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As an introvert, there have been a few real “game-changers” in how I cope in a special-needs household when both my husband and son are extroverts. This is one post in a series of posts I am writing for introverts. You can view all of the posts on the landing page here. Probably my biggest game-changer has been simply adjusting, readjusting, and adjusting again how I schedule and structure my time to allow for both productivity AND recovery. Self-care is simply non-negotiable. It has to happen. But so does laundry, dishes, bills, parenting, and everything else on my plate.
I have found that I have to take a very purposed, cyclical structure to my schedule. Activity & productivity, then rest and recovery. Repeat. Any alteration to this cycle results in my feeling stressed and unbalanced, so I try to adhere to this kind of routine as much as I POSSIBLY can. My routine may not work for you because you have a different situation. I have the privilege of being a stay-at-home mom, so if you work, you will have to find something completely different. I will be sharing some questions below to help you find what works for you.
How I structure my day
I have learned (the hard way) that I need to pack less into my days, and then do even less-er. I structure my day like this:
I wake up slow, which is unfortunate for Ezra, who wakes up off-the-charts hyper. Lately, the coffee is set for 6 am (Russ sets it up the night before). If we are up before then, I just turn it on manually.
While coffee is making, I get Ezra to take his morning meds and pour him his cereal. I would love to be that wonderful mother who has a picturesque breakfast with her kids, but the honest truth is that while Ezra takes a half hour to calm down enough to eat his Cheerios, I grab my coffee and crawl back into bed to cuddle with Russ (and sometimes LB who also wakes up slowly – sometimes Russ brings him into cuddle while he’s still sleeping and the three of us try to wake up together between 6 and 6:30). I check all my notifications on my phone and browse Facebook in the dark while rolling over for frequent sips of coffee.
During the “school day,” I structure my routine with a peak of high activity in the morning (errands, appointments, fitness classes at the YMCA, or cleaning at home), and a peak of low activity from midmorning until school pickup (school work on my computer, blogging, marketing, watching Netflix, or napping). While I was taking my biology course, I would turn on YouTube videos and end up falling asleep. I could use this time for more cleaning and catch up on housework, but I find that I desperately need this rest time / ME TIME to “refill” and refresh enough to make it through the late afternoon and evening. So I shed the guilt and tell myself it’s OKAY to watch back to back Netflix episodes after lunch while LB is having quiet time because that is how I stay sane.
LB may not always nap (he’s very close to dropping his afternoon nap completely), but he is in the routine of having an afternoon quiet time in his room of playtime and listening to stories.
After we pickup Ezra from school, I try to send the boys outside or downstairs playing together and get a little bit more time to myself. I start to bring my activity level up a bit. If I’m in school, this is another schoolwork time. If I’m on break, I’m working on my Pinterest business or doing something else sedentary but productive.
(I do sometimes do yardwork after picking Ezra up at school – getting some exercise, work done, and the boys outside…but not every day!)
About 30 minutes before Russ gets home, the witching hour starts, Ezra gets revved up as he comes down off his meds and we prepare for his evening dose, LB starts falling apart (especially if he hasn’t had a nap), the boys start fighting with one another. It’s pretty chaotic.
About this time, I shut down the computer and begin prepping for the evening routines. I crisis clean from until Russ gets home. I continue doing housework (primarily dishes, laundry, and dinner prep) until dinner while he does things with the boys. The evening is full force chaos: dinner, boys bath and bedtime routines, and the drama that is trying to get two little boys to sleep:
The home stretch requires a lot of fortitude and I still take mini-breaks. (Examples: playing a game on my phone while lying on the couch while the boys are in the shower, taking a shower myself, spending an extra minute or two in the bathroom, etc.)
Once the boys are in bed, I’m theoretically comatose until about 10 or 11 PM. The key word being “theoretically.”
Am I a morning person or an evening person? What times of the day do I feel the most energized? Am I using this time or wasting it? What times of the day do I feel the most fatigued? Am I prioritizing rest during this time, or am I pushing through and ignoring the signals? What times of the day do I feel the most stressed? Is there anything I am doing during this time of day that I can move to somewhere else in the day? At X time during the day, what is most important? What needs to take priority, and what needs to fall to the back burner? Do I have enough flexibility scheduled into my daily structure? What would an ideal “normal” day look like for me? What would an ideal “normal” day look like to my spouse? If these are different, what needs to change, or where can we compromise?
Am I a morning person or an evening person?
What times of the day do I feel the most energized? Am I using this time or wasting it?
What times of the day do I feel the most fatigued? Am I prioritizing rest during this time, or am I pushing through and ignoring the signals?
What times of the day do I feel the most stressed? Is there anything I am doing during this time of day that I can move to somewhere else in the day?
At X time during the day, what is most important? What needs to take priority, and what needs to fall to the back burner?
Do I have enough flexibility scheduled into my daily structure?
What would an ideal “normal” day look like for me? What would an ideal “normal” day look like to my spouse? If these are different, what needs to change, or where can we compromise?
How I structure my week
A “normal” week for me looks something like this:
Just like it’s important for me to structure REST into my day, it’s also important to maintain this kind of routine in my week. I try to start my week with more activity (appointments, trips to the YMCA) and then give myself a “rest day” on Wednesday. Rest day doesn’t mean I don’t work – but I tend to stay close to home and do things that don’t require me being around people. I may focus on laundry or other housework, catching up on paying bills, organizing closets, yardwork, etc.
If I’m going to do something social (such as having coffee with a friend), or need another day for appointments, that normally falls to Thursday.
Friday is especially important for me. This is my “last chance” to really fill up on ALONE time before the weekend comes and Ezra is home from school and Russ is off of work.
Cycling both my DAY and my WEEK is highly important. When I am unable to do this (because of extra appointments or unforseen issues), it is a LOT harder to cope and I will have to find extra time throughout the day (or week) to recharge in other ways.
What is my hardest day of the week? What makes it so challenging? Is there anything about this day I can change?
Do I have a “rest day”? Can I create one? (If not, is there a morning, afternoon, or evening I can devote to alone time?)
What is my easiest day? Why is it easy? Does it need to stay that way?
Are there any days of the week I’m more tired than others?
If I have a weekly social commitment (standing coffee date, MOPS, Mom’s Group, Bible study, etc.) – is what I am gaining from it worth the stress it takes to have another thing on my schedule? Does it drain me or recharge me?
How I structure my year
I’m slowly working towards getting my yearly calendar to take on a structure like this as well. This month has been VERY appointment-heavy for me, and I’m super not-happy about it. Self-care is not fun sometimes. So as the years go on, I want to shift to having things spread out a bit more, rather than all at once.
Consider the following list of appointments. When do they happen on your calendar? Are they all in the same month or two? Can you spread them out?
- Dental appointments for your entire family
- Well-checkups for your children
- Yearly eye appointments
- Yearly physical and OBGYN for mom
- Yearly specialist followups
- Car maintenance (inspections, oil changes, etc. – anything that would reduce your vehicle availability)
- Yearly IEP meeting
- School open houses, parent/teacher conferences, other events (field trips, award banquets, etc.)
Just sayin, if Sally has a field trip but your car needs an oil change, Suzie and Johnny have dental appointments, and you need your pap smear done all in the same week –that’s a problem!
Example: Ezra and LB have birthdays within days, but I do their well-checkups about a month apart.
Structuring around your cycle
Did you know that your hormones effect your energy level, which in turn impacts how much stimulation you can handle? I find that when my estrogen levels are high, I enjoy being social, active, and productive. I try to keep this in mind when I look at my calendar. I try to keep my luteal phase days free of appointments and social engagements. I know my energy will be low and I’ll be feeling a lot more irritable, stressed and overwhelmed. (I may write a post about this in the future, so keep an eye out for that!)
Above all, I listen to my body. So if it’s a “rest day” but I wake up feeling the urge to clean my entire house or organize I closet, I take advantage of the energy / hormone burst and do it. If it’s a day I’m supposed to be active, but I’m lethargic and fatigued, I try to squeeze more rest-times into my day, go to bed early, take a nap, or even cancel a social engagement if I need to.
I’m no expert, but this is a fabulous read if you want to know more about how your hormones impact everything: Jump Off the Hormone Swing: Fly Through the Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Symptoms of PMS and Perimenopause
But what about structure in the summer?
Summer is JUST around the corner (for us) and has already started for many. I find summer to be SUPER challenging for me as an introvert mom. Once again, it has taken me several years to figure out what structure works for us (and what doesn’t).
Ezra isn’t the type of kid who I can just send to any old day-camp or VBS program (we’ve tried that and it always backfires)! He needs to stay with what is familiar. The YMCA has been wonderful in this regard. While there is some turnover in the childcare workers, all are informed of Ezra’s special needs and strategies to help. Our Y is close to our community – which means that sometimes there are kids that he knows from school or our neighborhood. Thus, our summer routine mimics our weekday routine by going to the YMCA a lot (this time with both kids).
We have a neighborhood pool that we will utilize for sensory stimulation and exercise. Then, just as LB normally has quiet time during the afternoon, Ezra will also have this during the summer.
What is this “quiet time” you speak of?
I get it. I really do. We have implemented this structure with our boys for YEARS and they STILL come out of their rooms, cry, whine, complain, tell me they are hungry (or thirsty) and act like playing in their rooms is torture that will last forever. However, we stick to our guns. Lunch, then quiet time. Every day. I may have to pause the show I’m watching five times, but at least I get SOME rest.
They don’t have to sleep. We have stories on their iPad and iPod (either from their grandma or Audible and iTunes). Ezra has K’Nex and books in his room. LB will SOMETIMES fall asleep, but it’s really hit and miss. I am really hopeful that back-to-back YMCA time and then pool time will wear them out enough that they will be ready for some quiet time and space afterward. (Mommy will definitely be ready, that’s for sure!)
I feel like some of this stuff is super no-brainer, but it has literally taken me ten years to figure out what kind of structure works for both me and my entire family, how to listen to my body (and soul), and how to prioritize BOTH productivity and rest. Figuring this out has been key in managing my introversion and my fatigue levels.