Ahhhh – being proactive. That is, taking the long-term view.
This is something I never automatically see. Is it like that for you too? I get so caught up in the urgent things around me. You know, things like the growing laundry pile, this week’s Grade 4 spelling test, the scattering of toys in the living room, and the screaming toddler with a tooth coming through.
Those urgent things I naturally see and take notice of. But thinking long-term? Forget it!
However, in my better moments, especially with the encouragement of others around me, such as my husband, I can stop and be more objective. It’s a choice I make. Taking the long-term view creates another perspective. Like the difference between tying up your shoelaces (or perhaps someone else’s!) and looking at the distant horizon. Or between heading off on an unplanned holiday, and thinking ahead to consider where you will go and what you will do.
But it goes well beyond us humans, because even God takes the long-term view!
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Comparison: Proactive with Reactive
The opposite of proactive is reactive. If you constantly react to the everyday challenges you face (such as tantrums and terrible twos), then you are letting those things control your life. Proactivity means you take back control – in a good way, I promise!
“Being reactive is allowing your life to unfold
according to what shows up.”
One example is food preparation. Ohhh the daily grind. I’ll never forget my newly-wed older sister sitting on her husband’s knee when I visited for a big-sister-sleepover. She was in tears at the realization she was going to have to get meals ready every day for the rest of her life. And I know that’s a very sobering moment. For every mother.
That little learning experience was enough to set me thinking about food prep well before I left home. And actually, as things turned out, by the time I reached my final year at high school I was already doing food prep some days before heading off to school, much to the admiration of my classmates.
So yeah, this idea has been with me for a long time. It’s so much better to prep meals before your family is hungry. Instead of beginning work on a meal after the hunger pangs strike. That, right there, is a recipe for disaster!
There are so many family and domestic situations you can plan ahead for. Check out a few practical suggestions about being proactive further down.
But first, some thinking to KEEP YOU SANE!
· Keep Calm and Carry On
When you think about being proactive, don’t panic! You don’t have to get your head around the entire motherhood thing, and your child’s future, today. But do know that every “today” you’re growing in your understanding of yourself as you do this motherhood journey. So as time goes on, you will get your head around it.
For that reason, just keep calm and carry on, because happily, everything does not have to be perfect! Yay! While you will see families on social media with their perfect lives and their perfect families, remember that perfection is all an illusion really. Nothing will ever be perfect. No one is ever social-media-perfect all the time. Are you expecting you will one day live the perfect life? That, right there, is a lie. Let go of that expectation.
So, relax. Yes, there will be good days AND bad days. But you CAN anticipate the good ones! When you are in the middle of a bad stretch, take a moment to think about the long-term view. You’re being proactive when you calmly remember this: the good days will come.
· Keep Hopeful – This Too Will Pass
Whatever drama happening right now, it’s just one phase of many, and it will end. This goes for overnight feeds and toilet training; and as far ahead as rebellious teens and University degrees. Every stage is exactly that – a stage. It helps to remember that when you are in the thick of one of the terrible phases. Those times are precisely when it’s so easy to forget the long-term view, and get stuck in the short-term.
However, taking the long-term perspective gives you an overall view. The awful piano playing will eventually result in beautiful music. The burnt toast will one day be a really nice breakfast. And the driving lessons, and hours of supervised driving practice, will eventually give you more freedom and an independent young adult.
You are in a much better place to manage the dark days if hope is your friend. So being proactive is to stay hopeful.
· Keep Focused on the Long-term Outcomes
One day, your young ones will be adults. What sort of adults they are depends a lot on how you love them, teach them, forgive them and discipline them. This is a major reason for being proactive – you want to set things up for them, so they become great human beings.
It’s all part of the idea that you are doing a long-term “project” so to speak. In the weeks before my first baby was born I had an epiphany: that it requires 20 years, give-or-take a year or two, to bring your totally dependent baby to the point of functional adulthood, when they can leave home and thrive.
As a practical example, do you want your young son to be good at cleaning his room at 15, making it easy once he leaves home? Well then, set him up when he is five to start learning the process. A simple thing, like putting dirty laundry in a basket, is manageable by a five-year-old. Using systems of rewards and encouragement you can gradually increase responsibility. Praise is a wonderful thing! Parenting expert Sallie Hammond gives some great pointers about handing out praise to youngsters. Praise gives a positive sense of achievement every time your son succeeds. It’s also great to include him in the concept, so he has ownership of the long-term outcome.
By the time he reaches 15, he may not be entirely reliable at keeping his room clean, but at least he will know how to do it, and understand the satisfaction of getting it done. And that’s a long-term outcome achieved. Woohoo! Happy Dance!
· Being Proactive by Keeping Connected
Maybe you are a mother of young adults, like me. My input into my children’s futures is limited, because as independent adults, they have their own decisions to make. However, my constant question to myself is “What can I do (or not do) so they can be the best people they can be?” So even though they are grown and left home, I’m still looking to avoid reactivity, and to sow into their lives by being proactive.
Our family is very connected. But essentially, I have let go of of my offspring, so they can make their own decisions. I don’t ever want my sons or daughters to feel they are “tied to my apron strings”! They know they can come back to me any time if they need someone to talk with about their challenges. And they frequently do.
In the end, now they are adults, the best thing I can do for them is pray for them regularly. God knows what is best for them. He directs their paths. My job is to trust that He knows the timing and the best future for them. He knows so much more than me. I am connected not just to my kids, but also to God. Connection is so crucial to being proactive.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
· Keep it Simple!
There are many situations you can be proactive about. Here are some simple ideas to get you thinking >>>
* Meals and Food Tactics
As mentioned earlier, food preparation is one area mothers get their heads around from the start. One of my most terrible motherhood adjustments was during my week in hospital after a C-Section, when the nurse would wake me in the middle of the night for my baby’s feed! The learning curve is steep for every mother. But after a while, thinking ahead becomes almost intuitive.
Here are some ideas to extend that thinking:
- Prepare food for the evening meal early in the day (maybe even at breakfast time), so you’re ahead when you hit the crazy 6 o’clock hour.
- When you cook a meal, make a double quantity if you can, and freeze the extra. It might take a few minutes more, but you will be so glad you did. This is a great strategy if you make cakes or cookies.
- Sometimes just deciding what to have for dinner is a chore. If you’re uninspired in the moment, take pre-emptive action! Before heading to the supermarket for your weekly shopping, take 10-15 minutes to write down a list of meals for the week ahead. This would be your menu plan. Then, buy specifically for those meals. Being proactive like this takes all the stress out of late afternoon mealtime decision-making.
Plus, oh joy! Everything is already in your fridge and pantry! And if you don’t feel like the spag bol you planned one night, just swap with one of the other meals in the plan.
- Being very proactive, I began helping my children collect favourite recipes in a hard cover notebook from when they were old enough to help with basic cooking. As they grew, they illustrated, copied, pasted-in and enjoyed their besties. And when it was time to leave home, they had their collection ready to go!
* Seasonal shifts
Everyone, young and old, goes through seasons in life. What King Solomon said all those years ago is true, even now:
“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens”
King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV)
You have already gone through several seasons. You were once a little child, then a school student, eventually becoming an adult, and now you are a mother. All these shifts are moves from one season to the next. Sometimes these transitions are quite traumatic as you adjust to the new thing. Other times, it’s all pretty straightforward.
Your aim as a mother is to not only manage your own seasonal transitions, but help your children manage theirs too. That’s why orientation days for Primary School and High School are provided. Another aspect is to involve teens in your holiday plans so they can anticipate the holiday, and get their heads around what sort of things they can expect to be doing.
Here are some ways of being proactive for new seasons >>>
Preschool is a child’s first education experience out of the home with children of families you do not know. So to work at being proactive, chat about these new friends during the weeks ahead. Explain what they will be like, and that they will be different to your own family. They will behave differently, and they will use different words than uses at home. It’s a good idea to give examples. Explained how all these differences are part of the exciting new environment. Make sure your little one knows that if they have any questions about it, they can talk about it when at home. This creates space for private conversations away from the crowd.
It is also good for them to know that they may need reminding about behaviour if they pick up things which your family does not do.
As they grow up and move into different school levels, re-visit some of those concepts and relay some of your valuable experiences form your own school years.
Prepping kids for lone travel
One school holiday period when I was only 10 or 11 years old, my mother showed my sister and me how to catch public transport to a holiday program. This was great experience, and gave us confidence when it was eventually time for the daily commute to high school.
Just before my children began high school, I gave them a school holiday activity to make the trip to school and back. It meant that by the time the school year began, they already knew what to do, and it was one thing less to manage on their first day. This is what I mean by being proactive
* Actually, the Sky’s the Limit!
There are so many ways you can prepare your young ones for their future days. Talking, learning, discussing, playing games, adding new responsibilities, are all part of proactive thinking. It’s just takes a moment to stop and think about the longer-term perspective.
What can you do today to prepare your children for the next part of their life’s journey?
Write it down and make a plan!
Next: 20 Ways to Rock at being a Mother No 12: Work Through Loss and Grief