Stop & Solve the Problem
On a Thursday afternoon in late August sitting at my kitchen table, I grit my teeth together so hard they hurt and felt tears of frustration spill out of my eyes. My nine-year-old son had just given me his sixth creative excuse to avoid his math homework in less than twenty minutes. So far, he had also broken his pencil, needed to email his teacher to ask her a question, forgotten the correct notebook at school and well, you get the picture. Homeschooling was not going well in our kitchen…for the teacher OR the student.
For the first two weeks of the school year, we repeated this scene of frustration every afternoon as the COVID-19 pandemic had shifted our public schools to a hybrid schedule. My fourth grade son only went to school from eight in the morning until noon each day, then in the afternoon at home, students were assigned remote learning work to do to supplement the missing classroom instruction and time at school.
I have run a successful business from our home for the last twenty years, and I know myself well. Two decades ago, when I became a work-from-home mom with my first baby, I learned that I needed clear separation of work and home to make things work smoothly in both places. I also learned that I require long chunks of uninterrupted work time to really operate at my best.
In this new schedule, once my son got home from school at noon, my attention was conflicted for the rest of the day, torn between my two roles as a business leader and coach and as a mom and also as a part-time fourth grade teacher. I felt ill-equipped and even resentful of the teaching role I had suddenly acquired. I didn’t apply for the job, and teaching fourth grade is completely out of my strength zone.
In addition, a good friend of mine once described the experience of trying to work from home AND parenting at the same time like this. If I take what you ate for breakfast this morning and eat it, it’s delicious. If I take what you ate for lunch at noon today and eat it, I totally enjoy it. If I take what you are eating for dinner tonight and sit down and eat it, I will feel fulfilled and happy. If I take all three of those meals, throw them in a blender and mix them all together…YUCK!
The same is true of parenting and working for me. Separate, they “taste” good and in my case, most of the time, both are enjoyable and fulfilling. Together, for lack of a better way to put it, they “taste” like garbage. And I had just re-proven this truth that I have known for over two decades. There is most definitely a reason professional people don’t take their nine year old children to work with them in an office setting every day.
What I did in response to this moment of complete frustration and fatigue on that random Thursday afternoon in August is what I want to focus on with you today. It is a skill honed from years of working as an entrepreneur. It is something I now do instinctively, and I’ve done it to navigate every season of my personal and professional life, but it was certainly a learned skill, not something I would have known to do without some coaching through it a few times.
Allow me walk you through it.
Step 1: Stop the madness and logically identify the problem.
The first step is to get VERY clear on what the actual problem is.
Why am I near tears and why is my entire body clenched in frustration? Why do I feel inadequate and like I can’t get everything done that I need to for work? What is causing the stress?
In other words, shift from using your emotional brain to your logical, problem-solving side of your brain.
What is the problem?
In this case, the concrete problem was that I was trying to cram my professional and personal lives into one space when they should have occupied two.
Step 2: Once clear on the problem, be sure your next move comes from a healthy internal space.
In this case, I could cave to the pressure I sometimes feel of “being a good mom.” I could sacrifice my work time and goals, throw my hands up and grudgingly decide to work half-days so I could be fully present at home for e-learning in the afternoons with my son.
However, I know myself, and I know that if I do this, I will become a resentful and crabby mom. I also know I would be stepping outside of my unique gifting and the work I was created to do because of external expectations and pressures. Let me restate with emphasis that being a fourth-grade teacher is NOT my calling.
If I could narrow my life goals down to just one, it would be to be a good steward of my God-given gifts. I want to FULLY maximize the unique gifts that God has given me and to do that, I know I need people in my life to help me. My role is to find them and to trust them with things that are not my strengths.
Important Side Note: This decision is VERY different than intentionally CHOOSING to cut back my work hours motivated by a calling, a feeling desire and “want to”, not from a feeling of “should” or “ought to” or the worst culprit of all – guilt. I refuse to operate from guilt, especially as a mom.
Step 3: Identify what or who can help solve the problem.
This is where I shift into research mode. What are ALL of the possible options? I cannot be the only one in this situation and there must be help out there somewhere for moms like me.
I began to ask people, to search online, and I even made some good old-fashioned phone calls to investigate all of my possible choices.
In this scenario, I came up with several options. I could utilize an after-school program offered through the park district. I could ask family to help – a combination of grandparents and my older two children. I could enroll him in a local private school that has all-day schooling even during the pandemic, or I could hire someone to come to my house and help three or four days a week.
The after-school program is great but it was full, so I checked that off my list.
Family is great but I know my child and I know that grandma is way too nice to provide the kind of structure I’m looking for, and I would be interrupted called into referee situations. (I can hear what is happening in my house from my office.) It’s also a BIG ask, and one a burden I don’t want to place on any of our retired parents.
I sent an email to the principal of the private school and set up a tour for the end of the week with them, and then I clearly defined what hiring someone might look like, which is step #3.
Step 4: Write a detailed description of who or what you are looking for.
What help do I need and what kind of person am I looking for to help me solve this problem?
In this case, I wanted an adult and preferably one with experience in elementary education who would be free every day from noon to three. I also needed someone who could harness the attention of a very active child who needed to get his homework done but also needed activities to keep him busy and off of screens. I wrote a detailed description of the job and then started asking everyone I knew if they knew someone who met this description. I posted it on my social media as well.
Step 5: Make a decision based on all of the research.
After a lengthy search that really came up with no viable candidates for an afternoon child care provider/teacher, and after taking a wonderful tour of the local private school, we decided as a family that it would be best to move Andrew to that school setting for the rest of this school year.
He started the following Monday and peace has been restored in #kempnation.
Here’s the bigger picture and a few questions for you.
How many times do we just continue to run on the same hamster wheel of exhaustion and frustration instead of stopping, getting off and really evaluating what the problem is? How many times do we allow unhealthy thought habits to rule our decision-making, leading to more frustration and exhaustion in the end? How many times do we not take time to define who or what we really need to solve the problem or to help us? And then how often do we delay in confidently making a decision that is best?
My challenge to you is a simple one for whatever feels most overwhelming in your life right now. Do not delay. Do this immediately…especially if it feels like you don’t have time.
Stop and identify the problem.
Check that you are in a healthy space when evaluating your next steps.
Clearly identify who or what can help you solve the problem in writing.
Finally, make a decision to move forward solving the problem!