My family is on the precipice of another major life change: I’m finally making the leap to establish my own business while my husband is beginning a new job. It all feels so exciting, as our prospects for financial stability and more trips loom on the horizon, and yet, I have to wonder… are we making the right decision? Are we headed toward another family burnout?
As we contemplate what this will mean for us and our young children, my husband and I also consider the changes we will need to make to support our new careers. More childcare, a second car, perhaps even less time together. It’s hard to know which of these choices are right and/or necessary versus adding obligations and stress to our already busy life.
We know one thing, for sure. We aren’t willing to compromise our peace and are being intentional about avoiding family burnout.
Before my husband and I got married, we were on the fast track to coveted leadership positions and promising 401Ks. We enjoyed living close to New York City, where everything imaginable was at our fingertips. We prioritized new cars over lingering college debts, ate out, and enjoyed some pretty awesome trips. Disney World, Las Vegas, and Portland, OR were all fun, yet expensive trips!
But, we didn’t manage to see each other nearly as often as we’d like. Despite living together, we rarely shared meals as one of us was usually working nights and/or weekends. Our most frequent exchange became the goodnight kiss we shared after another long, exhausting day. Travel offered together time but it wasn’t enough. And everything the tristate area could offer was meaningless when we had no time to enjoy those offerings.
Once we got married, we knew something needed to change. I lost an unhealthy amount of weight at my job due to stress and not making time to eat. My husband could no longer tell me why he loved the place where he spent the majority of his time. In addition, our bank account failed to reflect our hard work. We spent money on all the wrong things. We paid to grow out. We needed a change.
Two months later, we packed our cars with the belongings that would fit inside them and moved to a 300-square-foot studio in Vermont. We took new jobs, established new ways of living, and got a dog.
Despite these radical changes, my husband and I began to realize that simply moving from New Jersey to Vermont didn’t help avoid family burnout.
We desperately wanted to leave this in our past and somehow the burnout followed us. And as our family grew, so did our apartment, and our financial responsibilities. Soon enough, we were looking to buy our first house, accumulate baby gear, enroll our kids in childcare, and do ALL the things that inevitably demand two full-time incomes.
Busyness and burnout inched closer and we were reminded of why we moved to Vermont in the first place. We didn’t want to lose sight (again!) of our shared desire for togetherness and peace.
In this pursuit, we came across some great mentors who modeled avoiding family burnout. They showed what it looked like to prioritize your family amongst the chaos of everyday life.
Yes, we still need to weigh our financial needs and the cost of worthwhile hobbies, but we wanted to see if we could do so without compromising our values. In addition, we wanted to give ourselves reminders to stay on track when life serves us curveballs. Finally, we wanted to model this focus on peace and togetherness for our own children.
Here are three things we practice to help avoid family burnout:
Defining our Family Values
Similar to the mission statements you see at a local organization or shop, we wanted a family mission statement to help guide us as we make life’s most important decisions. Having kids offers a logical time to deliberately establish our own family values, as we reflected on what past values and practices we wanted to carry into our family tradition.
As part of this work, we asked ourselves the following questions:
“What are the traditions and practices we wanted to continue in our marriage?”
“What helps us feel connected to each other?”
“What are the values we want to pass along to our children?”
After spending several weeks contemplating these and other questions, we finally were able to write our Family Mission Statement. It now hangs in our living room and is a daily reminder of what we believe and how we seek to live our lives. It’s also the guide through which we filter some of our harder questions, as we can sometimes be led astray when busyness rears its’ ugly head.
2. Observing a Sabbath
It’s all too easy for me to get lost in my work or on my phone. There’s always something new to check out online and as a freelance marketer, my job often requires me to be on top of trends. But, my phone can also get in the way of our family time.
After my husband bemoaned my phone usage for the x100th time I realized it was a good experiment to try adopting “a Sabbath.” For some, this might look like adopting some religious practices or habits, and for others, it can mean a rest or break from everyday life.
For our family, it’s a combination of both. We observe a Sabbath most weeks to help us connect with God, but also to disconnect from the world. We typically plan a favorite activity or meal and spend the day reconnecting. We also make a point to announce it. This helps clue in our families to our lack of availability so they can respect our time.
3. Pursuing Minimalism and Sustainable Shopping
Minimalism was a concept my husband adopted prior to us being together; partially because of necessity and partially because he really enjoyed it. Now, we practice this concept as a family to help us calm the physical chaos in our home. For us, this looks like keeping a minimal wardrobe, rotating out and giving away extra toys, asking family to gift us experiences over things, and ensuring our home doesn’t get too cluttered. This is harder when it comes to toddlers, but we still try to keep our belongings to a minimum as much as we can.
The other component of minimalism that has helped avoid family burnout is our commitment to sustainable shopping. Because we want to help protect our finances and our sanity, we try to invest in stuff: furniture, soft goods, household stuff, , clothing, gear, etc. that will have a long shelf life and can be used over several seasons. We also look into ways we can contribute and share our belongings. Shopping consignment and receiving gently-used toys/clothes from neighbors are all ways we can keep things out of the landfill!
As we begin this new chapter, my family will need some reminders to adhere to these deliberate practices to continue avoiding family burnout. In fact, part of my motivation for writing this piece was to hold myself accountable to these values and the arsenal of tools we’ve worked hard to build over the last couple of years. The change will certainly bring some sacrifices, but I hope we can remember to make the right ones and continue to value family togetherness over all else.
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