, we are currently experiencing the most stressful situation of our lives that caused us to move out of our home within just a few days’ notice in order to seek safety and peace. I cannot speak publicly about the situation for various reasons, but lemme just say: if ever there was a time in which I was qualified to write on this topic, it’s right now.
Own your reality
If you feel like life is spinning out of control, like you’re drowning in overwhelm, or like you just can’t get ahead – then you might be in a survival mode season. If you watch the clock tick by painfully slow, hour by hour, or if you struggle to feel a sense of accomplishment no matter how hard you work… I empathize.
Survival mode can manifest itself in so many ways. It’s a relative phenomenon that is dependant on so many factors in a person’s life, and the first thing that must be said is that it is imperative to never EVER compare your hard to someone else’s. It’s not helpful, and it doesn’t matter. You feeling utterly overwhelmed by your (gorgeous and healthy) children is not somehow lessened by third-world poverty or child trafficking.
Have perspective, yes, but don’t feel guilty for your feelings. Own them and honour them.
2 action steps to take:
1. I’m an idealist, and this does not come easily to me, but I absolutely must force myself to lessen my expectations. Stress comes at a cost, and the nagging guilt from failing to meet idealist standards is like an itchy sweater – if you can just take it off and lay it aside, you’ll feel so much better.
2. It is absolutely imperative, therefore, to separate the essentials from the peripherals. When it comes down to the bare bones of the ideals that your family holds dear, what do you find? I’ll tell you what this is for us:
- Safety and security, a sense of belonging.
- Making healthy choices based on our reality.
- Spending our dollars wisely, and splurging (guilt-free) on things that help alleviate stress.
- Quality time together at home, un-rushed.
If we have those four things, our family unit functions and forges ahead valiantly, despite any obstacle in our path. If one of those things is lacking, the stress starts to multiply.
What we don’t have:
In any survival mode, there are outside factors that cause stress. These are most often beyond our control in the immediate day-to-day. There are no quick-fixes or magic wands. We have each other, our values, and our own resilience, and beyond that it’s an everyday battle to move forward.
Knowing your essentials is like making an attainable shortlist for your day.
You’ll notice that my bare bones values do not include cooking from scratch, gardening, crafting, DIYing, extra-curricular activities, or being as frugal as possible. Those are certainly all things that we value, but they are things that we can temporarily let go of (or modify) while trying to dig out of survival mode.
19 crunchy compromises
Here are 19 examples of “compromises” (big or small) that we are willing to make right now. Remember that these are specific to our family, and will look different for each family, depending on a bajillion different factors.
(And please, don’t feel badly if these are regular things in your family. Some of my ‘normal’ might be your ‘compromise’, and vice versa. The point is to climb out of survival mode and live fully – not compare our standards to one another’s.)
1. Buying ketchup/salad dressing (filled with sugar and nasty soybean/canola oils. I like to make my own, normally.)
2. Deli meat (yes, it contains nasty chemicals and preservatives. So we buy the more natural stuff. Still not perfect, but better.)
3. Rice cakes & rice crackers (they are single or low-ingredient snacks that fill bellies and are portable. Processed, yes, but better than fast food or many other pre-packaged snacks at the grocery store.)
4. Laundry detergent (I’ve been meaning to make my own for ages, but have taken that off my to-do list for now. I use a couple of natural, non-toxic brands.)
5. Pancake mix (I wrote a Breakfast cookbook, yes, but I have been buying this pancake mix lately for a quick and instant meal at home. My kids love it with gobs of butter, real maple syrup, and some smashed up raspberries.)
6. Pizza crust mix (We’ve tried quite a few brands, and we like this one the best.)
7. Baby carrots (it’s honestly way cheaper and not much more work to buy a 3lb bag of carrots and peel them. But for now – sometimes the smallest tasks seem insurmountable. We buy these organic because of chlorine soaking in the conventional.)
8. McDonald’s play place (You might call this the more extreme item on the list. We often head to McDonald’s for their play place, and when we’re being good, we order a tea or coffee for while the kids run crazy. When we’re exhausted and craving sugar, we get a sundae. And promptly regret it. We never regret the kid energy that is expended, however. If you know of any other free kid play places, do tell!)
9. Five Guys (this is my fave fast food place – they have burgers made with actual meat, they do lettuce wraps instead of buns, they have tons of yummy toppings, and their fries are cooked in peanut oil – not the best, but better than canola or soybean.)
10. Annie’s gluten-free mac & cheese (the hippie version of Kraft Dinner, basically.)
11. Gluten-free bread (we like Udi’s for flavour, but they are pricey. I go with whatever’s on sale or cheapest. We make peanut butter toast for an easy breakfast or lunch, and we also do tuna sandwiches. Most of the store-bought GF bread is full of undesirable ingredients, but again – better than fast food or take-out, so in the cart it goes… for now.)
12. Grocery store meat (I long for the days when we’re not running around like crazy, just trying to stay afloat with life, and can search out an amazing farm with pastured, organic meat and fresh eggs from chickens that run around pecking dirt and bugs. For now, however, we buy meat from the grocery store.)
13. Hummus (don’t tell me that it’s so easy to make hummus at home. I already know. It’s even easier to drop a 2-pack in my cart at Costco, especially when I know for a fact that my toddler will inhale it like it’s cotton candy. It will take a lot of time and effort to replicate that exact flavour and texture.)
14. My kids’ toys (not a foodie-related item. But pertinent. I am normally a careful curator of the toys that my kids get to have. These days, though, it’s kind of relaxed. Be safe, and don’t be glued to the TV. That’s pretty much all I ask.)
15. Plastic dishes (We currently have plastic IKEA kid dishes in our cupboards. They might even have BPA. I am totally for the idea of letting children have quality, breakable things and teaching them to take care with them… but not when I can barely make dinner and don’t have time to clean up broken glass… again. That ideal is on hiatus.)
16. Kid crafts (When we put our stuff into a storage pod last month, I packed the paints into a box and sighed. I knew I wouldn’t find lazy summer afternoons of painting. Not in the next little while. I chose to pack ’em up and let it go. And that’s okay.)
17. Organic Gluten-free cereal (There are these bags of cereal that are organic and lightly sweetened with something other than HFCS. They are expensive as heck, but my kids think I’m Santa Claus when I bring a bag home. Totally fair game in survival mode.)
18. Organic corn chips (I recently figured out that it’s cheaper to buy organic corn chips (because non-organic corn is GMO) and use them for hummus than it was to buy cracker for that purpose. Plus they taste better…)
19. Buying almond milk (It’s next to impossible to find a brand without carageenan in it, but I avert my eyes, and focus instead of the possibilities I am allowing for home-cooking as opposed to resorting to take-out yet again.)
So, there you have 19 random compromises I’m willing to make on survival mode. How about you?