It never happens all at once. The things in life that steal our free time and assume our focus stack up to the point of being all-consuming. At least, that's how it happened with me.
I've always prided myself on being able to multitask and tackle anything I've been faced with. For the most part, I can. But at what cost?
One day, around Christmastime, I had an epiphany. Or, I should say, my 8-year-old daughter called me out in a way I couldn't deny. We were home on a weekend. As usual, I was running around, cleaning, organizing and starting little projects.
She asked me several times to play with her. I gave the same answer over and over: “Not yet. I'm busy right now. Ask me later.”
After about five times of this, she finally looked me right in the eye and said, “Mommy. Why are you too busy for me? Don't you see that you're hurting my feelings by ignoring me? You never sit still and enjoy time with us.”
I couldn't believe it. What I saw as simply making sure my home was in order for my family to enjoy, my family saw as an obstacle for my love and attention. They were right.
As a professional woman, mother and wife with clinically-diagnosed ADHD and self-diagnosed OCD, I can create quite a bit of work for myself. My brain explodes with ideas and projects.
Sometimes, I can hone in on one task and focus all my effort into it. But most times, I get sidetracked quicker than a gator snaps up a chicken leg. The point is, there is never a shortage of things I want or need to accomplish.
I could fill a book with things that need my attention, including that report and spreadsheet that is due Friday, and my vegetable garden that I've planned for a month. While all those things filled my brain that day in December, my daughter saw my actions for what they really were.
I was letting life get in the way of me truly living. Not only was I not sitting still long enough to spend time with my children and husband, but I was also giving myself zero time to relax and enjoy life. Without realizing it, I had gotten to a point where I was existing to crank out work and little else. I decided that was going to change.
The thing I've always loved about mornings, springtime and the New Year is they all represent a new beginning. This was the first time I thought seriously about my New Year's resolutions. I wanted to make myself accountable for my actions and focus on living in the present moment.
I made five resolutions I knew I could stick to. But more importantly, I had to stick to them if I was to preserve both my family's happiness and my own:
1. Read a new book every single month.
I joined a "book of the month" club, and I haven't looked back since. I force myself to sit still so I can enjoy reading, even if it's only one book a month. I truly love getting lost in a book, and it's a pleasure I have denied myself the past few years.
2. Cook at least one meal from scratch for my family every weekend.
I am the queen of spending hours in my garden or painting my house. I can clean and organize my home from top to bottom in a few hours, run circles around my husband and children while they relax and throw a frozen pizza in the oven like nobody's business.
Cooking a healthy, balanced meal takes time and focus that I could be using for something else, but it's important to give your family focus in the kitchen as well.
3. Try one new recipe a month.
There I go with that word "new" again. Are you seeing a pattern here?
By steering myself to branch out and try new recipes, I am opening myself and my family up to unexplored options, food groups, tastes and enjoyment. We sit around a dinner table each night as a family to eat dinner. I thought, "Why not make that time even more enjoyable by serving new and different dishes to eat together?"
4. Make sure my friends and family know how much they mean to me.
This was a tricky one for me, and it always has been. I have never been a phone person. I can't focus well on the conversation when someone isn't in front of me. If I'm not sitting still with zero distractions, forget about me taking in even 50 percent of the conversation.
This is a side effect of ADHD I've always had a hard time with. I don't have much time during the week to spend time with anyone. On the weekends, I have family activities and such.
For me, this resolution translated into action. I have always loved the written word, and the art of a hand-written and mailed note or card is something I give value to.
I made it a point to show my friends and family how much they mean to me by focusing on their lives and celebrating their successes. I tried to support them during times of need. I often times just needed to say "hi." Actions always speak louder to me than words, and I am very physical when it comes to my expressions of love.
5. Focus on my children.
I love my children dearly, and this resolution is just as much about raising them right as it is about spending time with them. It takes time and effort to raise children who respect themselves and others. I owe it to my children to spend my time and energy ensuring they grow up with the values I was raised with.
I also made it a point to sit at night with them and talk about their days, include them in my gardening and cooking and do things they enjoy, such as arts and crafts. This was the best resolution by far, and I am just as happy about this one as my children are.
It's been three months since I made these resolutions, and I'm busier than ever. I have hundreds of ideas to put into action, a large project underway at work and a kitchen renovation going on at home. But, I've stuck to my resolutions, and I am far happier and more balanced because of them.
I look at these resolutions not as a “to-do list,” but as a written guide for taking the time to live my life. Working so hard for my family, my job and my home will only give me happiness if I give myself the time to enjoy them.
Perhaps the same is true for you. If that is the case, it could be time for you to make a list yourself.