Everyone can identify with this term of reference. As moms, we sometimes find ourselves on a larger, commercial-size stove with multiple burners. There we are, in the farthest corner. Some moms by their own choice, and others don’t even realize they’ve landed there.
I never thought I’d end up like those moms. I could maintain balance no matter what came up in life!
With the birth of our first child, I still found balance. My parents babysat for us, allowing my husband and I to catch up on sleep, go out for our anniversary, or even take a long shower. Life was well-balanced.
Fast forward to 2023. Our son, now 15, was diagnosed with autism at eight years old and Celiac Disease a year later. We also welcomed two daughters. Life has changed dramatically. My expectations and experiences as a new mom changed to this more seasoned time of life that I call the crazy season. Our schedules are full of activities, whining teenagers with newfound attitudes, our jobs, juggling schedules so we can attend everything we’re supposed to, IEP meetings, doctor’s appointments, and more.
With no more diaper changes or toddlers, I realize how long I’ve been on that back burner. I’ve given up things for myself that I shouldn’t. Self-care is one thing I have messed with most to keep things afloat for my family. I’ve played with my health, mentally and physically. At times it’s been intentional. Circumstances that I believed were beyond my control created more harm than I realized.
Shortly after our son’s diagnosis, he experienced a 90-minute meltdown at school that included hitting teachers and throwing objects. It was overwhelming and scary for both of us. I was new to the world of autism, walking into that school to witness my son crying, shaking in fear, confusion, and anger because he couldn’t understand what he had done or why the staff and a police officer surrounded him like a criminal. I was devastated. I promptly parked myself on the back burner to suit up to battle for my son.
Working nights cleaning, I hardly ever saw my husband, who worked days. Over time, the wear and strain on everyone became clear. Things were falling apart. My youngest began having separation anxiety every time I left for work. Enough was enough. Something needed to change—time to get off that back burner!
I needed to be home more than we needed my paycheck, so I first drastically cut my hours in 2019. We lived paycheck to paycheck. It was hard, but we needed to put our family first, not just our son.
We found a church that welcomed our family. We began accepting playdates with friends, and my husband and I started connecting again.
These small yet HUGE changes made a difference. Moving from that back burner was incredibly difficult and scary but worth the effort.
When 2020 rolled around, the start of the year took a nosedive with my mother-in-law’s cancer diagnosis. Since she was the full-time caregiver for her mom, we knew we needed to make a move to prepare for whatever the future would hold. Just as we found our current home and began the selling and buying process, Coronavirus landed and threw everything into a tornado of turmoil. My employment was the critical factor in making sure the transactions went through to close on the house.
My coworkers took leave and the unemployment benefits so I could continue to show a steady income. My hours jumped to about 30 hours a week immediately, as well as packing, cleaning the old house, clearing out our huge barn of stuff as we moved to a home with limited storage, and having to live a new normal of remote learning with all three kids at the same time. It was a traumatic event, even though it was a good one. I managed to handle everything well for a while because I moved myself to the last burner again. I was in survival mode.
After the pandemic eased up, my coworkers began to return to work, and I was able to reduce my hours and be more available for the kids. To help with the financial loss by decreasing the nighttime hours I had been working, I became the caregiver for a friend’s new baby as she and her husband returned to teaching. After going to 30 hours again for the summer, I realized I couldn’t handle the physical demands anymore. In August of 2022, I dropped back to per diem status cleaning at night to focus on caring for my friends’ children, who had just welcomed their second child. I thought I was back on the front burner and taking better care of my family.
As I sit here, writing this blog about getting off the back burner, our lives have taken another turn, and we are now shifting into a new chapter. I realize now that I have been on the back burner again, trying to manage independently. It took falling on ice and breaking my wrist to get me to be still and listen.
I last wrote over a year ago. Writing and encouraging others is something I am called to do and is something I love passionately. It’s the scariest place to be right now, being on the front burner because I have been obsessed with earning money to help my family. It seems impossible to do that simply by slowing down, writing, and being home with our kids. Yet, here I am, being somewhat forced to take a chance and trust the Lord with everything in a way I haven’t been ready to before. If I am being honest, embarking on this new chapter in an area I have doubted myself for over 30 years is the scariest leap of faith to the front burner yet.
We’re still a work in progress to balance our placement on the burners of the stove of our lives. As our children have grown, life hasn’t stopped being full, scary, or overwhelming. Situations change, and the effort to stay off the back burner is hard. Still, it is crucial and necessary to thrive beyond survival.
Here are some suggestions to help you get off that back burner and take care of yourself.
1. Call your doctor.
This is critical. Knowing from personal experience, when we go for our annual physical, we tend to glaze over what’s going on and tell our doctors we are fine when we may not be. I often lied to my doctor about taking my blood pressure medications and once landed in the ER. I turned out alright, but a close friend ended up in the ER the day after me with the same symptoms. She hadn’t seen a doctor or been on medication for three years. She suffered a heart attack and two strokes in two weeks while hospitalized. We are the same age, both with three children. Life for my dear friend was permanently altered when I was gifted another chance. Don’t put your health at risk! Your health is paramount and NEEDS to be FRONT BURNER.
2. Take yourself on a date!
A trip to the grocery store by yourself can be wonderful!
Visit a local coffee shop! Treat yourself to coffee and quiet.
Relax at the beach while the kids are out.
Stay home and read or watch a show of your choice.
Even if you have just 20 minutes while the kids are at school, do it! It’s made a HUGE difference in who my children deal with and how I deal with everything after we all get home.
3. Get a haircut.
It may seem trivial, but this is one thing that can go a long way. A trim, a completely different cut or color, can elevate your confidence and outlook. Just having someone wash your hair for you can be amazingly therapeutic!
4. Join an online support group.
This has been vital to my survival and has helped me thrive again. Joining an online support group for moms of children with autism was a game changer. We aren’t gathering together in person, but the support is fundamental and profound. I gained a lot of support and ideas on how to work with our school to help my son better and be a better mom for my girls and our son. It makes the lonely world of being an autism mom not so lonely.
5. Join a Bible Study or Moms Group.
As humans, we need interaction with other humans. Connecting with other moms, women, and friends is vital to thriving. Working nights, I had the opportunity to be a part of a daytime women’s bible study and moms’ group. Both were instrumental in keeping me off that back burner even while I wasn’t on the front yet. There are days I don’t want to go because of my “stinkin’ thinkin’.” Yes, I stayed home and had a pity party. More importantly, it has become easier to kick me in the butt and go anyway. I recognized this as a sign that I needed to attend. Those are the days when I benefit the most.
These have helped me be a better me, a better friend, better support for other moms, a better mom to my children, and a better wife for my husband.
I pray what I have learned will help you keep yourself off that back burner and help you embrace this life. None of this happened overnight. I started by choosing one thing to move from the back burner to the front burner. Take it one day, one step at a time, and know that the world is still full of possibilities and dreams for our kids and us.