Burnout – it is the feeling of being exhausted, unmotivated and even disinterested with the very things that previously energised, enthused and excited. Burnout is real and it something that we need to be aware of so we can avoid it or recover from it.
I heard a story that gave me an insight to this concern. The story goes like this: There was a farmer who rode into town and his dog decided to follow him. Once the farmer arrived, he hitched his horse and wagon up in front of the general store. He looked behind him and there was his dog puffing and panting into town. The store owner gave the farmer a hard time – how could you let your dog get so exhausted just by coming into town. The farmer looked at the dog, and then at the store owner and said – it is not running to town that made that dog tired but all the zig zagging it made on the way. Every gate and every hole that dog had to investigate. This reminds me of us mums – we zig zag here and there – and we also get exhausted, just like this dog in the story. It isn’t the doing that is tiring – it is the zig zagging along the way.
So let’s take that thought as our motivation and consider what are our zigzags? What are those little investigations on the side that aren’t really necessary?
These little zig zags have two effects on us:
- They take away energy – mental, physical and emotional energy
- They distract us from the main thing
Avoid Burnout – Avoid Distractions
The little saying: Keep the main thing the main thing is what we are talking about. What is the main thing for you and your family? What is the thing (or it maybe things) that are a priority for this season of your life. Are you prepared to just focus on that? The main thing can change over time, or it can have its season and then you need to move on. But for now, it is your main thing.
The dog in this story – his main thing, should have been getting into town. But instead he got distracted to the left and to the right. What are the distractions for us? I’m not even going to list possibilities, because what is one mum’s distraction will be another mum’s main thing. You have to be honest with yourself here. What distracts you? What takes up your time, emotions and energy, and yet you know it isn’t productive time? What intrigues you and pulls you away from your plans for the day?
Know your Main Thing
Maybe you don’t even know your main thing – for this I will make some suggestions.
1–Your relationship with God – what distractions do you allow to hinder this relationship? As in any relationship we need to give time to our relationship with God – what stops you from sitting in God’s presence, reading his Word, talking and listening to him? Do we put these things off till a perfect time arrives (it never will!!)
2–Your relationship with your spouse – what distractions do you allow to come into this priority relationship? Work or Chores? Children? Ministry? Recreation?
3–Your relationship with your children – what distractions do you allow to come into this relationship? I’d like mums to really pause before they move on from this. We may think that because we homeschool we are giving our kids everything, we may think that because we cook, clean and care for our kids there are no distractions – we do it all for them. But I’m talking about building a relationship – all the things we do for our kids (including homeschooling) could easily be a distraction to building a relationship with our kids.
There are things in our life that are ‘main things’ beyond these three relationships. Can you identify them? If you are honest – are there too many main things in your life? If everything is a priority then really there are no priorities. It reminds me of the saying Keep it simple sweetheart.
Let go of Distractions
Letting go of these distractions or lesser priorities is a hard thing to do. And yet, for the sake of our health and the health of relationships it is something we need to consider.
Richard Swenson in his book, Margin*, says, that being a doctor one of the most common complaints his patients suffer would be fixed not by taking medication but by them reducing the activity in their life, by giving themselves some “margin”. Margin is the space to breath, the space to live life, the space to enjoy what is truly important. And yet we tend to clutter up every moment of our days, and wonder why we hurt so much. Margin is not about being lazy and irresponsible it is about looking after ourselves while we focus on what is important.
As a mum, if you are feeling the effects of burnout – if you are feeling overwhelmed, overworked, unfocused etc then can I suggest a time where you trim down everything and focus only on the main thing. When I go through times like this I trim down everything and give myself time to recover physically, stimulate myself mentally, refresh myself spiritually. How can you do this as a mum with kids around you? Here is my short list
- Make time for my quiet time, exercise , eating food that is good for me and finding a short time of rest each day
- Maintain a clean (but not perfect) house – Make it a priority to have the children help me. While they help clean house they are learning responsibilities and fine tuning their character issues.
- Minimum planned activities with my kids (I like reading times – both reading aloud and quiet reading, board games, and outdoor time). I have to keep my day structured to some degree, especially when my children were little, but whatever I choose to do I try and keep it relational.
So the key things to remember are:
- Know your priorities and work on them
- Know your distractions and avoid them
- Look after yourself by being honest
Will we be like the dog – zig zagging here and there – involved in everything, and finding everything interesting and fascinating. We will arrive at our destination, but we will be exhausted. Or will we be like the man on the horse – he just kept on going straight down the road knowing that his goal was to get to town. He knew the distractions were there (he saw what the dog saw but he made a different choice). He kept his eyes forward as he travelled down the road. Where are our eyes? On the goal or on the distractions?
*Margin by Richard A. Swenson, MD – I highly recommend this book. (affiliate link)
Over to you:
What do you find the biggest distraction that catches you and weighs you down?
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