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When You Ask Yourself, "WHAT's Next?"

Do you find yourself asking, “WHAT’s next? WHAT do I do now?” No matter which stage of motherhood we’re in, we are often faced with being in the unknown, where we don’t know what to expect.

I was feeling that way two years ago when our youngest son was starting his senior year of high school. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with myself. I kept thinking, “I've got more to give. I'm not ready to not be a mom anymore.” That year was filled with the ‘lasts’: the ‘last’ first day of school, the ‘last’ Homecoming, the ‘last’ meetings for soccer and basketball, and so on. And then, COVID stopped everything. Not only was our son home from school full-time and needing support, but I was no longer volunteering several times a week at the high school, and I no longer had a part-time job (I worked for a major airline).

I have thought about this and other times of transition in motherhood and in our lives. During the COVID pause, I began to coach women who are going through various stages in their lives. Transition occurs all along the way, from being a new bride to becoming a mother, and from having children at home to being an empty nester. How about the sudden changes we all experienced this last year, with the shutdowns due to the pandemic? Or the numerous changes in lifestyles and locations that military families frequently face?

Change can be difficult, even when that change leads to something good. Without knowing what to expect, uncertainty can cause stress and anxiety. Having a plan in place provides structure and a feeling of stability. When you find yourself asking, “WHAT’s next?”, here are four areas to pay attention to:

Who You Are

When you are racing from one thing to the next, without a moment to really think about what you're doing, overwhelm often occurs. It’s easy to neglect caring for yourself, and I don't mean just in the physical sense. This affects your mental well-being. Are you challenging your brain and learning new things? Self-care also means considering your spiritual well-being. Are you spending time on your faith, growing in your relationship with God? Many of us have heard the safety demonstration on a plane: the flight attendant always tells you that if the oxygen mask drops down, to take care of your mask first before trying to help those around you. This is so true in life. If you are constantly going and giving, you run the risk of draining yourself of strength and energy. Then you have nothing left for yourself or anyone else. Caring for yourself does not need to take a lot of time or money. It can be as simple as getting outside for a walk with your children, or listening to music, or taking 5 minutes to truly enjoy a hot cup of coffee.

Honor Your Relationships

It is so important to care for your relationships with your spouse, your extended family, and your close friends. Spending time and paying attention to your relationships is necessary investment, and you will reap rewards. Nobody wants to feel taken for granted. If you are married, your marriage is the foundation of the life that you are building for your family and the legacy that you’re leaving. If you are raising children on your own, the support you receive from friends and family is crucial to creating a stable and loving home for you and your family. God intended us to work together; this is even more true and comforting during times of uncertainty and stress.

All Around You

Another area to focus on during times of change is the space around us – not only our physical areas where we live and work, but also the time in our routines and schedules. Empty space and free time are necessary for you to breathe and to grow. If you aren’t sure where to start, rather than decluttering your entire home or your entire schedule at once, pick one area that would have a huge impact on you. This creates a ripple effect that will move into other areas of your life. Please keep in mind this general premise: when you say ‘yes’ to some activity or item, and you decide to bring it into your life or your home, you in effect have to say ‘no’ to something else. No matter how noble or desirable or ‘good’ that choice is, any ‘yes’ here means a ‘no’ there. Keeping your family's values and priorities in mind makes it easier to keep some of that ‘empty space’ that helps us better handle obligations and changes.

Turn Experience Into Gifts

The final area that I want to touch on is the whole idea of service. I know you're thinking, “Oh, I give all the time! What more can I give?” I challenge you to consider this idea: when you give, you also receive. Do you know another mom who needs some support? Perhaps there is a younger woman who could use some ‘motherly’ advice from a more experienced and ‘wiser’ woman. Is there an organization whose mission aligns with your family’s priorities where you can volunteer? You are sowing seeds of kindness.

On the surface, being a mother to infants or younger children looks quite different from being a mother to teenagers and young adults. Regardless of the situation we’re in, it is important to be aware of how we treat ourselves and others and how we handle uncertainty in our lives. The areas discussed above are perhaps so familiar to us that we forget how truly fundamental they are to our well-being. Paying attention to them and having a plan helps strengthen us and provides stability so can we better adapt to change, no matter our stage of life.

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