How to Balance Structure and Flexibility in Your Life as Mom

The following is a guest post written by Jamie Martin of Steady Mom and Simple Homeschool.

Is it really possible to find the right balance between structure and flexibility as a mom? Many organizational books and resources lean drastically toward one extreme or the other.

Either we should schedule each minute of our day to make sure no time is wasted, or we should just go with the flow and let the day happen as it unfolds. The first option leaves us feeling guilty if we sit down for a break; the second gives us guilt at the end of the day that we didn’t get more done.

In my mind, guilt is a mama’s worse enemy–and I’m tired of it knocking at the door of my thoughts. There is a way to ride the fence between structure and flexibility, bringing freedom for yourself and your home in the process.

Here are four things to keep in mind.

1. Know yourself.

What is your personality? Most people naturally veer toward organization or toward spontaneity.

Whichever way you lean, you shouldn’t feel guilty (see above paragraph, remember?). Your personality is one of God’s gifts to you and your children, and you should thrive within it. As much as possible, try to do what comes naturally.

The only exception enters when what comes naturally isn’t serving you or your family best–if your organizational tendencies creep toward micromanagement, or if your relaxed nature means there’s never any clean laundry.

Neither extreme will bring you joy–so you’ll want to find a way to balance yourself. Create a simple morning routine if that helps, or give yourself two hours of unplanned time with the kids if you need to loosen up.

2. Know what season you’re in.

Parenting ushers in a variety of life seasons, and just like the weather outside, the seasons of our lives require modifications to enjoy them.

Three years ago when I first began writing my book, I had a four-, three-, and two-year-old at home. Days in the house felt loooooong, and I needed a serious plan in place to help me feel good about them. This was definitely a season of more structure in my life.

I never would have written a book during that stage if I had not reserved time exclusively for that purpose once a week after the kids were in bed. Some nights I would sit down to write, exhausted beyond belief. At times I would just shut the computer down and go to bed. Other nights, I would offer up a desperate prayer, “God, all I have to offer are these words, coming from a tired, discouraged mind. Please make them worth something to someone.”

If your kids are older, you may need less structure. If you have a new baby, that will seriously change the look of your days. If you’re just getting started with homeschooling, your life may need something very different to the mom whose kids leave for the bus stop at 8 a.m.

Don’t fight your season; flow with it.

3. Know your children.

You have a personality to honor, without a doubt. So do your children. What do they need most from you right now?

Is there an overall peace to the rhythm of your home? If so, you’ve found what works for you. But if each day all day is a challenge, a change in either the direction of structure or flexibility could be the answer. We all have bad days and even bad seasons, but if it life always seems difficult, something is wrong. Your life as a mom is meant to be a joyful one.

Young children need plenty of unstructured time to play and move those restless bodies; older kids may need decompression time alone. It’s not all about them of course; a family learns to compromise. But by making sure you take their needs into account, you create a more pleasant atmosphere for everyone to live in.

4. Know that you should never compare.

This ever-present temptation lurks in the minds of all mothers at times, and it can be especially provoked by the blogosphere.

“So and so does all that? Her kids do what? Or so-and-so is so laid-back, I wish I could be like that.”

No, no, no.

If you know yourself, your season, and your children, then you won’t need to compare.

Personally, I am not a high-output individual. That might sound strange, given that I have two blogs, three homeschooled children, and wrote a book. But it’s really true. In each of the facets of my life there is always pressure to do more, and I routinely say no to many things. I prefer slow, simple days, so I make the choices that are right for me and my season.

No matter what you see in someone’s life, you never know what happens behind the scenes or what has gotten her to that place. When the comparisons come, shut your mind’s door and distract yourself with another thought immediately.

Finding the right balance between structure and flexibility is an ongoing, never-ending project. Just as we find what works, our seasons as a mom often shift. But don’t give up.

The journey brings freedom–to embrace your personal groove, set yourself up for success, and relish where you are in your life as a mom.

Which is your natural tendency–structure or flexibility?

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She serves as the editor of Simple Homeschool, and blogs about mindful parenting at Steady Mom. Check out her book Steady Days: A Journey Toward Intentional, Professional Motherhood.

all photos, except last, source: D Sharon Pruitt
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Comments

  1. This post is awesome! As I was reading it, I kept thinking, “Don’t forget, let’s not compare. That is a big problem for me!” – and then you said it right there at the end. I feel the need to write down your points and post them on the kitchen cabinet, for those days when life is hard with a 4 year old and 2 year old. Thanks for the perspective.

  2. This was wonderful Jamie. From another relatively low-output mom (when I compare myself, which I KNOW I should not do!)

    That was one thing I really loved about your book and overall message. You encourage mothers to be who they are. And we’re all unique.

  3. We are still homeschooling 4 of our 7 and the youngest is now 10, so we have come many, many miles from the time when we had several little ones.

    We are structured. But, as you mentioned, it has grown out of years (18) of homeschooling. Within our structure, we are flexible as needed. But we find that our structure provides a lovely rhythm to our days. It actually allows us freedom from constantly figuring out what comes next. In the resulting discipline, the kids have learned so much about being efficient with their time without much direction.

  4. Very nice article. I am a mom of 9 and I like flexibility, but my husband and 4 of my kids like structure and do not do well without it.

  5. Thank you….I very much needed to read this today.

  6. My tendancy is structure and I struggle to be flexible.

  7. Hey, happy lady.
    Not comparing is huge for me. Thanks for the reminder. And enjoy your conference!
    C. xo

  8. I schedule in times to be flexible! I’m actually very structured, but the strange thing is that when I make a new schedule for the time of year or to allow for a new activity, that’s all I really need. Knowing that there’s a built in structure to our day actually allows me the freedom to be flexible. Sounds like a dichotomy, but it works for us!

  9. What a wonderful post! It’s just what I need to hear sometimes. Thank you!

  10. Jamie, loved this post. I read it out loud to my sister this morning on our scheduled “Mommy”s morning phone meeting”. We talked about how our mom was very flexible and how that has affected us now as moms ourselves. We both agree we are trying to strike that balance between flexibility and structure. I like to be flexible but not to the point where my kids feel like they have NO structure at all. We have a routine that we go by, but it changes when we need to change things.

    I like the point you make about “an overall peace to the rhythm of your home”. I strive for that everyday and I see it in the smiles, hugs, and “I love you mama” from my kids. It’s the same peace I had in my home growing up and I never want my kids to lose that. It’s worth all the effort of being Momma.

  11. This is so good! What a great reminder to not fight our natural tendencies. God made us the way we are for a reason! I constantly struggle with guilt, so I loved what you said about that also! Thanks!

  12. Such a great post! Loved the tips. One of my favorite books is “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think” and it says that if we’re really thoughtful and intentional about how we spend our time, we really will have enough time for everything we need / want to get done. I try to remember that when I feel overwhelmed :)

  13. I enjoyed this post. Thank you for the reminders and the tips.

  14. I also am not a high output person. It’s hard for both me and those around me to accept, but it’s the truth! Slow, simple days are exactly what I crave, and mostly what we experience around here. Thanks for the encouragement to be productive but not rigid. I think peace for me is in the middle.

    • @Lisa,

      I know what you mean. I found it hard to accept that about myself as well, but have found a lot of joy when I own my needs and accept that they are valid.

      Blessings,

      Jamie

  15. This was a beautiful post. So encouraging and I love how you remind us to both honor our own personality and our kids personalities. And guilt begone!

    Especially since I’m soooooo not the micromanaging type, this was helpful and encouraging.

  16. I love that Jamie used the word “season,” because that is so accurate. As soon as I get used to one season (toddlerhood) another one begins, each different, but heart-tugging, in their own way! :)

  17. As a mom of a 3 year old boy and a 3 month old baby, I usually try and have at least one structured thing to do a day (usually in the am) so that I am not floundering all day, putting off getting out of my jammies. My best days though are really when we take the time to recognize an opportunity to have an impromptu walk or picnic or visit with a friend.

  18. Great post, I especially liked the encouragement to look to our own personality. There is no general right or wrong level of schedule versus freedom, there is only a level that will feel right to any particular family. I’m slowly coming to terms with this, after trying to do too many weekly outings in fall. It just wasn’t ME (nor my son) to be going that many places constantly that that is okay.

  19. What an awesome post. This is like one of my mommy mantras, be flexible AND structured…a balance of each. I lived for routine when my kids were babies but as they’ve grown we’ve become a bit more flexible. I am most definitely not an over-scheduler, I build in a ton of downtime. So the season thing and the natural tendency thing…great points.

    • @MainlineMom,

      Hooray for downtime! I’ve always needed it, even as a child, though I never really understood that about myself until recently. It’s amazing how understanding ourselves releases guilt and ushers in joy.

      Blessings,

      Jamie

  20. Great post. Something I always need to hear. I wrote my thoughts and linked you here:
    http://mamaknj.blogspot.com/2011/01/ballence.html

  21. Well said, Jamie. Balance and not comparing oneself to others is the key to a happy home.

  22. This is a FABULOUS post. So much of this, I have written and taught in bits and pieces over the years, but it’s strange how I constantly need to be reminded of it all myself. Just last week, (after almost 14 years of parenting), I had to sit down again with God and my to-do list and ask Him “what am I doing wrong here????”

    Like you, I’m a low-output person who prefers simple and slow days. But to the outsider, I appear high output. (I have never met you, but when you mentioned home school and writing a book, I assumed you were high-output!).

    I wonders sometimes why I can’t just accept that about myself and move on!

    I think my biggest challenge is looking at other women and and then feeling like somehow I’m missing what I’m really supposed to be doing. So if I spend too much time hanging out with my kids, I feel like I should be cleaning. If I’m cleaning, I feel like I should be writing. If I’m writing, I feel like I should be hanging out with my kids. If I try to do all three, I feel completely exhausted and feel like I should rest. If I rest, I feel like I should get up before dawn and knock something off the to-do list. Mostly, because I feel like everyone else is doing all of that except me.

    It never ends.

    This morning I read the psalm that says, “seek peace and pursue it.” That tells me that peace is sometimes hard to find and has to be chased down. I’m on a mission this week to pursue the peace in my daily schedule. And I’ll be referencing this post often as I do so.

    Blessings,
    Sandy

  23. I definitely tend to be more of a go-with-the-flow, unscheduled mama. Some days it works. Some days it definitely does not, and I feel like more scheduling is needed. But it’s hard to plan when you have 2 little ones that are only 21 months apart. I know this is such a short time in our journey, and I try to slow down and enjoy it as much as I can.

  24. Thank you…that is all I have to say, just thank you.

  25. Fantastic points. Our family life changes frequently because our toddler moves through developmental stages so quickly, and to keep us all happy we have to be willing to change things up as her needs change. Sometimes it’s tricky to find a good way to balance your first point with your second and third points, but when they’re all in sync the effort is worth it!

  26. Thanks for these encouraging words, they are very helpful and well suited to my life right now!

  27. Thank you for this article, Jaime. I loved this line: “Your life as a mom is meant to be a joyful one.” And your discussion on flowing with the seasons of life is so important, and something I sometimes struggle with and other times joyfully welcome. This article’s a keeper to refer back to again.

    • @Caroline,

      It’s so easy to forget that it’s meant to be joyful, don’t you think? Especially when we hear (& sometimes feel) that everything is HARD – if we look for the hard, we’ll definitely find it. If we look for the joy, we’ll find that too!

      Blessings to you and yours,

      Jamie

  28. I usually am more of a flexible person, yet I need the structure of a routine. I know I can always break the routine if I have to, but if I don’t have it in place then everything goes into chaos. So it’s more like an in between for me.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] post last week about balancing flexibility and structure was particularly convicting for me. When she described herself as a low-output mom, that got me [...]

  2. [...] My friend LaDonna recently wrote a post on her blog about being overwhelmed and went looking for some encouragement and through another blog where she found some tips, one of which was:  “Know the season you are in. Flow with that season, don’t fight against it” from Life As Mom. [...]

  3. [...] How to Balance Structure and Flexibility in Your Life as Mom (Life as Mom) [...]

  4. [...] How to Balance Structure and Flexibility in Your Life as Mom @ Life as Mom was written by Jamie, one of my favorite bloggers. Embracing your season is such a huge key to balance isn’t it? [...]

  5. [...] How to Balance Structure and Flexibility in Your Life as Mom [...]

  6. [...] reminders, or direction with balancing your days please step over to Life as Mom and read How to Balance Structure & Flexibility in Your Life as Mom. :: Bogged down with a “bad” day? Please, read Mama Hall’s post about finding [...]

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