When Your Plate Gets Too Full

In the USA, we celebrate Thanksgiving each Nov. 25th with an enormous meal. I’m sure every country has similar celebrations that involve heaps of food. Everyone reading, then, can probably relate to plates overfilled with delicious holiday fare.
We pile more enticing goodies onto our plates than any single human could possibly eat over three days (make that four days if my mom brings her Ambrosia salad). It’s no wonder we can’t eat all the food on our plates! There is simply too much.
But then Grandma comes out of the kitchen with her delectable warm apple pie and homemade vanilla ice cream and...oooo, yum!... We can’t say no (been waiting for this treat all year!). Oh no, we find a way to squeeze in a least a few bites of sheer bliss before we keel over in a euphoric state of overindulgence.
Parents have a tendency to heap more on our life’s “plate” than we can effectively manage. Unfortunately, this doesn’t end up in such a pleasant form of keeling over. It ends up in stress, poor health, damaged relationships, and a host of other nasties.
Much of what we heap on is by choice:  our careers, our homes, our church attendance, our hobbies and recreational activities, our pets, personal wellness, the extracurricular activities of our children, our fitness goals…the list is endless.
Some of what we deal with when our children have special needs is not what we would have chosen to add to the plate, but it is necessary for our kids’ well being:  medical routines, caregiving responsibilities, doctor and therapy appointments, IFSP/IEP/ISP meetings (don't you just love all that jargon?), 438 million phone calls to organize all these activities. Another endless list.
And then enters a plateful of “dessert” that we simply can’t walk away from—a crisis, an illness, some other unexpected circumstance that demands our immediate attention.
There are times all of this gets to be just too much. As difficult as it is, we must cope with our overfilled plates. Just how do we do that?
One way is to say no to anything that isn’t critical. If the candied yams with marshmallows aren’t your favorite side dish, pass them up for another that is.
You might decide that television viewing is a time luxury that you can’t afford. You might choose not to own pets (shhhh, don’t let our critters hear that one). You might limit the number of clubs and extracurricular activities that vie for your time. You might forego Twitter and Facebook.
Is there something you are doing right now that isn’t really necessary? If you stopped doing it, even temporarily during crisis, would your world really fall apart?
Another way is to scale back your portions. Take fewer bites of the things that matter. Maybe your hobby is what allows you to keep your sanity, but it may be necessary to cut down the amount of time you allow yourself to sew or sail or spelunk.
Scaling back is sometimes much more palatable than eliminating an activity all together.
Maybe your church’s home group is enough and all the extra women’s activities beyond that could be put on hold. Instead of visiting the library weekly, maybe a visit every other week is adequate.
What do you need to do or enjoy doing that you could do a little less of and still meet the need?
Streamlining your activities might be more of a cooking secret as we prepare that Thanksgiving feast than how we eat it, but it applies to managing all we have on our plate.
It’s become almost a game to me to figure out ways to save time or steps in my caregiving tasks. I save minutes by blending up a whole day’s batch of food for my daughter’s tube feedings instead of making single meals. By storing all her medications and tube feeding supplies in one cupboard, I save many steps in medication and meal prep. I use a quick checklist to send with my daughter to school each morning that takes only a couple minutes to complete and saves hours of phone calls later to clear up confusion.
Are there frequent tasks related to your child’s care that can be streamlined to save you time? Ask your friends who face similar issues how they approach the same task and learn from them (this strategy has helped me tremendously!).
Share what’s on your plate if you can. If you can’t eat it all, maybe someone else is willing to take several bites for you.
If you are fortunate enough to be able to afford to pay someone else to do some of your work, then hire it out. Maybe you would be better off hiring someone a few hours a week to do your housework or mow the lawn.
Maybe you can trade tasks with another family. Swapping babysitting is a tough one where we live, but I hear from other moms that it can work well.
And be sure to ask. When a friend or relative asks what she can do to help, let her. Maybe she could drop off a package at the post office you’ve been meaning to mail.
Instead of trying to do it all yourself, what could you pass along to someone else? What creative arrangements might you design to make this possible?
And then, give up the guilt over what you cannot finish. No one expects you to clean your plate on Thanksgiving. No one expects you to “do it all” in life. If you expect that of yourself, you’re being a harder on you than you need to be.
Are you beating yourself up for the things you can’t get done? If so, give yourself permission to stop. Guilt isn’t going to get you anywhere.
Special needs parents have a lot piled on our plates that we didn’t ask for and that may not be favorite dishes. But this is our reality and we do have to deal with them. We have control over many of the other things we add to that plate, and we can:
chose to eliminate some,
cut back on others,
streamline our routine tasks,
enlist the help of others,
and above all, let go of guilty feelings when we can’t get all of it done.

Crystal Paine at MoneySavingMom.com has a free ebook on time management that is the single best book I have ever read on the subject of managing your time (and I’m desperately disorganized, so I’ve read shelves full!). If you need help figuring out how to deal with an overfilled plate, I recommend it highly. It’s a fairly short book written from a Christian perspective and worth digesting s-l-o-w-l-y to get the most benefit. You can download it here.
This weekend our house was hit with a stomach bug. It’s a great time for me to re-read Crystal’s excellent book and get my priorities in order for the extra heap of helpings on my plate right now. I hope you will download your own copy and join me in managing our full plates!
Here's to a lighter plateload for us all in the week ahead!

Photo credits go to purpleslog and Emily C. at flickr.com


Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Rose-Marie. (I'm out of my league if I try to get in on the tech posts.) Streamlining should be a more common thought process among therapists. Sadly, I think many tend to add-to a parent's life. Alas.


Rose-Marie said...

Thanks Barbara. You bring up a really great point!

Our daughter's wise PT worked very hard to come up with "homework" that could be incorporated into our daily routine--stretching while polishing the mirror, sitting balance activities during tv time. The convenience of piggybacking them with daily routine made it much more likely for me to follow through.

Thanks for bringing up such an important--and probably not all that difficult--solution to the problem of plates too full!