Editor’s Note: This post was generously donated by Elizabeth and at first glance you may think her words have little to do with the subject of Prepping. That may be true in one aspect, but I think that our collective efforts as preppers are part of a larger goal of survival for our family. We don’t prep just to build up a basement full of gear. We prepare so we can take care of ourselves and others – to escape tragedy from unexpected events – to make life better if everything else has gone to hell. We prepare because we want the best for our families and loved ones so we take steps to ensure that their lives can remain as healthy as possible in crisis or disaster. Many times we focus on the tangibles like prepping supplies we need to acquire or argue over which weapon is the best for survival and I believe that these are all important in due measure. They have their place in the larger conversation, but again, they are only a piece of the whole picture. Everything we do in life should be balanced and just like your supplies and training, your own emotional well-being cannot be forgotten.
Elizabeth writes about tips for single parents, but they could easily apply to anyone who has responsibilities that vie for our time or energy. Everything we do must be looked at in perspective if we are to maintain some form of balance and I think this article is a great reminder of what should be the focus of the majority of our lives and that is our healthy relationships with other people. It isn’t a laser-like focus on prepping. That should be a part, but not the whole. The tips that Elizabeth lists below could apply to almost anyone. Some could say these are guidelines on living or setting boundaries and you can also draw comparisons to prepping in some of her suggestions below. I believe it all comes back around to priorities in a way. If you remember who you are prepping for and adjust your perspective from time to time, you may find that you have been too focused on all the wrong things. Maybe they weren’t the wrong things to focus on, but your devotion to one area has led you away from other more important things. Step back, take a breath and pause to reflect on your life every once in a while.
I guess this is a love letter to us. All of us. People. Women and men. With and without partners. Everyone just doing their best. I can only speak to what I’ve learned. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned too.
As a single parent of 20 years and with more to go (I’ve got a six year old), most people assume that my life must be overwhelmingly stressful. That chaos reigns. That I’m hanging on by a thread. That’s what all the advertisements would like us to believe. That if we choose work, we abandon our families; that if we choose family, we abandon our work. Honestly, if we were to believe those things, if we chose to buy in to those assumptions, chaos would reign. We would be overwhelmed. We would have fulfilled our own beliefs.
Of course when I was new to single parenthood, it was overwhelming. Back then, I didn’t know what I was capable of. I didn’t know that I’d be able to overcome the anvil of adversity when necessary. I didn’t know that I’d be competent in the workplace and that others would recognize that fact (it still surprises me, not even kidding!!). I didn’t know that I’d love working on some of the absolutely crazy projects that have come my way. I didn’t know that I would adore the ‘blank canvas’ of working on things I haven’t done before and having to figure out all the practicalities of getting from zero to something from scratch. I didn’t know that I could pursue my side interests as much as I wanted. I didn’t know that I’d love parenting as much as I do. I didn’t know all the places I’d go in the pursuit of all these things. And there are times I can’t believe I’ve been lucky enough to have had all the experiences – good and bad – that I’ve had so far.
I want it all
I think we need to define what ‘Having it All’ means. Or maybe we need to come to the conclusion that those words are essentially meaningless. Whatever choices we make in life, by the very act of making a choice, we’ve closed down the option of choosing other things. Later, when it’s time to make more choices, we may decide to explore some of the other paths that we could have chosen or we could decide to explore new ones. We’re never trapped – we can always choose something different, even if that difference is only in deciding to view a situation with a new perspective.
If, however, ‘Having it All’ is a euphemism for being ambitious to accomplish interesting things, have an interesting life, be a good parent to our kids, and be a contributor to our communities, then I do think this is a do-able goal. And I don’t think we need to crush ourselves to have all of these things.
When I was a kid and people asked me what I wanted out of life, I told them I wanted everything. They would laugh as if it were the most ridiculous thing they ever heard. What I meant by that is that I viewed life as an experiential smorgasbord; I wanted to experience many things and leave myself open to chance. I’ve found that although I could have resisted some surprises (read: catastrophes) in life, they brought with them amazing things I couldn’t have planned for myself.
TIP #1: I’ve learned to try not to pre-judge whether an event is good or bad unless it requires a trip to the emergency room. Some of the most important and positive changes in my life were caused by events I was sure would crush me. Needless to say, although sometimes I’ve been knocked down hard, I know how to get back up, even if I’m reeling for a little while. I’m still here. Uncrushed. Objectively I should have been crushed — but I’m not
I’ve learned that there is no such thing as ‘HAVE TO’ in life. I’ve learned that my culture has conditioned me to believe that it’s desirable for me to try to be all things to all people. That I ‘SHOULD’ be a perfect parent, a constantly compassionate listening ear, a goddess of nutritionally sound & delectable organic meals, a helper of coworkers, a mistress of the fine art of laundry, a driven, successful and always available employee, a happy hour participant, a blistering, witty intelligence, a gym participant, a supportive homework companion, community contributor, donator of money, little league enthusiast, maintainer of a perfect wardrobe, dispenser of love and logic, a coach with unflagging emotional intelligence, pursuer of an interesting hobby, and to be first responder to anyone with a perceived urgent need. And to do it all at the same time…
While maintaining good hair. And remembering to take the trash out on Tuesdays.
TIP#2: When my grown kids were little, I worked so hard at a dead end job I got pneumonia (twice) until my family doctor sat me down, gave me a SPEECH, and told me that I was no good to anyone if I drove myself to collapse. It was some of the best advice I’ve ever received.
TIP #3: I like being all of the helpful, productive, supportive things in the above list MOST of the time. Just not ALL of the time. If I am doing something, it’s healthy for me to remember that I’m CHOOSING to do it. I am perfectly free to buy fast food if I’m tired, that doesn’t make me a bad parent. I’m ok with wearing the same pair of shoes every day because they’re comfortable. I’m ok with having told my older kids that if they forgot their instrument on Orchestra day, I wouldn’t leave work for that, they could sit out the practice, but as a compromise I’d pitch in for the therapy once they were grown (neither has taken me up on that yet and they’re now grown). I’m ok with the fact that if my boss were to call at 3am, I’d hang up on him unless he had somehow confused my number with 9-1-1. He seems to be ok with that too.
TIP#4: I budget paid time off like cities budget for snow removal. They know it will snow, just not how often. You know the kids will get sick, just not how often. I’ve found it’s best to budget by quarter so I don’t lose rollover days if we have a very healthy year (I miscalculated last year in the thick of a project and lost some – c’est la vie). I’ve also learned to — USE my paid time off so I don’t get overtired, burnt out and generally sick of my job and everyone around me. Once a quarter, I’ve been taking just a little time for myself. When asked if I’m doing anything fun, I say brightly, “Yes! I’m going to avoid work and children! If you need me, I will be very hard to find.” Then I schedule a massage or sleep or both until it’s time to go pick my little guy up.
I’ve learned that everyone else has been conditioned to believe that I should be all things to all people too. I realized that I have more expectations on me than my grandmothers did and they were both highly successful women. I’ve found it’s crucial to manage my life responsibilities as closely as I manage my professional work. Or there won’t be any of me left to do much of anything for anyone.
TIP#5: Read Deep Survival: Who lives and dies and why. I try to overlook the first chapter, it’s a little, uh, macho. Or something like that…don’t have words. You get the drift. But the rest is great. My favorite survival tip is to only exert 60% of your energy in a survival situation so that if you have to power up to 100% for short bursts, you have it in you. Oh, and my other favorite mention is how some people (yup, me and perhaps you too) when under great stress are more able to see the beauty of the world. uh-huh. That’s the stuff. Look at the sky, read poetry, think thoughts. Great book.
TIP#6: I am not obligated to attend every birthday party of every kid in my child’s class. Neither is it necessary to attend every school (work) day event held. The kids do not grow up to be drug addicts because you couldn’t attend the second grade singalong about what can be found in the produce aisle. Really. Cut yourself a break.
TIP#7: I will only sign a kid up for one or two activities, and no more than three events per week outside school. I’m a big believer in the creative potential of unstructured time for both the kids and ME.
TIP#8: I learned from working with Dementia patients that it’s perfectly ok to ‘forget’ why I was angry 20 minutes ago. When I intentionally let things go, only the most egregious events interrupt my day. Although those 20 minutes can require I wander off for a few…
TIP#9: I’ve learned that my real friends fill me up and are mutually supportive. If someone drains the life out of me, they’re not my friend so although I try to be nice to everyone, I certainly don’t invite life drainers for coffee!
TIP#10: If my head starts to fill with worries, I’ve learned to re-train my brain to play make-believe instead – it helps me break a deadlock in my own perspective which is usually causing the infinite circle of worry. Now, this is not imagining I’m a dinosaur type make-believe, but rather the kind where if I were to change something about a situation, to imagine how it might turn out. Or sometimes I imagine something else tangential to a situation to see where I could take it. It’s really effective.
and one more bonus tip:
When your kid is sick and you need to attend a conference call where you’ll have to talk a lot, it’s ok to mesmerize them with TV, chips and, if necessary, ice cream and lock yourself in a closet with the phone and the laptop so you can at least sound like you’re in a professional setting… 🙂