To challenge your views on high school and college…

This week we transitioned Margaret to the crib in her own room. No more sleeping in the closet! I felt it would be too soon. “She’s almost a year old,” my husband gently reminded me. She still wears size 3-6 month pajamas! She’s too tiny to sleep alone! And yet, she took to the crib like it was no big thing.

Here’s what I know the fifth time around that I didn’t when my older kids were babies: this window is very, very short. As my oldest is in 5th grade and we’re starting to think through high school options, I’m negotiating the gulf between wanting to hold on to baby days and knowing that the days of their independence are fast approaching.

the-new-global-studentIn some ways, our culture encourages children to grow up too fast. “Sure, you can have your own smartphone!” “Why not dress like an adult going clubbing even though you’re only nine!” “Aren’t you too old to be playing with dolls?” And yet, in other ways, the culture infantalizes kids. Helicoptering while kids play, parents complaining on Facebook about doing their kid’s school projects for them, covering for kids’ mistakes.

Maya Frost calls foul on this tendency, and presents a counter-cultural view on high school and college-aged kids in her intriguing book The New Global Student.

Frost challenges myths about what teenagers are capable of, what really gets kids into college, and what the point of education is anyway. I found myself simultaneously saying, “Preach it, sister!” and “Whoa, I never thought of that.” In other words, it’s the best sort of book–thoughtful, insightful, and convicting.

While I don’t think that all of Frost’s ideas are applicable to our family, many of them bear serious consideration and I find myself thinking through options in a different light thanks to reading The New Global Student. Whether you homeschool or send your kids to public or private school, this book will give you a lot to think about as you head into teenage years and I highly recommend it for all parents.

Even though we’re several years away from high school, reading The New Global Student gave me new tools to lean in to childhood days while also preparing for what lies ahead. From crib to college is simultaneously a long time and a short time–what a privilege to do life in interesting ways!


Margaret in her 3-6 month pajamas, pensively considering her collegiate options (no doubt)



Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

On reading with other people

parent's guideI recently had a chance to be part of a SENG parents group in my area. We read A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children and discussed one chapter per week.

Initially, I signed up because I thought it might be helpful to meet other parents who might be having similar issues to what we’re dealing with (and it was).  I’ve read a lot of books on giftedness (check this, this, and this for lists), so I figured the book part would be stuff I already knew.

As it turned out, A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children was one of the most helpful books on the topic that I’ve read. Primarily, I’d link that to the fact that it covers so many parenting issues (versus a heavy classroom management focus) but I also think I got so much more out of it because I was discussing each chapter with a group.

In the book clubs I’ve been part of, we’ve always discussed one book per month. That’s great for overall themes and usually seems like a good approach, especially for fiction, but I found that meeting more frequently and discussing individual chapters was a fantastic way to read a non-fiction book. It gave us time to dig deeply into each topic, share strategies, and talk through issues in a way that would not have been possible had we attempted to discuss the entire book in one fell swoop.

This got me started thinking about how or if I could do more book discussions this way.  Of course, living in the suburbs as I do, the immediate objection will be that no one has the time to meet once a week to discuss a book (sigh), but maybe I should ask around anyway.

Back to the book for a second: If you have gifted kids, I’d highly recommend A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, whether you read it alone or in a group.

Have you ever done a book discussion chapter-by-chapter?


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Snapshot: February 2016

I recently noticed a comment on last fall’s snapshot post, which reminded me that I haven’t updated it, in spite of having made some good changes since then that might be helpful for or of interest to others.

Game Changer 1: A Checklist For ME

IMG_4992I don’t know why it took me so long to think of this, but when I saw Misty’s post on her checklist, I shamelessly grabbed the idea and tweaked it to fit our needs. The result? Pure gold. Here is why this works for me:

  • Everything is on one page. This is an entire week of school, for all of the kids, on one page.  It’s a daily to do list and a record keeping tool in one. Because I have it color-coded by child, it’s easy to see at a glance who still needs to get stuff done so I don’t have to scramble to figure out if someone should be playing Legos or actually still needs to finish math.
  • I pre-made decisions. To fit everything on one page, I really thought about what I need to do with each child. In some cases, that meant adding some things, and in others it meant getting real about what I could actually accomplish. I don’t have to reinvent this wheel every week. I just change the dates, change the books we’ll be reading together for history and literature, update dictionary/vocab words, change independent reading, and I’m done. Ten minutes, tops.
  • It keeps me accountable. I love checklists. Seeing something on my clipboard helps me to follow through with intentions. I am doing much better checking people’s independent math work, actually doing Latin every day, and remembering what we do on which day.

Like Misty, I keep my checklist on a clipboard, which also contains our memory work, map work, hymns, and review pieces for the week. I use sticky notes to keep track of where I am. No more hunting for a poem or looking up passages on my phone!  It’s all in one spot, and that really works.

Game Changer 2: Preschool First

IMG_4872I have read over and over again to spend time on the littlest people first, but I never could figure out how to do that. It seemed more important to get the big people through their work. However, when I don’t put a space in for tot school, it falls off the agenda way too often. I’m not talking about crazy academics here, just about the sort of solid reading, Mother Goose, alphabet/numbers, Bible stories, and fairy tale time that I used to pour out for my big kids when they were littles.  Eliza (2 1/2) gets a lot of read-aloud time throughout the day, but that often comes during our school reading, family reading time at night, or from siblings reading picture books to her.  Preschool time is 20-30 minutes of one-on-one with me going through the great children’s literature we’ve collected. We do this right after breakfast and Convocation, while the big kids get ready for Inspection and do their piano practicing.

Game Changer 3: Building in Margin

IMG_4983Homeschooling with a baby requires more margin than you might think, but also less than you might fear. I’m pretty adept at handling a baby while also teaching, but I have been a lamentable failure at margin for a long time. No more. Teaching From Rest put this in great perspective for me, although it is something I should have accepted long ago.  Maybe lessons should take a certain amount of time, but homeschooling (and parenting in general) is not about efficiency, much to my chagrin. I think my reluctance to build in margin is why my schedules never worked before.

IMG_4984This semester, I built in margin every step of the way. Lo, and behold, we actually follow this one. It’s more of a flow than a rigid minute-by-minute thing, but if I don’t at least ball park times for our routine, I’m going to try to put too much in it.  Since I built in some margin, this timed version of our schedule is actually what we normally do, give or take a few minutes.  It looks something like this:

7:30 – Put on classical music (whatever composer we’re studying) to call kids down to breakfast.

7:40 – Convocation while kids eat (mostly Biblestudy, prayer, singing, and memory work).

7:55 – Preschool with Eliza while big kids do jobs, get ready for Inspection, and practice piano if they have time.

IMG_49858:20 – Inspection (What is inspected gets done! Everyone has jobs and checklists for this) and get Eliza dressed.

8:30 – Jack’s Teaching Time (one-on-one subjects with me) – other big kids do independent work and/or read to Eliza.

9:20 – Sarah’s Teaching Time (one-on-one subjects with me) – other big kids do independent work and/or read to Eliza.

10:00 – Table Time (this is a rotating list of things we do together like memory work, geography, dictionary/vocab, art, Latin, etc) – I peg this to morning snack to make sure everyone gets protein and that we actually do Table Time.

10:30 – Hannah’s Teaching Time (one-on-one subjects with me) – other big kids do independent work and/or read to Eliza.

11:20 – The Reading (Subjects we do together using read-alouds, like history, literature, art history, poetry, science, etc) – this takes 1-2 hours but we don’t always finish it all at one time in a given day.  It can spill over to meal times, afternoons, after dinner…lots of families do this sort of thing first, but since this is what we love to do most, it’s the one thing I can reliably do in the evenings and know it will still work.

In all, school takes us about 5-6 hours per day. On paper at least! In reality, independent work isn’t always completed efficiently, and often even with margin the times wiggle significantly. Still, we generally follow this plan now and it seems to work pretty well.

Game Changer 4: The Week View

IMG_4940Another great thing about my checklist is how it helps me to see school as a week-long pursuit, not just one day.  Some days we have appointments, or a babysitter coming over, or homeschool co-op.  Sometimes we just have a rough day.  The checklist helps me to see what we have to accomplish for the week, so I can clearly see where we can do more or less on a given day.  We can have a really long Table Time, someone can double up in spelling, or we can finish up subjects at night after dinner.  School doesn’t have to happen between 8 and 3, and flexibility is part of the beauty of the whole thing.

Game Changer 5: Humility

This year has been all about humility. We’ve had crisis after crisis that I did not see coming. Things I thought I had all sewn up (potty training! getting baby to sleep!) after Kids 1-3 fell to pieces on Kids 4 and 5. I do have some systems in place so that we can stay functional, but more and more I am realizing that what I think I have “under control” is not really under my control at all, and what looks like “together” is actually God’s grace more than my competence.  That is simultaneously terrifying and freeing.  So I’m bringing my basket and doing my best and praying a lot more and continuing to learn as I go.

In light of that, please see posts like this for what they are–a snapshot of what is working, for us, for now.  It will almost certainly change, probably soon, and possibly won’t apply to your situation at all.

Anthropology.  It has to go somewhere!

What is working for your family or school life these days?


Unfinished Business

unfinished-businessUnfinished Business is Anne-Marie Slaughter’s book-length follow-up to her viral article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.  You probably remember that Slaughter left her high-level State Department policy job to return to her tenured position as a Dean at Princeton when her teenaged son needed her to be home more than weekends.  I thought the article was refreshingly honest, but the book seemed long and lacking in fresh ideas.

Slaughter did identify some important points such as the role our internalized assumptions play in our decisions about work and family, and the need to have a primary parent figure at home to support a big career. In contrast to many work-life balance narratives, Slaughter points out that Americans like to feel in control , so it appeals to us to believe that our careers and family planning are within our control. But life often intervenes and things don’t line up the way we planned.  We may not want the same things at 35 that we did at 25.  Slaughter’s suggestion is, therefore, to plot a course for the greatest measure of flexibility so you’ll have more options when things fall apart, as they likely will.

But what does that look like in practice?  How do you advise your college-aged daughter about career paths? The book is a little vague on this point.  And the policy prescriptions are kind of vague too, which surprised me since Slaughter is a policy person.  She suggests that most workplaces can and should be more flexible. OK, but what is the incentive for the employer to do things that way, especially when it’s a major culture shift?  How could corporations be incentivized to pay more than lip service to life balance without taking major financial risks in an already tight economic situation? And what do we mean by flexibility? My version? Yours? Who decides what a healthy balance is? For some people balance means making it home for a bedtime story every night.  For others it’s being available to help with homework.  My flexibility includes 20-30 hours a week to homeschool and a couple of hours of reading aloud to my kids most days. How can a corporation build in an equitable framework that suits all of these disparate definitions of balance?

Slaughter also suggests that we should not undervalue care as a way to spend time.  That’s a great idea as far as it goes.  But if our society decided to value care (childcare, elder care, etc) equally with competition (banking, law, manufacturing, etc) how on earth would we pay for that and make it equitable?  The reason we don’t pay a lot for daycare workers is that we give those jobs to a wider range of people, versus a brain surgeon who had to go to nearly a decade of schooling and intense training to do her job.  Professionalized care does exist–people with means already hire nannies with relevant degrees and experience–but lots of people are priced out.  If a woman is earning an average salary, which is something like $38,000 per year, how much can she afford to pay for childcare before it just stops making sense for her to work at all?

So what is the primary good we are shooting for here?  Is it for women to be in the workforce instead of at home? In that case we could potentially subsidize care for all but the wealthiest families.  Or is our goal to allow those who WANT to be caregivers in some capacity at some point in time to be compensated for that work? In that case I guess we could extend government paychecks to stay-at-home parents so that their work is valued in the economy.  Would either of those options build the economy enough to justify the expenditure?

These are the questions I’m left with after reading the book–they aren’t addressed in the text.

Unfinished Business is does effectively establish a problem–the title refers to the fact that feminism, or something else, has more work to do–and offers a few potential solutions, but I think overall I’d recommend that you read Slaughter’s article and then read Overwhelmed for ideas about how other countries tackle this issue or I Know How She Does It for thoughts on solutions you could apply to your own situation apart from wholesale policy changes.


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for clicking through to Amazon from A Spirited Mind!


Two birth stories and a little growing up to do

10thLong, long ago, on November 4, 2005, I published my first post on this site (although at the time A Spirited Mind was called Catherine Wheels (here’s why) and was hosted on Blogger).  Five years after that I moved the site to WordPress and lost all of the comments, which is really sad because there were some good ones.

Over the past ten years (TEN YEARS!) the blog has shifted from being random musings (early topics included chickens, banjo babies, and the superpowers of dolphins) to a mommy blog, to being primarily about books.  I’ve poured a lot of time into A Spirited Mind over the decade, even though it’s not how I make my living or achieve my impact, and it’s not even read by that many people. Rather, the blog has been a good side outlet, a record of how my thinking has changed by what I read, and a vehicle for connecting with some wonderful readers I would not otherwise know. Ten years in, I’m ok with A Spirited Mind being what it is, and I’m grateful for the kind and thoughtful readers who have sharpened my thinking and kept reading through all the changes.

So, to celebrate the tenth birthday of A Spirited Mind, I went ahead and had another baby (see previous birth stories for Hannah, Jack, Sarah, Eliza), but in a big, dramatic, emergency fireworks fashion completely appropriate for a last hurrah.

At 36 weeks 4 days pregnant, I started having an aching pain in my abdomen that then gave me a weird popping feeling I described to doctors as being like something had broken (badly) inside of my stomach, but not like water breaking. Unbeknownst to me, or to the doctors, I had just ruptured my uterus.  Apparently Margaret’s head, thankfully already down, plugged the hole pretty well and saved my life.  Instead of an immediate hemorrhage, I began bleeding internally and my digestive system started shutting down.  I was in excruciating pain, but wasn’t sure why, and when I called a friend over she called the ambulance because I couldn’t even sit up to ride in the car.


Over the next couple of days I was in the hospital in incredible pain and subjected to lots of tests, CT scans, MRIs, and so forth.  Because I wasn’t presenting with normal uterine rupture characteristics, everyone just noticed the digestive system problem and a specialist kept admonishing my OB to just put me through more and more preps, which I couldn’t even swallow.  Finally, mercifully, my OB decided to induce me at 37 weeks 1 day.

On Sunday October 25 my OB induced labor and I had an epidural because I was so weak and hadn’t eaten anything in days and they were pretty sure they might have to handle some emergency.  The birth went very fast, I think in under four hours, but when I started pushing I was in agony in spite of the epidural.  I didn’t even know it was possible to feel so much pain, and I’ve had other unmedicated labors.  This was, in hindsight, Margaret disengaging from the rupture and the rupture becoming worse. She was born easily, the doctor announced no rips or tears, but the baby was not breathing and pure white and so the NICU team had her for a while.  I was still in so much pain I felt I couldn’t breathe.  The doctor kept checking for why and suspected cervical damage, so I was taken back to the operating room.


I was awake for the first surgery, which was very strange.  They had music playing, and the anesthesiologist told me most surgeons operate to music.  It was one of those random rock/pop type mixes, whatever had been on when we came crashing in.  My doctor found a tear in my cervix, which she stitched up, and everyone thought maybe that was that.  But I was feeling awful and apparently very pale, and again, unbeknownst to anyone, was bleeding heavily internally from the rupture.

I got back to my room after the first surgery and Margaret had perked up so our doula brought her over to help me try to nurse.  I barely remember this because I felt so horrible.  Someone was supposed to do a post-op check in fifteen minutes but the doctor did one after only a few minutes because I didn’t look good.  Thank goodness she did because I was hemorrhaging seriously.  I wouldn’t have lived to the fifteen minute check.

Things moved fast.  Someone handed the baby to Josh. My OB told him she would try to save my life and pulled a curtain around me so he couldn’t see all the blood.  They ran me to the OR and had a mask on my face before the bed stopped rolling.  I felt oddly peaceful the whole time, although I registered that something serious was happening.


While I was unconscious, they found the rupture and all the bleeding.  The backup doctor in the OR happened to be the top expert at hysterectomy, which was fortuitous because they couldn’t save my uterus and it had to come out fast.  They also pulled out all of my intestines to check carefully for damage and did find damage to one kidney.  The other surgeon my OB called in–who turned out to be a Christian and incredibly kind and personable, especially for a surgeon!–checked the rest of the abdominal cavity and worked with my OB to finish the surgery.  During the surgery I stopped breathing, had my lungs collapse, and had to have 80% of my blood volume transfused.  Apparently this was very touch-and-go the entire time and my OB was worried I would die on the table.

But God was gracious and I pulled through eventually and woke up in the ICU.  I was in a lot of pain, but asked that the nurses help me pump so the baby could eat.  Thankfully she only had to have one feeding of formula because my milk came in right away–I’m not sure how great the quality of the milk was after all that trauma and such a low hemoglobin level and no food, but I wanted to nurse and figured I should pump.  They brought Margaret back to me in an isolette so she wouldn’t catch any germs from the ICU but I could see her now and then.  I still had very little idea how much danger I was in and continued to feel very peaceful and hopeful.  That’s odd for me, which is why I mention it. I know a lot of people were praying for me.


After a few days I went back to my room in the labor and delivery unit, and had to have two more blood transfusions over the next couple of days, so now all of my blood has been transfused at least once!  We were still pumping for bottle feeding because Margaret dropped nearly 18% of her birth weight, which is not good.  I had been without solid food for a week and had been through a lot of trauma, so maybe that was also a factor.  She was also very jaundiced so wound up on a combination of bilirubin lights and blankets at different times.


About a week post-delivery, I had a third surgery to try to correct the damage to my kidney/urethra, which was kinked and torn.  I have a stint in place like a scaffold to encourage healing, and in mid-December will find out if further surgery is required.  I’m praying not, and would appreciate your prayers too!

The pain was terrible, and I went over a week without reading or writing a THING (this is how you know I was really in a bad way – I haven’t missed that much reading and writing since I learned how!) but I did continue to improve, and eventually I was able to get out of bed (barely) and was finally released from all of the tubes and wires and allowed to come home with Margaret 15 days later.


Now I’m recuperating at home with lots (and lots) of restrictions on activity and still in pain, but it’s good to be home.  I will be recovering for 4-6 weeks and hopefully will be somewhat back to normal by mid-December if I don’t wind up needing more surgery.

Margaret is still having some growth issues so we are back in the pediatrician’s office every day to check her.  I’m trying to balance nursing with pumped bottles because she has to use a lot of calories to nurse versus the easier bottle feeding, but I don’t want her to lose the ability to nurse entirely.  We could use prayers for this.


November is a month for giving thanks–all months are, of course, but this one in particular for me, especially this year.  I’m overwhelmed with gratitude that God spared my life, gave wisdom to my doctors at the right times, and brought me home to my family.  It so easily could have gone another direction at so many points.

I can see in hindsight how God was preparing me for this in advance.  Throughout my married life I have never understood the feeling of “done” that many of my friends described about having children, but from the start of this pregnancy I had a deep sense that this was our last baby. God completely changed my mind on that topic, including some deep-seated feelings about femininity and age and leaving options open.  So the thought that my womb is not just closed but gone entirely is a strange one, but not depressing or sad to me.  I’m so grateful for my five healthy children (it’s not that I wanted more per se but the thought of not having more full stop would have been hard for me to handle a year ago) and don’t necessarily have to act like a middle-aged woman just because my child-bearing phase of life is over now.


Life always changes when you add a new member to the family.  I had prepared in advance to take a long break from school for maternity leave.  We may have some half days and lots of reading aloud and some light school work over this holiday term, just for a little structure.  I hope to make time to have one-on-one reading and discussion with each of the big kids while I’m recuperating and can’t do much–I’m hoping that will be fruitful for learning but also for our parent-child relationships.  We all need grace now to adjust.  It’s hard for Eliza (2) to understand why Mama can’t pick her up or hold her on the lap and why I’m in bed.  It’s hard for the big kids to have their routines disrupted and see me so not myself and not quite understand what happened.  It’s hard for me to see things I normally handle and not be able to do them.  But thankfully, amazingly, I am here.  A near-death emergency does have a way of putting a new perspective on things.

And so we have a little growing up to do.  This year I have been focused on cutting back and zeroing in, to giving my best to my core callings and letting the rest go.  I need to do that now more than ever.  This has implications for my work and homeschooling and family life and other writing, as well as for A Spirited Mind.

You may have noticed I’ve cut back on posting recently.  I want the articles I write to be the most thoughtful ones, not just a post for every book.  The time I take to write here is time I take away from my work writing and school and real life, so I want it to count.  I’ll probably post just once a week or so–some on books that really get me thinking, some on parenting or homeschooling in a reading-focused way that hopefully helps whether you homeschool or not, and some round-up posts to catch the other books I’m reading, suggest titles for read-alouds and kids independent reading, bookmarked life posts, and the like.  I’ll hopefully keep up the newsletter, as I think that’s a good spot for links and other odds and ends of the literary life.  And, as always, I welcome comments, questions, or discussion, which you can leave on posts or email me directly.

As I reflect on the past ten years and the past month in particular, I’m struck by what a great privilege it is to have such a crazy, wonderful, exciting, challenging life.  Thank you for reading along with me here!

On Balance, Doing It All, and Tracking Time

“I cannot subscribe to the belief that there is something about modern life that makes us harried and maxed out.   If we are, then it’s time to examine our own choices and the scripts that are running through our heads. You don’t become a better parent or employee by not enjoying your life. There are likely lots of options available to you that would make life more fun. Don’t assume anyone is judging you, or actually cares, if you choose some of them.” –Laura Vanderkam in I Know How She Does It

If there’s one thing that being pregnant with a fifth baby while working, homeschooling three older children, and dealing with intense parenting issues has shown me, it’s that really, truly, and absolutely I cannot do All The Things.  I am a pretty efficient person, and I get a lot done.  For a long time there, I was pushing through pretty handily. But this year’s added challenges made that completely unsustainable and I realized that if something had to give, it needed to be the extras, not my core priorities.

In other words, to Do It All I had to stop doing All The Things.  Yes, those are two different cultural narratives.  Using them interchangeably is what causes problems.

Doing It All is about making time for the things that are truly important to you–that are YOUR priorities, that work for YOUR family, where YOU uniquely contribute value.  It absolutely means different things for different people.  Whereas doing All The Things is external–it’s doing the things that are expected, that are other people’s priorities, that aren’t necessarily of critical core importance to you.  Doing It All is about finding a unique way to do the things you’re really called to do, and keep your soul fed and body rested and healthy at the same time.  Doing All The Things is about feeling guilty for your choices and staying up until 2am doing your kid’s science project for him and distressing store bought pies to make it look homemade (remember that part from I Don’t Know How She Does It?)

Before you jump in with all the reasons you can’t possibly do anything differently in your life, I’d recommend you track your time for a bit.  I have done this every once in a while since I read 168 Hours (still my most highly recommended life management book four years later) and it’s invaluable for several reasons.

Tracking time helps me check my words and attitudes.  How we talk–to ourselves and others–about our life matters.  When I track my time, I see the big picture of how I spend time over the course of a week or month, rather than just how I remember a given day.  We all have a bias to weight the negative more heavily than the positive, but when I track my time I can’t say, “I spend all day picking up after everyone!” because I can see that actually I spend 10-20 minutes on it.  Maybe 10-20 excruciatingly annoying minutes, but not all day.  For me, knowing that reality helps me to turn around a negative attitude and start thinking of better solutions.

I also have to be honest about the “I don’t have time for…” excuse, because when I track my time I see that I spent X hours a week piddling around on Facebook or chopping onions instead of doing the thing I claim is something I want to do.  You don’t even want to know how much time I used to spend chopping onions.  My time logs have helped me get more focused about internet time, and were my impetus to buy those $1 bags of pre-chopped frozen onion.  And sometimes I’ve had to own up to the fact that the thing I keep saying I don’t have time for is really just not a priority right now.

Tracking time helps me check my pain points.  I overreact to some things (like feeling I pick up all day) but often completely miss actual problem areas.  One time my time log showed that I was spending a crazy amount of time making breakfasts.  I didn’t realize how much that was throwing off our day, but it was, and seeing on paper that I was spending over an hour a day prepping ONE meal–and during our prime work/teaching time nonetheless–helped me start to think through solutions.  This time around I’m looking at the time I spend getting ready for the day and getting ready for bed at night.  I’m not convinced those are hours well spent because they aren’t really restorative or rewarding, and they are keeping me from doing the things that ARE restorative and rewarding.

Tracking time helps me check my priorities.  Tracking time is not about trying to max out every minute of your day.  It’s about having an accurate view of how you spend your time now, so you can decide if that’s how you WANT to spend it.  Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised at how well my time and priorities line up, and other times I’m forced to look at the fact that I’m skipping out on something I say is a top focus area.

I know how she does itI recently read Laura Vanderkam’s new book I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time.  Although perhaps less universally applicable than her previous book 168 Hours, this one brings fresh perspective to the question of women doing it all in our culture.  The major strength of the book is its reliance on actual time logs tracking 1001 days in the lives of mothers who earn six figures.  Laura is up front about the bias there–plenty of important jobs don’t pay that much, and lots of us define success in different terms than our annual salaries–but the point she was trying to make was that even women in the top tier jobs still have time for personal lives and being involved parents.

As I’ve tracked my time, I’ve often struggled with what counts as work and what does not.  I like Laura’s definition that work is anything that’s contributing to your career trajectory.  So, in my case, a business building meeting or doing the administrative tasks that keep my business going count as work even though I’m not directly paid for them, but an office worker wasting an hour on Facebook during the work day probably shouldn’t count that as work even if she is getting paid a regular salary.  I also apply that to the time I spend on homeschooling–my prep counts for me, but my kids doing independent work without me doesn’t factor into my time log.  It counts for their school record, but doesn’t count against my available schedule space.

When you look at it this way, and especially as you consider the time logs in Laura’s research, you quickly see that the key to balance is actually to determine your OWN definitions of success in your various roles, and fill your time with important things first, rather than trying to add important things on top of whatever you’re actually doing.  In this sense, working (or working more) may not actually harm your family at all.  What’s overwhelming is the plethora of little unimportant things we find ourselves saying yes to, even when they aren’t contributing to our big priorities, goals, and roles.  

“You don’t build the life you want by saving time. You build the life you want, and then time saves itself.” –Laura Vanderkam in I Know How She Does It

When I track my time or build an “ideal week” type schedule, I find this to be invaluable. I know from tracking my time that I spend 20-30 hours a week directly on homeschooling (the kids spend a bit more time doing independent assignments).  I also know that I read aloud to the kids, on average, just under two hours per day.  And I interact with them a lot of other times as well.  Therefore, I do not have to feel any guilt when I set aside afternoons as work time and let them play independently or with a babysitter. I also see that, although I’m not in a stage of life where I can easily fit in a 90 minute workout every day, over the course of a week I do exercise more than the recommended average.  My time logs help me see the big picture on my time, so I can more easily try out shifting things around to free up a block of time for things I want to spend time on.

So can you work a “big job” and also have a life and be a good mom?  Depending on how you define those terms, sure.  I fully believe that you can do the big jobs with kids if you got started at the big job BEFORE you had kids.  Having looked into this pretty extensively, I don’t think you can start entry level in a demanding field and immediately hope for the kind of flexibility people achieve after devoting several years to a career path.  So, ideally, you’d discover your love for the big job prior to starting your family.

What do you do if you already have the family and want to on-ramp into some kind of work?  I transitioned out of a very particular type of government job when I had kids, and gradually figured out ways to translate those skills into the private sector in a way that is very flexible and allows me to also devote considerable time to my other callings, passions, and interests.  I think the transition could have been faster if I had been more deliberate about the advice Laura gives in this book and in her previous work to put the big pieces in first, and then fill in the schedule with other things, rather than trying to shove a new big piece in on top of the minutia.

One criticism I’ve seen of this book is the fact that women who earn at this level can afford to outsource in ways most of us can’t.  There is something to that, especially if these women have only a few children and if they are in dual-income households.  Even on-ramping would be easier if your spouse is already earning enough to off-set start-up costs and childcare and housekeeping.  But, after reading the book, I can’t say that it’s the outsourcing that makes these women able to balance.  The schedules include lots of cleaning, piddling around, and working when kids are sleeping or otherwise occupied.  It can be done.  If you take the main principles into consideration, you might be surprised at the ways you can escape overwhelm and find time to do what’s most important to you.

I Know How She Does It gave me a lot to think about and inspiration for some new solutions I’m integrating into my own balance.  While it would probably be most helpful for moms who do some work outside of the home, the principles do apply to anyone who has a work identity–including homeschooling, homemaking, volunteering, or whatever.  I still think 168 Hours is more universal, but if you’re a person who is interested in work/life balance or who is contemplating trying it out, or who needs some inspiration to stop feeling stuck in your choices, I’d recommend I Know How She Does It

What do you find is your biggest challenge to work/life balance?  Have you ever tracked your time to try to solve it?


Disclosure: This post contains some track-backs to my original reviews, but also some affiliate links.  Thanks for clicking through to Amazon from A Spirited Mind!



Helpful Books for Dealing With Intense Kids

So far all of my children tend toward intensity, and this year one child in particular has been navigating a phase of particularly heightened emotional responses.  After a troubling encounter with the pediatrician, who immediately declared those behaviors abnormal and probably indicative of extremely serious mental illness, we had a major parenting crisis and the wheels felt like they were coming all the way off of our already challenging family life (not challenging in a bad way, but parenting soon-to-be five children when we are all pretty intense people and are in various stressful and/or developmental stages takes considerable effort).  Thankfully, and as a major answer to prayer, we got connected with a very understanding and helpful psychiatrist who assured us that the child in question is not at all mentally ill, but is a gifted kid with an intense personality who needs different strategies and parenting techniques.  Progress has been slow, but we do see progress, both in this child’s responses and in our own ability to parent these intense–but also intensely interesting!–kids of ours.

In this process we got a lot of good counsel from friends we trust, and naturally I read some books.  On the off chance that one of you might run into similar situations at some point, I’m reviewing a few that were particularly helpful.

misdiagnosisIt turns out that common characteristics of gifted children and adults are often misdiagnosed as mental illness or disorder.  It also turns out that we were exceedingly fortunate to find a mental health professional who recognizes the difference (as apparently this is not the norm). Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, Ocd, Asperger’s, Depression, and Other Disorders contains exceptionally helpful comparisons between behaviors and markers for a variety of illnesses and the ways giftedness can look like those conditions but is actually different.  The book also goes into what to look for when a child or adult has a dual diagnosis–that is, the person is gifted AND has another condition, and how that dual diagnosis often presents differently or can be overlooked.  The information is complex, but the detail is critical if you are at all unsure about what someone is telling you about your child.

To be very clear: I absolutely support getting help and using medication for actual mental illness or imbalance.  This book does NOT take the line that you shouldn’t medicate children at all, ever.  It just counsels restraint and accurate diagnosis prior to medicating, which seems eminently reasonable to me, especially as so many of the case studies in the book involve kids being given serious drugs designed to treat conditions the children did not even have–to the detriment of the child’s development.

Even if you aren’t currently dealing with a potential diagnosis issue, I still might recommend this resource for parents of gifted kids in general.  I’ve read plenty of books on the topic, but this one presents data-driven findings about the way gifted kids think and react to situations that I found helpful for all of my kids.  The authors point out that often giftedness is a touchy topic because it strikes people–even people who are gifted themselves–as gilding the lilly, but in reality parenting kids who think differently, experience life differently, and engage differently and more intensely can be very, very challenging.  This part of the book is insightful, encouraging, and helpful.

explosive childThe Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children is not written explicitly about gifted kids–although lots of the case studies seem to feature them–but rather offers perspective and techniques for parenting kids who are intense (in all sorts of ways) because they lack skills in flexibility and frustration tolerance.

One criticism I’ve seen of this book is that it’s just making apologies for kids who are bad and manipulative.  Don’t they just need more discipline or sticker charts or to be told to get over it when they overreact?  Well, maybe some kids do.  But if your kid is consistently flipping out at one or two key triggers (in our house this often happens with deviations from the planned schedule–whether our stated agenda or what the child had in mind for the day.  Other kids may overreact to bedtime or departures or homework or whatever) and the regularly suggested parenting tips aren’t working, it might be worth your while to consider another approach.

The book suggests a collaborative problem solving approach to teach kids to deal with unexpected situations with greater flexibility and perspective.  It’s not an easy one-click solution, but if you have a kid who flips out it might take less time than dealing with that.  One thing I found particularly helpful was examining my own reasons behind making changes or asking kids for things.  I kind of like flexibility and being able to change plans when things make more sense a different way, but I have a few kids who don’t roll with that as easily (and who aren’t as highly motivated by efficiency as I am!).  The problem solving approach requires the parent to articulate the actual concern behind a request–why am I saying no/changing the plan/setting this requirement–and sometimes once I’ve considered what I’m really concerned about, I realize that I don’t actually need to instigate the problem.  Sometimes I do–I’m still the parent here–but being more aware of the couple of triggers a child has can go a long way to minimizing them.  I also liked how the book emphasizes teaching skills rather than various techniques for strong-arming or manipulating kids into doing what you want.  It seems more in line with the goal to train children to be functional adults.

As for how well the problem solving works…well, it’s a process and the author admits that.  We’ve had some success with it, and I’ve been surprised at how well mutually agreed upon solutions can work–especially in areas where I have pretty well defined ideas of how things should go.  By getting to what my concern is, and what the child’s concern is, we can come up with solutions that might not have been either of our first idea, but which are workable.

Emotional Intensity 3Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students: Helping Kids Cope with Explosive Feelings is a very readable, encouraging book geared primarily toward parents but also with considerable insights for teachers, schools, and other outside-the-family situations.  I liked how the book focused on the strategies you can teach kids to help them to navigate their feelings and intensity.  So often the response is “get over it” or “stop overreacting” or otherwise implying that something is wrong with the child.  But our feelings are not wrong, just sometimes what we do with those feelings.

I think this book does a great job of exploring the different ways that kids can be intense.  It doesn’t always look like anger or flipping out or weeping–many kids just chatter a lot, get giddy, and have a lot of energy.

If you’re parenting a gifted kid, especially if you are also teaching one, this book has a lot of practical helps and things to think about.  I found it very, very helpful and would highly recommend this one.

living with intensityLiving With Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and the Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults takes a much more academic approach, which was fine with me but might be dry if you aren’t really fascinated with the topic.  I found that there were several chapters I only skimmed, while others I took time to read slowly and carefully, because some dealt with things I’m not dealing with currently, or were better laid out in other books (like the Misdiagnosis book reviewed above).

I thought the particular strengths of this volume were the chapters on specific strategies for different excitabilities (if you’ve read much of the literature of giftedness you’ve probably run into this idea of different types of intensity/excitability) and the sections on being a gifted adult.  I took LOTS of notes on the practical strategies, because my kids do have different excitability types and frankly, I can actually use some of these ideas on myself!

Sometimes I wonder if I read books on giftedness halfway for parenting and halfway for myself.  The chapters in Living With Intensity on adult giftedness really helped me. First, it’s helpful to know that I’m not so very strange or abnormal as I usually feel.  This book goes into several studies on how gifted adults progress through life stages, and it helped me to look at my stage in life and realize that I am not alone in some of my feelings and fears.  It also helped me to think through strategies of dealing with things as part of a bigger picture–this is the very thing I try to help my kids with, but I don’t always do it for myself.

Living With Intensity might be a good book to check out of the library so you can read sections of particular interest to you, but if you don’t have time to read widely on these topics you really can skim lots of it.

If you have intense and/or gifted kids, or were/are one yourself, what resources have you found particularly helpful?


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.


How Will You Measure Your Life?

measure-your-life-416x620In an interesting twist on and melding of business and life management genres, Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life? explores how tried-and-true business theories can illuminate and improve your personal life and overall life trajectory.

Theories, Christensen asserts, often apply to smaller units like families or even to individuals, not just to larger organizations.  In this book, he shows readers how to think differently about the ways you allocate time and resources, develop your family life, and measure your overall life success.

I thought the sections on building strategies, keeping kids motivated, emphasizing processes AND resources (versus, in the family example, giving your kid a lot of lessons in how to do stuff but no real life experience of how to solve problems), and establishing a family culture were excellent.  I was encouraged in some areas, challenged in others, and inspired overall to improve my perspective and change some tactics.

Although many people do New Year’s Resolutions (and I’m one of them) I also find the start of the new school year a good time to evaluate where we are as a family and define some goals for the year.How Will You Measure Your Life? would be a great resource if you want to think through your family’s culture, ways to provide helpful experiences for your kids, and personal or professional goals for yourself.

Do you find yourself re-evaluating when it’s Back to School time?


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.


Being Realistic About Balance

I recently read an article entitled “Women with Big Jobs and Big Families: Balancing Really Isn’t That Hard.”  Part of me wants to cheer that such a headline is possible.  It’s great that some women have big families after attaining a level of professional seniority and compensation (or maybe after marrying men who are highly paid) so they can afford a full-time staff to handle details and logistics.  But part of me wants to call foul.  Most of us are looking for balance without the financial wherewithal to say it “really isn’t that hard.”

I get that articles like this are about encouraging young women to lean in and work for a position that makes balance easier before having kids.  But for those of us in the trenches, balance absolutely really IS “that hard.”  For most of us–including women I know with “big jobs” and those with passions that don’t come with as large a paycheck–figuring out how to mesh our parenting priorities with our other callings takes significant time and thought.

Balance is often on my mind–I’m reading about it, evaluating it, troubleshooting it, tweaking it, or trying to maintain it.  It’s never simple, but it’s a worthy pursuit because I don’t think balance is ultimately about making more money or having a prestigious job or making your kids your idol or any of those extremes.  Whether you work full-time, are home full-time or something in between, a balanced life is one in which you are confidently living your priorities.  A reader pointed out recently that it can be helpful to see how balance works for other women, even if they don’t have it all figured out.  So in that spirit, and with the caveat that my circumstances (and priorities) fluctuate wildly in this season of life, here is the balance I’m working with now.

Work/Writing – I am self-employed as a corporate writer and marketing consultant.  Sometimes I have a lot of projects at once, sometimes not.  I do this work between 10-30 hours a week, but I think my sweet spot is 20–more than that and I get frazzled, less and I get nervous about bills.  

We have an excellent babysitter for 10 hours a week–one afternoon and one morning.  She handles the kids amazingly and gamely supervises their independent schoolwork.  I try to schedule client meetings and calls for those hours.  Sometimes a friend watches the kids if my meetings don’t line up with babysitting hours.  The rest of my work fits in to daily afternoon quiet time (only the baby naps, everyone else reads or plays quietly) or on Saturdays.  I am not very productive at night, so while I sometimes do mindless work stuff like admin or emailing after the kids go to bed, I prefer to unwind then and get to bed early so I can be fresh for the next day.  

I also spend some time every week on personal writing like blogging and fiction.  I don’t get paid for that, but I love to write and I figure that writing for fun makes me better at the writing I do for pay.  

School – According to time diaries I’ve kept at various times, I devote 20-30 hours per week to homeschooling.  That includes planning and prep, as well as direct teaching time.  At this point, having homeschooled in one way or another for six years, I have a lot of things figured out so I save time by not reinventing the wheel, but I do pay attention to phases and individual needs and am always tweaking things to improve them.  My primary goals are that my kids would love truth and beauty, be lifelong learners, and get an education tailored to their unique needs and levels, so I try to approach individual subjects from that perspective, rather than being locked in to other benchmarks.  Homeschooling is challenging, but for me it is very, very rewarding.

Mind/Body/Soul Care – Most days I get up between 5:30 and 6, throw on exercise clothes, and have my morning Biblestudy and prayer time while cooking and eating my breakfast eggs and having a cup of coffee.  Then I exercise in the basement (right now I am alternating Jillian Michaels workouts, modified somewhat to accommodate pregnancy).  By the time I’m done, the kids are usually up and starting breakfast.  If I’m lucky, I can finish my workout and start my shower before they get up, but if not the bigger ones are old enough to poor milk, cook eggs, serve baked oatmeal, or whatever.  Although one child did recently set a fire in the microwave so I may need to revisit rules about unsupervised cooking!

I keep my mind sharp by reading all sorts of things, and keep books all over the house and car so that wherever I am, if I have a few moments to spare I can read.  I’m not sure how much actual time this comes to in a given day–it varies–but I average about two books per week so I guess I’m getting adequate reading time!

I tend to go to bed early most nights, but I have a lot of insomnia issues, so adequate sleep is an issue.  Since it’s been a lifelong problem for me and I don’t make it worse by staying up too late, I just do my best.  I try to rest on Sundays, at least by taking a break from paying work and trying to avoid housework where possible.

Relationships – I like my husband.  I enjoy spending time with him.  We can’t afford regular date nights, and we’re always looking for ways to carve out more time together.  But we do try!  Although I spend a lot of time with the kids as a group, I also try to make time for one-on-one outings.  They take turns going to do errands with me, going out to Starbucks, etc, and Josh does that too.  So each kid gets at least one special date with me and one special date with Josh every month.  It’s often more, but it’s good to have an achievable minimum.  I’d like to have more friend time, but I find that the best I can really do is one or two outings or playdates per month, and I try to make one or two book club meetings.  I’d love to be in a position to really do the whole “community” thing with friends, but in our area I haven’t figured out how to make that happen.

Housework/Errands – I need things to be tidy or I get stressed out, so we pick up twice a day (kids have assigned jobs like sweeping, dusting, straightening, wiping the table, etc) but I don’t do a lot of deep cleaning.  The kids are learning to clean bathrooms, and I help them out.  Josh is really good at cleaning, being more detail-oriented than I am, so he cleans our bathroom every now and then.  He also does the yard work.  I do the cooking and Josh washes the dishes most nights.  I do the laundry and ironing and change the sheets.  We trade off for things like mopping and taking out the trash.  I usually do the weekly grocery/library run and other assorted errands with one of the kids (which makes it more like a fun outing and less of a chore), although sometimes I take all the kids to Costco (and almost always regret it) or if there is only a Costco list, Josh will do it because he is a ninja and getting in and out of there fast.  While I think we would both prefer to have a weekly cleaning service and someone else to mow the lawn, right now that’s not in the budget so we make do, and I think we do a passable job of sharing household responsibilities.  

Other – This is a pretty full list, so we don’t usually sign up for other activities.  We go to church weekly and both of us serve on the worship team and in the nursery.  We go to other church events as they come up and do random things like go to concerts or strawberry picking or visit a museum once a month or so, but we tend not to do a lot of evening events, especially not regularly scheduled ones.  The oldest three kids have piano one afternoon a week at the same place, and this summer they are in swimming lessons at the same time once or twice a week.  During the school year the kids take three electives each at our co-op, which meets one afternoon per week.  We don’t have any interest in living in the car or missing our evening family time, so that’s about it for now.

I’d love to hear about how you make time for your various callings and interests.  How do you balance?  If you have an epiphany to share or a link to a related post, let us know in the comments!


overwhelmedI hadn’t planned on reading Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time because I felt like I didn’t need an excuse to dwell on the aspects of my life that feel fragmented and times when I feel overwhelmed.  However, I’m glad that I did finally read it because the overall tone was not “golly, we are all screwed” but rather the encouragement that I’m not alone or uniquely unable to get my life together, and the inspiration of plenty of ideas for changing my perspective and reducing the feeling of frenzy.

What was most helpful for me was how the book challenged my usual narrative about the causes for what the author calls “time confetti.”  I have four kids, I homeschool, I am self-employed, and I am pregnant.  I avoid listing everything I have going on because that in itself is overwhelming.  Sometimes I think if I had a regular job, or if my kids were in a traditional school, or if we lived in a walkable city rather than a suburb I would be less overwhelmed.  This book helped me to see that overwhelm is a cultural condition shared by working moms, stay-at-home moms, homeschool moms who don’t work, and women without kids.  Men can be overwhelmed too, but in our culture we have a set of assumptions that does overwhelm women more than men.

I also realized that actually, given my circumstances, I am not as overwhelmed as I could be.  We have made a lot of deliberate choices that minimize stress and avoid being too busy, and I tweak my life a lot to experiment with ways to make time for what is truly meaningful.  So at times my life feels crazy and often my leisure time comes in very short snippets, but overall I think I’m on a good track.  That said, I did get some great ideas for further reducing stress and overwhelm that I plan to try out, especially as I’m looking for even more ways to streamline with a new baby on the way.

Aside from personal take-aways, I loved how Overwhelmed contained a lot of research and data to spur thought on our culture and challenge our mindsets.  So many deeply entrenched roles and ideas are tied up in what makes us overwhelmed, and it helps just to expose our biases.  Schulte looks at the Western idea of the “Ideal Worker” and how many people believe in it like a religion, in spite of vast amounts of data that show how dumb it is in practice.  She also examines the roots of the “Distant Provider Father” and “Self-Sacrificing Mother” roles, and looks at alternatives and ways people are trying to be more involved dads, moms who put their families first but don’t burn out, etc.  Along the way the reader is challenged to think about his or her individual priorities, what he or she really values in life, and how to actually implement those in a daily routine.  Schulte points out that choosing not to live an overwhelmed life is a deliberate and often counter-cultural act, and yet encourages readers to take workable steps toward a different perspective.

As the subtitle suggests, Overwhelmed is loosely organized into how to combat fragmented, frenzied lifestyles in our families, our work, and our leisure.  The writing is excellent and highly readable, thought-provoking and insightful.  I think students of society and culture, men and women who are interested in navigating a meaningful life, and people interested in how policies impact the lives of real people would find this book fascinating and useful.

How do you deal with feeling overwhelmed?  


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.