Mom Brain: Saved by systems, part 1

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My brain has been straight up embarrassing of late. I can’t answer simple questions, I repeat myself, I can’t remember why I’m in the room I just walked into, and I have trouble following a train of thought around even one tiny corner.

Who remembers pregnancy brain? Did you have that? I did! It scared my husband. I put my keys in the refrigerator and a potato in my purse. I got appointment times wrong and forgot people’s names. I used to NEVER forget a name. Ever. We were relieved when we learned that pregnancy brain is totally normal and that we could expect it to vacate my brain once baby came earthside.

So it came as quite a shock the first time I showed up to my new baby’s doctors office for an appointment on the wrong day. And locked my keys in the car. And called my baby my brother’s name every third time or so. Pregnancy brain doesn’t go away. It just morphs into the first stage of Mom Brain. 

In my experience, Mom Brain evolves:

 Stage one: An intense tunnel vision type experience. There is baby and physical healing. Primary objectives are keeping everyone fed, clean enough and alive. 

Stage two: Clarity improves. Properly structured sentences return, etc. In Stage 2 I feel ALMOST like myself. I’m just a little off. There’s some lack of sleep going on and my mental load is taxing but I start to work toward a basic, structured, version of life. 

Stage 3: Where most of us live. We are room mom, we teach at co-op, we volunteer, we coordinate, we make the world go round. We also drop the ball, confuse our kids names and birthdates, completely forget we signed up to bring treats and many other embarrassing Mom Brain moments.

Mombie stage: Sometimes I have a kid who doesn’t sleep, or I might have postpartum depression or an extra stressful life circumstance or 6 kids, or whatever… Those circumstances may result in Mombie stage. Am I a mom? Or am I zombie? I wonder… others looking at me might wonder, but the truth is I’m just a mombie which is a mostly benign, if loopy, condition. It can occasionally come after stage 3 or before stage 2 but as I speak I’m experiencing it as stage 2b. This is true hot mess mom brain stuff.

Some other triggers for the mombie stage besides what I mentioned are: single or solo parenting, sick kids, mental health struggles, kid behavior challenges, major life changes, etc. but why am I telling you this? You know this. You’ve been there. What triggers the Mombie phase for you? What would you add to this list? Drop it in the comments below.

We lament mom brain because sometimes it makes our job as master of our family’s universe really hard. But there’s another side to mom brain that isn’t talked about as much. And that’s the super-human mental load that our mom brains manage every day. Allow me to generalize here… not all of these apply to everyone while many things not listed will apply, but, I just want to take a snapshot here of what’s going in in our heads at any give moment.

 A mom brain knows:

  • The location of at least 70% of items considered lost by other family members
  • What’s for lunch dinner, breakfast and beyond
  • How those meals fit into the budget
  • Where to find the best deal on the ingredients
  • The layout of the grocery store and which cashiers to avoid
  • When the library books are due or how to find out
  • Who’s due for a checkup or shots
  • Who’s sleepy
  • How to do her job and maybe her boss’s too
  • How to run a successful business
  • Everyone’s favorite and least favorite foods
  • How to remove blood from jeans
  • That we are running low on bubble bath
  • Who in the family is struggling and with what
  • How to teach when she’d rather yell
  • Whose shoes don’t fit
  • Which shirts have the itchy tags (don’t buy)
  • Kids’ friends birthday gift preferences
  • What that rash is and how to treat it
  • The progress of that funny noise the car is making
  • How to manage mothering college coursework and a career
  • The ins and outs of SAT prep
  • Healthy school lunch ideas
  • Fractions
  • The possible underlying cause of all children’s health symptoms
  • Kids’ educational strengths, weaknesses, and needs
  • Teachers’ favorite treats and birthdays
  • Sports teams snack schedules
  • Why the sky is blue
  • And so, so, so very much more

I will add that this list applies to many dads too and my hat is off to you as well.

Do you give your brain credit for the weight it carries? And all the things you manage and accomplish even on your worst days? 

If this were a job description who would be qualified? Not I. But in real life, we parents find a way… we show up and we step up. This life requires a masterful level of executive functioning.  However, for many of us, the foggy part of mom brain interferes with our executive functioning ability. And for some of us, this is an even bigger problem as we were never executive functioning pros to begin with. That’s me over here! A mom of 6 with ADHD. Not a well thought out plan… luckily… because I wouldn’t trade ANY one of my boys for a more orderly life. I’ll take the chaos. To some degree. Beyond that, I just have to adapt.

And we do, don’t we? We do adapt. We find systems that work for us. If you are like me and you struggle at doing life and with keeping up, then you’ve either found systems that work to keep things moving or you NEED to find systems that work.

Project brain

It’s actually kind of shocking to me that my attention issues weren’t discovered earlier in my life. I guess we all just assumed I was a slob. But that’s not entirely true. Some of my close friends know about my slovenly tendencies but many actually think I’m really organized. I crave order. My brain works better and I’m much happier when my space and my life have order to them. So, over the years I’ve tried all the systems for keeping a tidy home and organized life. Some people are serial dieters. I’m a serial organizing program user. And quite frankly, I’m amazing at them. Sometimes for months! Maybe even longer. Until I’m not.

I’m minimally acquainted with Dana K. White’s work over at A Slob Comes Clean and you could definitely say I have what she calls a “project brain” I’m pretty great at projects. I can set the goal, break it down into chunks, and I get a kick out of knocking each one out and delivering on time or ahead of schedule. I can do that. But the smaller the goal the better because once my attention is called elsewhere, I’m not quite as likely to finish. This is why I wrote magazine articles and not books! I love beginnings and I love endings that follow shortly.

So, I love getting new systems set up with my new binder or notebook or app but I loathe routine and consistency so I usually only have enough zest make it so long. Especially with the do a little each day type programs like Flylady. I tend to be all or nothing thinker. So I’m motivated by “all” as in my house will be all the way clean, my papers all the way organized, my budget will be all the way balanced, and my menu will be all the way planned. So, putting in an effort each day to have things be okay enough doesn’t really light my fire.

Clutter threshold

So what works? The other term that jumped out at me from the A Slob Comes Clean podcast is what she calls the “clutter threshold”. You can kind of tell what that’s about just from the name right? I don’t remember her exact definition but I remember it as basically just being how much stuff can you as a person manage in your space? How much stuff can you have in your space and still function effectively and be able to keep everything in it’s home. This is different for everyone. I have a veeeeerrrrryyyy loooooowwwww clutter threshold. And once my space is overwhelmed with too much stuff I can no longer see the next step. So I get overwhelmed and paralyzed and I do nothing. This isn’t just with my home either but it’s across the board in my life with most things. I have to keep my space, my schedule and my mental load as minimal as possible while still being comfortable and being able to facilitate a life that we love. It’s a very delicate balance. Do you know your clutter threshold? Check out Dana’s podcast about it here. And her book Decluttering at the Speed of Life, here.

A clear vision

So because of my short term, start to finish project brain and my need for a low clutter lifestyle, the Konmari method works well for me. It’s not perfect, which I’ll get into another time but it is one of the most effective tools in my life-management tool belt. Konmari fans, what’s the number one complaint you hear about that method? The reason why people feel it isn’t for them? What I always hear is, “I haven’t read the book but I know my mop bucket doesn’t spark joy for me but I need my mop so that’s not very practical for me.” Sigh… that’s fine. It is certainly not for everyone but for those who have used this line, please rest assured that this is not some massive oversight in the program… it’s well covered. Even more so in her second book. 

The most overlooked part of the program that I think is also the most important is having a clear vision of your end goal. What do you want your home to look like? To feel like? How do you want to function in it? What do you want to be able to get out of it? How will that feel? When we Konmari-ed our home, having this vision in mind the whole way through made all the difference in being able to make the decisions that would get us there. Decisions I wouldn’t have been able to make at all if I was only going off of joy sparks.

And as I’ve set out to create order or systems in other areas of my life, I’ve found that this principle applies everywhere. It’s much easier for me to stick to my budget when I have a clear vision in mind of what I’m trying to achieve. I’ve applied it to health goals and even this podcast as well. It really can apply anywhere and acts as both a dangling carrot, moving you forward and also the criteria we use to prioritize and keep or chuck.

Coming up with that clear vision can be a challenge. As easy as it sounds, it took a while for me to get the hang of this process. Marie Kondo suggests visualizing exactly what you want. Like, say, “I want to have a tidy home.” Then ask yourself, “why?” “Because I want us to be able to do more with our time?” “Why?” “Because I want us to do more learning, growing, exploring and memory making.” It usually takes about 3-5 “Why?s” to get to the core of why it matters enough for you to invest your time and energy into doing the work to accomplish your goal. At this point I would HIGHLY recommend writing your answer down. Or if you’re visual or artistic, draw it out or create a vision board using cutouts from magazines… Whatever helps you best visualize your desired destination and gets you motivated to continue… And continuing or consistency is what is needed for any program to be successful. 

Inspiration helps but who has the time or energy to stare at their vision board each day in order to be inspired enough to function. And that’s why we need systems. And we can stare at our vision board as we create systems that will make our vision a reality.

Join me next time for part two when I talk about how to create systems that will work for you and how to turn those systems into habits! What systems do you have that help you take charge of your home, your money, your health, or your schedule? And do you have a favorite program you follow that helps you make all the things happen in any of those same categories? Drop your response in the comments or email me at hello@beyondthecrumbs.com. 

P.S. Please note that this is episode 9, not episode 6 as my Mom Brain said in the podcast. That made it all the way through the editing process without even being noticed. *facepalm*

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