I’ve spent most of my 6 years as a mom just trying to keep up. With an active six-year-old who is obsessed with climbing, riding, swimming and week-long creative “projects,” and a 3-year-old who literally can’t go one minute without ingesting, licking, touching, breaking, spilling, dumping, climbing, defacing, building, destroying, or “helping”, keeping up feels like an impossible task.

The constant state of overwhelm was a challenge for me, for a long time. Shoot, who am I kidding. It still is. But I’ve learned a thing or two about what it means to “keep up” when you live with small human wrecking balls.

1) Your junk drawer is your friend.

No, Martha, my household’s hidden chambers are not organized nor do they look like a closets-by-design catalog. I’m over it. Someday, I’ll have time to throw out the expired coupons from January of last year and the electrical cords whose purpose I never figured out. But for now, having a place to shove things before people come over seems like the best option.

What REALLY happens when you work out at home!
Thank goodness for Bowflex’s short, calorie-burning interval workouts.

2) Home workouts better be efficient.

…because for that 21 minutes I’m exercising, there will be approximately 39.4 minutes of cajoling my kids to clean up afterward. Don’t even worry about it – it’s worth it. But you gotta know what you’re getting into and pick your workouts strategically. My friends at Bowflex sent me the amazing Bowflex Max 8 M8 machine, and it has been a godsend. It takes up half the space of any other cardio machine I’ve tried, so it lives in our toy room where I can literally watch my children scale the walls as I exercise. And, the pre-programmed interval workouts are challenging, but never longer than 30 minutes. It’s a get-on and go-hard kind of machine, which is exactly what this busy mom needs.

AFTER (only 25 minutes)

3) Sometimes you just gotta throw things out.

Like for me, it’s stickers. And bouncy balls. And slime. And balloons. And…. gasp, I’m going to say it: glitter. My 20-year-old hippie-chick self would never in a million years waste a chance to spread more glitter… but then she grew up and lived in a house of girls who loved to decorate. When they go to bed at night and I’m tidying up, if I come across these things, I make them disappear. When I find day-old balloons, I cut them. When I find slime, it’s in the trash. Does this make me a little bit of a killjoy? Maybe. Do they notice? Not yet. So for now, instead of spending my time picking slime out of the cat’s fur or peeling stickers off bedroom doors and the bathroom tile, I take a more proactive approach.

4) Keeping up isn’t keeping up at all.

Trying to keep up will drive you crazy. When you’re a mom, “keeping up” is simply banking time so you can waste time later. It’s about making your life easier where and when you can (even if it means throwing stickers in the trash), so you don’t have to spend valuable family time cleaning or agonizing or fixing. It’s about prioritizing sanity over perfection. It’s about working out now, so you can spend years together later. It’s taking two steps forward, and knowing that there will likely be one step back. 

A happy, healthy and fun-loving mom is the endgame, and the daily victory is not letting the sheer volume of your to-do list overwhelm your perspective.

Sometimes a shift in perspective is all we need just to get by. With more kids comes more love and more stuff. I’m no mathematician, but I think the logic goes something like: If you have more kids, then you have more love, and if you have more love, then you have more. When you’re overwhelmed, try to shift your focus on the abundance of the life you live, and try to appreciate it. Company is coming and you’re stressed? You have friends who want to visit you! You have a playroom that’s a war zone? You have kids who are happy and having fun.

Don’t worry about keeping up. You won’t be able to. But if you can accept any amount of forward progress and have fun along the way, you’re way ahead of the game.

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Saralyn Ward is an award-winning writer, wellness advocate, and mountain mama. She is the founder of The Mama Sagas, writes for several publications and hosts a regular parenting TV segment on Colorado's Everyday Show. When she's not huddled over edits, you're likely to find Saralyn climbing peaks or skiing down them, and reminding herself that the two little girls that call her mom are not the boss of her.