I think my biggest weakness is that I require structure and routine. And when I say “require,” I mean CANNOT survive without it. Like EVER.
As much as I would like everyone to believe that I am a free-spirit, someone who can hop on a jet on a whim and travel wherever the hot deals will take me, I’m just not. I thrive on predictability. I like deadlines and schedules and consistency. My favorite time of the year? When the new calendars come out and I can start filling each box in with all of our “stuff.” My second favorite time of the year? Back to school.
When I was a first year law student at the ripe age of 35, my young classmates looked over my shoulder in awe at my calendar. One of the 22 year old guys behind me said incredulously, “Is your calendar (cough, cough) COLOR CODED?”
Yes, I am THAT girl.
And now that I have two more kids and a husband to keep track of, my obsessive need for planning and scheduling is in overdrive. This whole fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants summer may work for some people, but I am craving order and structure. Chaos makes me want to run and hide. It’s especially daunting right now since two kids are back in school but the other two are still living the carefree life of summer.
I just want life to get back to normal. Is that too much to ask???
If you’re an anxious person, then you know what I am talking about. Predictability and structure and guidelines are what get you through the day. I have been like this since I was a child. All of my friends went to Camp Seafarer and loved it, but I went to Camp Thunderbird. At Thunderbird, you were given a schedule and they would tell you when you were supposed to move to the next activity. I thrived in that environment! One summer I decided to try Seafarer since it was closer to home and all of my friends went there. Seafarer, however, did not have the schedule. I was let loose and could do whatever activity I enjoyed. I was a wreck. I didn’t know where to go and I absolutely floundered. I couldn’t wait to get back to Camp Thunderbird the following summer.
In high school, my roommate at boarding school can confirm that I was up until the wee hours of the night before a big paper was due, typing in the closet on my word processor. I would still be working on the paper right up until class time and then I would turn it in and get a good grade. If I attempted to write the paper well before it was due, then I could not focus. I needed the impending deadline to make myself get it done.
As an adult, I see this anxiousness come out when I do not have a plan. My mood is much better when there is a weekly menu and I would never in my life go to the grocery store without a list. I plan dinner parties or invite people over because that’s the best way to make me clean the house (gotta have that deadline!). As I have written previously, Joe knows that I need to know what time we are leaving the house, whether it’s for church or dinner or heading out of town on a trip. If I don’t have a schedule to work with, then I cannot possibly be ready on time. The absolute worst thing to say to me if you want something done is, “Just get to it when you can…” Because if I do not have a timeline, then it likely will not get done.
Over time though, I have learned that this structure I require is not always a bad thing. Although I often consider it a weakness, structure doesn’t have to be oppressive. There is a great sense of security that comes from a structured environment. There is little “unknown,” and it’s the “unknown” that can cause a great deal of anxiety for a person like me.
In January of 2012, I fainted in my driveway. When I say the word “faint” you may envision me crumbling to the ground, but that would be far from reality. I fell like a tree and my face was the only thing to break my fall – not my body or my shoulder – MY FACE. Straight into the pavement. I looked like someone had dragged me behind a car. The doctors ran all sorts of tests from MRI’s to CAT Scans to blood tests, but they never definitively could say why I fainted. As a result, the next few months of my life were truly my rock bottom. I lived every minute of every day afraid that I may faint again. Driving on the highway was terrible because I feared I would faint while driving and wreck. I had terrible anxiety during that time period all due to the “unknown.”
The unknown can be an exceptionally scary thing to face. For kids, the unknowns associated with the divorce of their parents can send them into a tailspin. This structure and routine that I have often viewed as my weakness can actually be a strength when viewed as a way to help people through situations where there is an unknown factor. For example, structure and routine can give children the ability to structure their own lives. If they know what is going to happen next, then they can take ownership of their schedule. It can become their own.
Having something that is their own can certainly be a major achievement when the chaos of divorce takes over in a family. We have found that in our home having regular routines – dinner together at the table, homework, calling their other parent, bedtime – gives the children confidence in what comes next. It’s like giving a three year old the countdown at the park, “We are leaving in TEN minutes,” “We are leaving in FIVE minutes,” “Wrap it up, we are leaving in one minute.” It helps to eliminate the stress of the unexpected. Children from an early age show that they respond better when they understand what is going to happen next. If you walk up to a three year old and say, “We are leaving the park NOW,” then you will be dragging a kicking and screaming child to the car.
I’m hoping that my need for structure and routine will be a comfort to all four of our kids as we transition into our new normal. Knowing what to expect and knowing what will happen next gives them less to worry about in an already stressful time. Our predictability can make them feel loved without fear of any more loss. We eliminate the unknowns and just focus on our family.
Maybe what I perceive as one of my biggest weaknesses can actually be my biggest strength in parenting our kids.