How’s your to do list looking today? Is it longer by the end of the day than when you started? Have you stopped looking at it because it is too discouraging? We often think a new fancy app will solve our todo list problem. But maybe we don’t need a new app, rather we need a new list.
Prioritizing the most important things in life has been a bigger challenge ever since I had children. Before having kids I never felt that overwhelmed despite working full time and doing an MBA as a newlywed, with our first home to repair and manage. On week nights I learned to build complex financial models and during the day I would evaluate restructuring proposals. On the weekends we would build a fence, or paint a room. I would write papers and do laundry while my husband wrote his doctorate. My Franklin planner was filled out, prioritized, and always with me. Life was full, but not overwhelming.
When I brought that first eight pound tornado home, everything changed. What I thought was valuable changed. What I thought I could fit into a day changed. My neat financial records became piles of unopened mail. My days were filled with pumping milk in between conference calls and meetings. But the whole time, my heart and mind was filled with only one thing: the little boy in the basement of a federal building on the other side of the national mall.
Kids have a way of forcing us to make choices right from the get-go. Nap when the baby naps or mop the floor? One more bedtime story or pay the bills? Go to the park or catch up on email?
We want to do it all, but how?
Here are five clarifying questions I think you need to ask today when you look at that to-do list.
- Do you love doing this? Is it aligned with what you value most?
- Are you uniquely suited to do this? Someone else could mop your floor or manage your email list. What are the thing only you can do?
- Does it support your long term goals?
- What is the worst thing that can happen if you don’t do this? (None of us love doing our taxes, but the consequences of not doing it… ouch. But the bake sale? There are plenty of moms who can do it, and you probably won’t get kicked out of school.)
- Is this related to a relationship? OR Does this impact someone else? While something may not be a priority to you, if it is to your spouse or your boss, you want to prioritize the relationship.
And if the list is still too long? Take a deep breath and quiet your thoughts for just a moment, what rises to the top? If I were you, I’d skip mopping the floor today. After all, the muddy feet running in from the park will get it dirty again.
PS: Now that you have some space in that to-do list, why not find out what makes you bloom?
Arriving in a new country, you often don’t know anyone. Sometimes you don’t speak the language. You don’t have your house or car; you don’t know where to buy groceries. The kids have a new school, but you have to take them in a taxi. “Don’t let them rip you off,” people warn about the taxi. But how could you possibly avoid getting ripped off when you speak none of the local language, and haven’t quite figured out the currency and conversion rates. How much should temporary housing to the store/school/husband’s office cost anyway? I know I have shoved a hand full of bills at a taxi driver and hoped that he would give me the appropriate change.
Your husband goes off to work, and you are left to figure it out. When we move to a new city, my husband has learned that he probably shouldn’t ask how I’m doing unless he wants an earful those first weeks. But if he doesn’t ask I get mad that he goes off to his great job and doesn’t even care how we are doing! This is lunacy at its finest. Those first few weeks are rough.
The kids must be first, you think. You unpack whatever things you brought to make them feel at home. Toys, maybe their own sheets and blankets. Eventually, you get the school uniforms, the giant list of school supplies that has to be bought at 14 different stores, and the kids start school. You find their classes, chat with the teachers, and do your best to make friends for them. “That boy looks nice! Tell him your name! Can you ask him if he wants to play with you?”
You get home, and it is quiet, messy, and empty. You haven’t figured out the weird smell in the plumbing yet, or the best time to take a shower that won’t freeze or scald you, and that has enough water pressure to rinse out the shampoo – the last bottle brought from home. Once you get an internet connection, you respond to every facebook post in your feed, skype friends and family whenever they are on-line, and long for your previous life.
What now? What do you do? You pick up the breakfast dishes, you try your language study books. You try to plan a meal with ingredients you can find or pronounce. And you realize that you are exhausted. And lonely.
While those first weeks may feel like an eternity, they do pass. Eventually you get a home, a car, maybe a few friends made at school or through an expat group. One day, you arrive at the grocery store, and realize that you drove there without thinking about it.
Being an expat mom can be a pretty tough gig, but I want to tell you that you can bloom where you are (trans)planted. This can be the best adventure you could possibly imagine. In this new space, I’ll share what I’ve have learned about self-care, routines and rituals that can make your family more resilient, and simplicity that will make your expat life feel… well, simple. Let’s do it together.
Please, will you take a moment to tell me what you’re struggling with today? Use the contact form to drop me a line – I can’t wait to hear from you.