I have seen a lot of funny memes about the welcoming in the new year with caution.
Jokes about entering the New Year quietly and respectfully. Memes about seeing terms and conditions before signing anything and generally approaching 2022 with reservation after the last two years we’ve had. Even though they come across as jokes, I can’t help but agree with the idea that times have been tough lately — that we need to pull back a little from the ledge to protect ourselves from getting knocked down so hard that our hearts can’t stand back up.
We are “big life” people by nature, we have always run a million miles an hour, with 25 balls in the air, constantly juggling and usually coming out on top. We have 4 kids, two dogs, big careers and countless busy pursuits.
When the pandemic hit, we pulled back, but overall things stayed mostly the same. But as the months and now years have dredged on, it is starting to feel like “death by 1000 cuts.” In every crisis, there is a point where your fight or flight is triggered. You have to stand up and push through. Eventually, things calm back down and you can catch your breath and relax, reflecting on the tough time you just went through.
But to me, it doesn’t feel like that with this. There has been no clear, “it’s over” moment. We just keep pushing. At the beginning, all that scary stuff was happening somewhere else. But after two years almost of quarantines, masks, wonky school schedules and even deaths, (yes, it has hit us close to home), it starts to feel like all that “trying to keep it together” is finally busting at the seems.
We are exhausted, and so is everyone else. Trying to come to terms with “the new normal” is not something I have wanted to admit we needed to do.
On the Ledge
But the last part of 2021 taught me some hard lessons. When you live your life teetering on the edge of the cliff, one giant wind storm (downed trees anyone?) will blow you off the ledge. The only way to protect yourself and your family from it, is to rein things in so you aren’t so close to the cliff when the winds blow.
What do I mean by that? I mean pull in the margins around life’s obligations. Say no, do less. What I have found is that when we are running high stakes, we have a million irons in the fire. In good times, that is fine. But when things get sticky, the critical things start to slip. Work schedules start to overwhelm. The kids’ schoolwork starts to slide. Exhaustion takes over and people get sick. Anxiety runs amuck. Being able to recover as a family means limiting your exposure to how many stress points you allow to enter your world at any given time.
People talk about learning to say no. At this point, I preach it. I have been forced to remove myself from every obligation, to lower my standards, to reel it in. And I am so glad to be able to do that.
If you are feeling like you, too, can hardly weather the storm and want to pull back, consider evaluating your must-do list.
Here is where we have found some peace in living a little smaller while times are tough:
Drop the extracurriculars.
Before the pandemic hit, every Saturday morning was spent at gymnastics, swimming and baseball practice. With multiple kids in multiple classes, we’d also squeeze in library time. After the shut down, we never went back to that schedule. Instead, we choose to be super intentional with activities and take turns having ONE kid in an activity at a time.
I know it seems harsh, but volunteering is something I can only do when we are thriving. When we are operating in survival mode, these kinds of involvement have to be the first things to go. It is like the oxygen mask on the airplane, you can’t help others if you can’t help yourself.
Food should be basic.
This may sound funny but focusing your family’s menu on simple, easy, healthy foods is key to getting through tough times. The less time you spend preparing in the kitchen, cleaning up after and thinking about “what’s for dinner” the more headspace you’ll have for dealing with the other things competing for your time. Make a menu, plan ahead and repeat. You’ll have time to get fancy again later. For now, food is nourishment, full stop.
This is another hard one, but trust me, in today’s blurred lines between work and home it can be easy to get sucked into working too many hours. Don’t check email from bed. Use your leave time. Plan ahead, do the best you can, and let the rest go.
Enjoy the simple things.
Our 3-year-old threw the remote control through the TV eight months ago and we never replaced it. Instead, we gave away a bunch of toys so their playroom was more manageable and they could actually find what they wanted to play with. We did puzzles after dinner, played board games and read books. No devices, no electronics at all. It has been the best gift we could have given ourselves and I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. It has been nice and slow and just what we needed.
So don’t feel bad if you too feel like you need to live life a little less loudly. Sometimes, it is just what we need to make it through tough times and maybe you’ll find you might want to see some of those changes stick around permanently. Either way, may you ease into 2022 with a solid foundation for a tranquil new year.